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Fast-encryption feature arrives in Chrome

False Start cuts one round-trip link out of the communication chain for using secure Web sites.

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Google has begun shipping a feature called False Start in its Chrome browser to speed up secure communications.

False Start essentially cuts out one set of the back-and-forth conversation needed to set up a secure channel between a Web browser and Web pages. Such secure channels use technology called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security), and a Web site using it shows an address beginning with HTTPS rather than HTTP.

"The latest releases of Chrome now enable a feature called SSL False Start," said Google programmer Mike Belshe in a blog post Sunday. "As of this writing, Chrome is the only browser implementing it."

Belshe's tests showed it cutting off less than a tenth of a second. That may not sound like much, but bear in mind that Web developers strive to shave off any amount they can and that the security handshake often must be completed more than once for a single Web site because of multiple secured elements.

False Start is one of a handful of technologies Google is building into Chrome to try to make the Web faster. Faster encrypted communications are a particular focus, especially with the debut of the Firesheep software that can extract personal data from unsecured Web communications.

False Start is a nice technology because unlike many communication improvements, it requires an improvement to the browser but not to the other end of the line. But there's a wrinkle: some Web sites can't handle False Start, and they don't fail gracefully.

Thus, Chrome has a blacklist to disable the feature for these sites. According to the Chrome source code, that list is 5,106 sites long so far.