When the publishers of Wikipedia announced yesterday that they were suing the National Security Agency over alleged interception of their users internet data, some of those users had a simple question: Why aren't connections to the massive encyclopedia automatically encrypted?
In general, data sent over the web using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP is not scrambled and can be examined by someone eavesdropping on a connection.
But there is an alternative, HTTPS, which can help protect a user's data -- in many browsers the address bar shows a little green lock icon to show that it's turned on.
Katherine Maher, a spokeswoman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the encyclopedia, said that her organization believes encryption should become the standard for all web traffic, and any users who log in to Wikipedia access the site with a secure connection.
But she said there are some technical limitations that could make it more difficult for users in countries with weakInternet connections to use Wikipedia if they were forced to use an encrypted connection.
"Our Engineering team is carefully calibrating our HTTPS configuration to minimize negative impacts for these readers before a larger scale rollout," she said.
The mangers of other sites are increasingly moving to make encrypted connections standard. On Wednesday, for example, the White House started using HTTPS for all visitors to its site, lending its weight to the movement.
While HTTPS is more secure than its unencrypted cousin, Andrew Crocker, an attorney with privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday that without knowing the full extent of the NSA's powers there is no guarantee that a tool will protect users against unwanted eavesdropping.