|Traded as||NYSE: NET|
|Matthew Prince (CEO)|
|Services||Reverse proxy service|
|Revenue||US$287.02 million (2019)|
|US$−107.95 million (2019)|
|US$−105.83 million (2019)|
Cloudflare, Inc. is an American web-infrastructure and website-security company, providing content-delivery-network services, DDoS mitigation, Internet security, and distributed domain-name-server services. Cloudflare's services sit between a website's visitor and the Cloudflare user's hosting provider, acting as a reverse proxy for websites. Cloudflare's headquarters are in San Francisco.
Cloudflare has faced several controversies over its unwillingness to monitor content distributed via its network—a stance it has defended based on the principle of free speech. Cloudflare stated that it will "continue to abide by the law" and "serve all customers", further explaining "our proper role is not that of Internet censor". These controversies have involved Cloudflare's policy of content neutrality and subsequent usage of its services by numerous contentious websites, including The Daily Stormer and 8chan, an imageboard which has been linked to multiple mass shootings in the United States and the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand. Under public pressure, Cloudflare terminated services to The Daily Stormer in 2017 and to 8chan following the 2019 El Paso shooting.
Cloudflare was created in 2009 by Matthew Prince, Lee Holloway, and Michelle Zatlyn. It received media attention in June 2011 for providing security services to the website of LulzSec, a black hat hacking group. Cloudflare acts as a reverse proxy for web traffic. Cloudflare supports web protocols, including SPDY and HTTP/2. In addition to this, Cloudflare offers support for HTTP/2 Server Push. From 2009, the company was venture-capital funded. On August 15, 2019, Cloudflare submitted its S-1 filing for IPO on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock ticker NET. It opened for public trading on September 13, 2019, priced at $15 per share.
In February 2014, Cloudflare mitigated what was at the time the largest ever recorded DDoS attack, which peaked at 400 Gigabits per second against an undisclosed customer. In November 2014, Cloudflare reported another massive DDoS attack with independent media sites being targeted at 500 Gbit/s. In March 2013, the company defended The Spamhaus Project from a DDoS attack that exceeded 300 Gbit/s. Akamai's chief architect stated that at the time it was "the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet". Cloudflare has also reportedly absorbed attacks that have peaked over 400Gbit/s from an NTP Reflection attack.
In 2014, Cloudflare introduced an effort called Project Galileo in response to cyberattacks against vulnerable online targets, such as artists, activists, journalists, and human rights groups. Project Galileo provides such groups with free services to protect their websites. In 2019, Cloudflare announced that 600 users and organizations were participating in the project. On April 1, 2019, Cloudflare announced a new freemium Virtual Private Network service named WARP. The service would initially be available through the 22.214.171.124 mobile apps with a desktop app available later. On September 25, 2019, Cloudflare released WARP to the public. The beta for macOS and Windows was announced on April 1, 2020.
Cloudflare has come under pressure on multiple occasions due to its policies and for refusing to cease technical support (such as DNS routing and DDoS mitigation) of websites such as LulzSec, The Daily Stormer, and 8chan. Some have argued Cloudflare's services allow access to content which spreads hate and has led to harm and deaths. However Cloudflare, as an Internet infrastructure provider, has broad legal immunity from the content produced by its users.
Cloudflare provided DNS routing and DoS protection for the white supremacist and neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. In 2017 Cloudflare stopped providing their services to The Daily Stormer after an announcement on the controversial website asserted that the "upper-echelons" of Cloudflare were "secretly supporters of their ideology". Previously Cloudflare had refused to take any action regarding The Daily Stormer, despite widespread public pressure. As a self-described "free speech absolutist", Cloudflare's CEO Matthew Prince, in a blog post, vowed never to succumb to external pressure again and sought to create a "political umbrella" for the future. Prince further addressed the dangers of large companies deciding what is allowed to stay online, a concern that is shared by a number of civil liberties groups and privacy experts. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US digital rights group, said that services such as Cloudflare "should not be adjudicating what speech is acceptable", adding that "when illegal activity, like inciting violence or defamation, occurs, the proper channel to deal with it is the legal system."
