We're Closer to an Encrypted Internet Than You Think

By Kiona Smith-Strickland on at

Two thirds of all North American internet traffic could be encrypted by 2016. No, it’s not because of privacy activists. It’s actually because of Netflix.

This is according to a new report from Sandvine, a vendor that provides services to network operators. Sandvine studied traffic on one of its client networks, which it declined to name. The company found that as of April 2015, 65 per cent of traffic on the network was unencrypted. Only 29.1 per cent of traffic was encrypted. Another 6 per cent, according to Sandvine, couldn’t be classified.

Netflix Could Be the Tipping Point

This time next year, those figures may be reversed. That’s because Netflix accounts for over half of that unencrypted traffic that Sandvine measured. And Netflix announced in April that it plans to move its service to HTTPS, an encrypted protocol, later this year.

According to CEO Reed Hastings, Netflix is making the move to “protect member privacy, particularly when the network is insecure, such as public Wi-Fi, and it helps protect members from eavesdropping by their ISP or employer, who may want to record our members’ viewing for other reasons”.

Netflix’s shift to HTTPS later this year could mean that about two-thirds of all Internet traffic could be encrypted by next year. Of course, this assumes that the network that Sandvine studied is similar enough to other North American networks that it can be used as a way to model future trends.

YouTube is Responsible for Most Encrypted Traffic

The second-largest source of traffic on the network, YouTube, already encrypts its traffic with HTTPS. This prevents third parties from seeing individual users’ viewing habits. It also makes YouTube the largest single source of encrypted internet traffic, at least on the particular network Sandvine studied. Indeed, encrypted YouTube traffic accounted for 11.45 per cent of the traffic on the network.

Of course, Google encrypts all of its services, so taken together, they account for an even larger piece of the pie.

Before YouTube made the move to HTTPS, BitTorrent clients like uTorrent were the biggest source of encrypted traffic around. Torrenting still accounts for 7.2 per cent of all traffic on the network in Sandvine’s study.

Image: Darwin Bell via Wikimedia Commons