This Week in Net: From post-quantum to one-click TLS
Welcome to our weekly review of stories from our blog and elsewhere, from products, tools and announcements to disruptions on the Internet.
In this week’s program, João Tomé is joined by our CTO, John Graham-Cumming. We’ll start on how Cloudflare is going post-quantum to protect the Internet from future threats, then discuss how Cloudflare Pages is getting even faster with Early Hints. There’s also some Nobel prize winners trends, one-click TLS that is now available, Cloudflare Stream supporting AV1 codec and its importance — and a teaser for next week’s deep dive.
Read the blog posts:
- Introducing post-quantum Cloudflare Tunnel
- Defending against future threats: Cloudflare goes post-quantum
- Automatic (secure) transmission: taking the pain out of origin connection security
- Bringing the best live video experience to Cloudflare Stream with AV1
- Total TLS: one-click TLS for every hostname you have
- Cloudflare Pages gets even faster with Early Hints
Original Airdate -- October 7th, 2022
Hello, and welcome to This Week in Net, and also welcome to October 2022. This is our weekly review of stories we've been writing in our Cloudflare blog, but also things affecting the Internet.
With me, I have our CTO, John Graham-Cumming. Hello, John.
Hello, good morning, afternoon, night, wherever you are when you're watching this.
Exactly. It's recorded, so everyone can be in different time zones and different situations, for sure.
So let's start with the mentioned birthday week.
We have a one more thing type of announcement. Actually, it was more than one thing on Monday, mostly focused on post-quantum.
Let's start there. We're using beta to put post-quantum cryptography a little bit more to the test and available to our customers, right?
Right. So the context is the following. The security of the Internet and a lot of other things that use what we now call classic cryptography is threatened if someone has a sufficiently powerful quantum computer.
We believe, we being in the industry, that someone will build a powerful enough quantum computer soon.
Unfortunately, what soon means is something like between the next five and 50 years, but we know it's coming.
And the big threat is that because these quantum computers can decrypt things encrypted using our current cryptographic algorithms, they could get into all the communications we have today, but we don't have the computer yet.
But worse than that, you could start recording traffic now and stocking it away somewhere and decrypt it in a few years' time when you have a quantum computer.
So although we don't have a quantum computer right now, there's a threat to the communications we have today later on becoming revealed, basically.
So for a long time, Cloudflare's research group has been working on post-quantum cryptography.
And what post-quantum cryptography means, it means cryptography that we can use today that we know will survive against a quantum computer.
It's a rather funny situation that we're actually able to think of an algorithm that is safe against a computer that we don't yet have, but we know that it is because that's the way the theory works.
And for many years, we've been working on the different algorithms and helping support the industry as it progresses towards those different algorithms.
And recently NIST, the US standards body, standardized specific post -quantum algorithms, and we made them available for test, and we have an open source version.
And finally, what we announced on Monday this week is two things.
One is that all customers who use Cloudflare are able to use post-quantum cryptography today by default.
It is on for the entire network. If you have a browser or an app or a tool that is capable of using post-quantum cryptography, you can use it to connect to anything on Cloudflare.
And second of all, we added post-quantum cryptography to Cloudflare tunnel, which is our connector that comes from a customer's server to Cloudflare.
And so Cloudflare is undergoing a really big post-quantuming where we're doing it for our customers, we're doing it for the connections from the browser to us or the app to us, and then from us to the origin server, and then internally as well.
So from Monday, so last Monday, everyone is post-quantum everywhere if they have the right tools out there.
And what we hope is that by doing this, that this will progress the rest of the Internet into using post -quantum cryptography faster.
And I think that's something Cloudflare has always done, which is push out standards early so that we can then make them available and help the Internet move forward faster.
And in this case, it's free.
So it's there, it's just already available. So in a sense, people have a different layer of protection without thinking about it.
So it makes sense.
We did that also for SSL, for example, right? Yes. I mean, we've done that over the years for the different versions of TLS, right?
So it was 1.1 and 1.2 and 1.3 and various changes to them.
We've always pushed, we've been involved in the standards process.
We've pushed them out in test versions and pushed them out to the world.
And then of course, the rest of the world in some sense has caught up, right?
In the sense that the browsers started supporting those different protocols and eventually the browsers will start supporting post-quantum as well.
And we're here already ready for them.
One of the things that I find fascinating about this area is quantum computers are already here, but they're not ready per se in terms of making all of the promises they could possibly do in the future available in many ways.
And even making the encryption that is already being non -existent or break that encryption.
But one of the things we also know is there's a lot of research on quantum computing and there's a lot of companies doing that, a lot of countries doing that.
And there's this worry in the world, we never know when the sweet spot for quantum computing will arrive.
It may arrive in less time than we think or hope.
So this idea of making encryption already ready for that, already available seems like a very good approach, even in terms of if research in quantum computing goes further quickly, the preparation is already in place.
So it makes perfect sense.
