A padlock icon has long been the traditional way of notifying users when they visit an encrypted (https) website. It’s easy to see and people understand what it means – no padlock, no encryption. IE and Google Chrome still use the padlock symbol in their latest browsers but Firefox 4 and onwards don’t – perhaps another one of the reasons why 25% of Firefox users have stuck to version 3.6 rather than upgrade through to Firefox 8…
Instead of the padlock icon, newer versions of Firefox use the Site Identity button (an area to the left of the web page address with colored text) to notify users about the level of verified identification information for a website.
The meaning of this button is far from clear to many people (e.g. IE users and seniors used to seeing a padlock) and its reliance on color coding (green and blue mean different things) could make it very difficult for color blind people to tell the difference between various levels of secure site.
If the site has mixed security (i.e. some elements use encryption but others don’t) Firefox just drops the colored identity indicator to the left of the address bar – a color change that is easily overlooked.
We think there is a place for the Site Identity button (if you click on it you can get quite detailed info about the site, including a padlock icon…) but there should also be an easy way of instantly seeing if a site uses encryption or has mixed security without having to click anything – and a visible padlock icon is an obvious way to do it.
Add A Traditional Padlock Icon – It is easy to add back a padlock icon to newer versions of Firefox with the aptly named Padlock Icon add-on. An example of this add-on in use is below showing a genuine encrypted site and a mixed security (warning) site:
Download this add-on here.
You can customize where you want the padlock to be displayed on screen and there are more options available e.g. to help the color blind distinguish between the blue and green buttons – see the Notes on the add-on download page for more info.
It’s important to note that a padlock just means a site is encrypted. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a site is totally safe or secure – but then it never did, in Firefox or any other browser!
However, to get a padlock displayed by this add-on, the website connection must be encrypted and the site verified as using a certificate that demonstrates domain ownership. Padlock Icon is a very useful add-on which provides an easily viewable picture of a site’s security and adds back a feature that many people are used to.
It also helps color blind people differentiate between levels of security and it does not interfere with the behavior of the new Site Identity button.