Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is the protocol that allows web sites to serve traffic in HTTPS. This provides end to end encryption between the two end points (the browser and the web server). The benefits of using HTTPS is that traffic between the two end points cannot be deciphered by anyone snooping on the connection. This reduces the odds of exposing sensitive information such as passwords, or getting the web site hacked by malicious parties. Google has also indicated that sites serving content exclusively in HTTPS will get a small bump in Page Rank.
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