Google ratchets up Gmail security by making HTTPS mandatory

Google has committed to increased security and availability for Gmail. The company said that it is now using an encrypted HTTPS connection whenever Gmail users check or send email.

The company published a blog post on March 20 to explain that no one can listen in on a user’s messages as they go back and forth between him or her and Gmail’s servers, even if public WiFi is being used, and whether the device used is a computer, phone or tablet.

“Your email is important to you, and making sure it stays safe and always available is important to us. As you go about your day reading, writing and checking messages, there are tons of security measures running behind the scenes to keep your email safe, secure, and there whenever you need it,” said author Nicolas Lidzborski, Gmail Security Engineering Lead, in the blog post.

According to Lidzborski, Gmail has supported HTTPS since the day it launched, and in 2010 Google made HTTPS the default. This means that in addition to the journey between Google’s email servers and the display device, all email messages are encrypted while moving within the data centres that handle Gmail.

On the availability front, Lidzborski pointed out that Gmail was available 99.978% of the time in 2013, equating to an average of less than two hours of disruption for a user over the entire year.

“Our engineering experts look after Google’s services 24×7 and if a problem ever arises, they’re on the case immediately. We keep you informed by posting updates on the Apps Status Dashboard until the issue is fixed, and we always conduct a full analysis on the problem to prevent it from happening again,” said Lidzborski.

While Gmail has a good track record, other Google services have not been so lucky. As recently as March 18, Google Talk, Google Sheets and Google+ Hangouts suffered service disruptions according to the Apps Status Dashboard, for about 3 hours, 2 hours, and 3 hours respectively. Google Sheets went down again on March 20, for about an hour.

Gmail is one of the most established Google offerings, and shows the company is capable of providing reliable services. We’re likely to see other services become more reliable as well; it will be a matter of time.