Thursday, May 03, 2012

Patching the Internet

When CloudFlare approached me about joining the company there was one thing that really stood out about the potential for their service: the ability to 'patch the Internet'.

CloudFlare sits between people's browsers and the web servers they are trying to reach.  All the traffic (DNS, HTTP, and HTTPS) passes through the CloudFlare network.  This blog post was served up (and protected and accelerated) by CloudFlare.

But as the traffic passes through CloudFlare it's possible to modify it, and that opens up huge potential for fixing Internet problems on an enormous scale.

Today, CloudFlare has rolled out a service that informs people that they've been infected by the nasty DNSChanger malware.  This makes sense for CloudFlare to do because so many of the web's users touch CloudFlare sites every month.  In this case CloudFlare is helping to protect end-users, just as it protects web sites.

And this sort of virtual patching can come anywhere in the network stack from fixing DDoS attacks, to filtering out an Apache Range vulnerability, to deleting hashing attacks, to killing SQL injections.  As new attacks arise we are able to, for our users, 'patch the Internet'.

Patching allows us to do other things like insert any service automatically across a web site (such as adding web analytics), to filter out private information (such as an email address) if the visitor might be malicious, or simply insert a message notifying visitors of, for example, an upcoming service disruption.

It also lets us do things like add SSL quickly to site, enable IPv6 even when the site is on IPv4 only and will, soon, allow us to turn on new protocols like SPDY even when the actual web site only supports HTTP.

The potential for this two way patching is very large and we've recently announced a developer program to let people build their own apps that can be installed with a single click of an On button in the CloudFlare UI.

I'd be interested in hearing from people about ideas on how best to 'patch the Internet'.  I'll personally send a signed copy of The Geek Atlas to the person with the best idea.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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