Guardian ranked second most secure online news site

Alex Hern
16 December 2016

The listing, produced by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, was topped by the US site The Intercept

The Guardian has been listed as the second most secure news publication on the web, according to a ranking produced by the American non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Points were awarded for supporting technologies which protect the privacy and security of visitors, with a focus on using HTTPS, a web protocol that allows for encrypted connections.

The ranking was topped by the US news site The Intercept, created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. It gained the highest score of A+.

The Guardian, rated as A- along with TechCrunch and ProPublica, scored highly for having a valid HTTPS version of its website, and for defaulting to that connection for all visitors.

The ranking also awarded points for enabling HSTS (HTTP Strict-Transport-Security), a feature which ensures that repeat visitors cannot be forced onto an insecure copy of the website by a “man in the middle” attacker. With HSTS enabled, web browsers know to never accept insecure versions of the website, providing added protection to readers who fear eavesdropping.

The Intercept was the only site to use HSTS preloading which give it its A+ score. Preloading involves passing the HSTS information to a trusted authority like Google or Mozilla so that it can be loaded into the browsers of web users who have never even visited a particular site, ensuring that even their very first visit does not run the risk of eavesdropping.

Freedom of the Press Foundation said that only 28% of news sites offer an HTTPS connection, and just 14% default to it. It awarded a grade of F to those that did not use HTTPS. The Guardian’s switch to HTTPS as default was made in late November, after six months of testing to ensure no disruption to readers.

“By using HTTPS, internet service providers (ISPs) are not able to track the pages our readers are accessing,” wrote Mariot Chauvin and Huma Islam, two members of the Guardian’s digital development team. “It means we protect the privacy of our readers when accessing content that may disclose political opinions, faith, sexual orientation or any information that may be used against them. It matches our core values. We believe that protecting our visitors is good internet citizenship.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation called on all publications to protect reader privacy: “With HTTPS enabled by default you can protect reader privacy, improve your website’s security, better protect your sources, prevent censorship, improve your search rankings, provide a better user experience, see your website loading speeds potentially increase, and avoid Google shaming.” Since 2014, Google has been ranking secure sites slightly higher in its search results.

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