According to The Huffington Post, Cloudflare provides services to "at least 7 terrorist groups", as designated by the United States Department of State. According to the article, Cloudflare provides services to the Taliban, Hamas, the al-Quds Brigades, and other terrorist groups, have been aware since at least 2012, and have taken no action. According to Cloudflare's CEO, no law enforcement agency has asked the company to discontinue these services.
In 2019, Cloudflare was criticized for providing services to the discussion and imageboard 8chan, which allows users to post and discuss any content with minimal interference from site administrators. The message board has been linked to mass shootings in the United States and the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand. In addition, a number of news organizations including The Washington Post and The Daily Dot have reported the existence of child pornography and child sexual abuse discussion boards. A Cloudflare representative has been quoted by the BBC saying that the platform "does not host the referenced websites, cannot block websites, and is not in the business of hiding companies that host illegal content". In an August 3 interview with The Guardian, immediately following the 2019 El Paso shooting, CEO Matthew Prince defended Cloudflare's support of 8chan, stating that he had a "moral obligation" to keep the site online. In August 2019, Cloudflare terminated services to 8chan, an American imageboard, after the perpetrator of the 2019 El Paso shooting allegedly used the website to upload his manifesto.
Cloudflare services have been used by Rescator, a carding website that sells stolen payment card data. Two of the top three online chat forums belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are guarded by Cloudflare. According to Prince, U.S. law enforcement has not asked Cloudflare to discontinue the service, and they have not chosen to do so themselves. In November 2015, hacktivist group Anonymous discouraged the use of Cloudflare's services following the ISIL attacks in Paris and the renewed accusation that Cloudflare aids terrorists. Cloudflare responded by calling the group "15-year-old kids in Guy Fawkes masks", and saying that whenever such concerns are raised they consult anti-terrorism experts and abide by the law.
In late 2019, Cloudflare was criticized for providing services to the anti-black website Chimpmania. Hundreds of thousands signed a petition on Change.org urging Prince to terminate services to Chimpmania. The petition was created by the parents of a biracial baby who was born with gastroschisis and who was mocked as a “mulatto monkey baby” by site users, and whose pictures were posted on the site. Over the ten years the site has been active, numerous other petitions have also been leveled against it, none of which were successful.
Security and privacy
The hacker group UGNazi attacked Cloudflare partially by exploiting flaws in Google's authentication systems in June 2012, gaining administrative access to Cloudflare and using it to deface 4chan. From September 2016 until February 2017, a major Cloudflare bug (nicknamed Cloudbleed) leaked sensitive data, including passwords and authentication tokens, from customer websites by sending extra data in response to web requests. The leaks resulted from a buffer overflow which occurred, according to analysis by Cloudflare, on approximately 1 in every 3,300,000 HTTP requests.
In May 2017, ProPublica reported that Cloudflare as a matter of policy relays the names and email addresses of persons complaining about hate sites to the sites in question, which has led to the complainants being harassed. Cloudflare's general counsel defended the company's policies by saying it is "base constitutional law that people can face their accusers". In response to the report, Cloudflare updated their abuse reporting process to provide greater control over who is notified of the complaining party.
Cloudflare is cited in reports by The Spamhaus Project, an international spam tracking organization, due to high numbers of cybercriminal botnet operations 'hosted' on Cloudflare services.   An October 2015 report found that Cloudflare provisioned 40% of SSL certificates used by phishing sites with deceptive domain names resembling those of banks and payment processors.
Cloudflare suffered a major outage on July 2, 2019, which rendered more than 12 million websites (80% of all customers) unreachable for 27 minutes. A similar outage occurred on July 17, 2020, causing a similar effect and impacting the same amount of sites.
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