HTTPS is Complicated


I love hidden assumptions. Ideas and services we take for granted. Take, for example, HTTPS.

The entire commercial Web has moved from http:// to https://. We did that because it is more secure. And it is.

But it’s also way way way more complicated to set up. I’m not going to try an explain how it works. I have a B.S. in Mathematics/Computer Science from a top 5 university plus a M.S. in Computer Science and Engineering from another top school. I can whiteboard what happens during the connection, but I don’t understand all the bits and pieces that are required to make that happen.

HTTPS is complicated.

If it were a consumer product, it would have failed years ago, as no consumer would complete the installation process. In an online consumer buying experience, you order, they send you an email with a link, you click the link and maybe you have to login twice.

For HTTPS you order, they send you an email with cryptic instructions. You follow the instructions. There is no link to follow. No next button to click. You just blindly wait wondering if you did it right. If you didn’t, as I apparently hadn’t for an entire month, nothing happens. If you do, you get a second email with more cryptic instructions. In my case, five calls and multiple email to customer service and voila, my HTTPS works again.

This is a great example of a market failure. Whomever invented the HTTPS system was not just a Computer Scientist but a cryptologist. That person or committee didn’t understand that 99.99% of humanity are not cryptologists. They certainly were not product designers or entrepreneurs.

But alas, this is a great example of a market that likely won’t get fixed anytime soon. It’s akin to taxes. Those who design the system don’t pay the high price of the complexity they create. The masses bear that cost. Every website owner now pays a few hours once per year to keep this complicated system going.

Until some entrepreneur finds a way to hack the system, smooth the edges, and create the better HTTPS mousetrap.

By "Luni"


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