That's right. And I would add one thing to that is that we may not discover that there's been an advance in quantum computing until much later, because if it is done by an intelligence agency in a country around the world, if they managed to build a computer capable of breaking current encryption, which is, it would not be unlikely for an intelligence agency to do that, it would be kept secret.
So we are protecting against a threat that could come from pretty much anywhere and could be a secret threat.
But what is sure is that quantum computers are coming and we have something we can do today.
We don't have to sort of throw our hands up and say we're stuck.
We can go out and we can put these algorithms out there and we spent a long time doing it and now they're here.
So people can actually use them today.
Exactly. It's a good thing to be ready for, for sure, before it's too late, in a sense.
We also have a wrap up blog post in our blog about birthday week with all the announcements we did.
It's very organized. I invite everyone to see.
Let me share my screen to show it. It's all that we served on our 12th birthday week, and it's by day and by announcements.
So a lot of announcements. There was another announcement on Monday, which you may have not spotted in all the post quantum excitement, which was also about security.
It was about the complexity of securing the connection from Cloudflare to an origin server.
And one of the things that's interesting, if you look at the history, like I've been at Cloudflare for a long time, and when we got going, it was very difficult to get security at all for a website.
SSL certificates were expensive, complicated to install.
And in some cases, hosting providers didn't even let you install them.
And so that was a very complicated situation. Cloudflare in 2014 introduced a thing called universal SSL, which meant that anybody got an SSL certificate for the properties that use Cloudflare.
And the connection between the browser and Cloudflare was secure.
And that was sorted out. And then subsequently, Let's Encrypt came along, everything became easier about SSL certificates.
For proxy customers, there are two secure connections, right?
There's the browser to Cloudflare. We do our thing, caching, security, and then it's secured from Cloudflare to the origin server.
That connection right there is much more complicated than the browser to Cloudflare connection, because it depends on the web server that the customer is using, the configuration on their backend.
Are they using a load balancer? Are they using a hosting provider that is providing some of the services and they need to upload certificates and all sorts of stuff like that?
That connection has always been very complicated to get as secure as possible.
And over time, we have done what we could to make it simpler.
So we introduced free certificates for origins through origin CA, so people could put a certificate over there.
They didn't have to pay for that one because that seemed crazy.
We introduced an automatic SSL recommender, which would try to figure out what is the most secure connection you can make to a backend server.
And we are going further now, which is we are going to automatically use the highest level of security for the backend connections, because we now have gotten a position where we think that we can figure it out safely.
You think it sounds like it might be quite simple, which is that, oh, well, we just test, and if they can make a secure connection, everything's great.
But the nature of the hosting side of things, where you might have multiple host names on a server, you might have load balancers in front, can mean that you might be able to make a secure connection for example .com, but not for api.example.com.
And so it becomes this very complicated scenario.
So we built, because of the SSL recommender, because of the tools we built, we're now pretty sure we can do this.
And it's interesting, because I actually saw this in action, where a while ago, I was debugging a problem where a customer had set up secure connections to their origin server, the highest level of security.
And for some small number of requests, going through Cloudflare, there'd be an error.
They couldn't make a secure connection.
And you think, this is an experienced customer who knew what they were doing.
And it turned out that on one of their load balancers, there was the old certificate, which was now invalid.
And just the complexity of managing that was sufficient that they themselves, even though it was sophisticated, had that problem.
So this stuff is very complicated. So the other announcement on Monday was automatically we're going to figure out how to connect securely to the origin server, the best level of security possible.
And we're also opening up what was called strict mode, which was the absolute highest level of security we had to every customer.
It was enterprise and now it's for everybody. So Monday was all about post-quantum, more secure connections.
And we want to make sure all those connections are secure everywhere.
Exactly. And fully available in this case, even for SSL and make it easier.
And if you're working in this area, making your life easier just by adding some automatic stuff or even not that expensive things, it really helps your work.
Well, I mean, if you think about it, I mean, people don't actually want to think about this stuff, right?
They want SSL, but they want to think about it for sure.
They don't want to think about it. And they just want to get on with whatever it is they're actually trying to do with their service.
They're trying to build a service, right?
I mean, they're not sitting there thinking, wow, SSL is an interesting thing for me to think about.
They just don't want it to break.
And so I think that's what we announced on Monday. For sure.
And again, it's important. A lot of important announcements we had on birthday week in terms of making life easier and more effective for those who are building stuff really on the Internet.
We also announced this week something related to the Cloudflare Stream, now with AV1.
So we're bringing the best live video experience to our Cloudflare Stream with this feature, right?
Right. So first of all, Cloudflare Stream is a product that allows us to deliver video either live or recorded with a player, with the right bandwidth, with the right quality to whatever device or thing your customers are using.
And we've done it for a long time.
We handled the video for you. It's a very good alternative to using something like Vimeo or YouTube or something like that.
And obviously there are a large number of different codecs that are used for delivering video over the Internet.
So how the compression works and the compression is really important, right?
So if you start to look at something like a VR headset, just to put it in context, in a virtual reality headset, you're typically looking at about 22 million pixels per frame.
And so that's about, I think about three times what a 4K TV, a 4K TV is about 8.8, I think million pixels per frame.
So, you know, and we expect like all of us have got used to, I get my phone out and just randomly start watching a high quality video wherever it is.
Well, guess what? That doesn't just happen. You have to do stuff to make that compression work.
And one of the ways to do that is a codec called AV1.
And what's interesting about AV1 is it uses significantly less bandwidth than H.264, which is very, very popular codec that's being used today.
And AV1 is both open source and royalty free.
And this has been a problem in general in terms of image compression and video compression over the years, is that there's been a lot of royalties around it.
And so AV1 really compresses better and gives a better high quality experience for fewer bytes.
And newer smartphone chips are able to actually decode AV1 natively.
And so this is really important because it means that we can be on, you know, in the street with a phone, looking at high quality video because it's being compressed to go over the cell phone network, isn't blowing up the bandwidth too much there.
And the harder acceleration in the device means that you get a big battery savings because you're not using the CPU and burning up battery for that.
And so, you know, one of the things we decided to do is, you know, obviously we want the best experience for our customers.
And so Cloudflare Stream now uses AV1. It can do the encoding and the encoding is quite heavyweight, right?
So there's always a balance in compression.
It's like, how much time do you spend on decoding? How much time do you spend on encoding, right?
And compressing and decompressing. And, you know, basically you want decompression to be extremely fast because it's happening on the end user device.
And you can trade that off against compression time. Maybe, you know, you spend a little bit longer compressing for a better result on the end user device, lower bandwidth use, you know, across the network.
So AV1 is quite heavyweight, but we've built this into our network.
We've done what I think of as like Cloudflaring it.
And so it works for, it works for recorded video, but it also works for real time video as well.
And I think that's really interesting, right? So we can do the, if you're, if you're broadcasting something, we can use AV1 for that as well.
So it's built in, it's part of, you know, a lot, you can use it for a live stream or a recording today.
It's very simple. And, you know, that's been announced.
So it's in beta obviously, cause it's, it's absolutely brand new, but, you know, we really want to support these open royalty-free standards that are out there.
And yeah, AV1 is here. So AV1 more thing after birthday week. True. And I worked a lot with videos and it reminds me of working with putting videos online and also the beginning of YouTube.
I remember YouTube was only a thing a while ago.
The founder saying that only with the bandwidth increasing the ability of having more bandwidth on the Internet was YouTube a possibility like 15 years ago, 16 years ago, because before video online was like a mess and the growth that this area has been having is quite amazing.
And sometimes when you put your video online, you're frustrated because the quality you have, it's not the quality you are seeing online.
It's much worse. And this encoding make it better and not that much weight. It's really important for the user.
If you have like a smartphone, not only you don't want to, if you're outside the house, you don't want possibly to spend a lot of data just checking a few videos, but also you want the experience to be good and not wait for the video to load.
So those are like a full, broad types of experiences that having better quality, but also not that much weight in terms of bandwidth will help you in a lot of ways, right?
Yeah. I mean, look, we've all got used to being able to do everything on our phones in a New York minute, right?
Like I can click on a video, start watching it on the back of a bus and it's going to be high quality and I'm not going to wait for it to start.
And our tolerance for delay at startup and also when it breaks up while we're actually watching it is really low.
We've got used to these incredible experiences and those things aren't free.
A lot of engineers work to make those things happen.
And AV1 is part of the solution here to make it really the case that we can watch very high quality video with reasonable bandwidth use.
And we've just thrown it into Cloudflare Stream. Makes sense.
One of the things we also launched this week actually on Thursday was TotalTLS, one-click TLS for every host name you have.
You already spoke a little bit about TLS and its importance throughout the years, but this is again making it easier for those who are implementing, right?
Yes. So if you have a simple website example.com and you have www.example.com as an alternative domain name, we can issue a certificate for example.com and for the wildcard star .example.com.
So anything you have there, images.example.com, api.example.com, chat .example.com, all would be covered by that SSL certificate.
But that little star in star.example.com doesn't include further subdomains.
So if you had broken your images up into small.images.example.com, suddenly you wouldn't have an SSL certificate for that.
In fact, you need to have yet another SSL certificate or at least another name on a certificate so that you have star.images.example.com.
So the star doesn't allow you to have the arbitrary hierarchy of names.
And for some customers, that's really important.
You might have different subdomains for different types of users or maybe if you're a site with conversations happening in the chat rooms, you might have different chat room names.
And that's kind of complicated to manage.
And so we had taken the pain out of this stuff with universal SSL for the simple cases.
We had advanced certificate manager for those people who wanted to configure this stuff and get into details here.
But look, we don't want to make this stuff complicated.
We want it to be one click. So we added this total TLS option, which will figure out automatically, oh, you've got these kind of host names that you're proxying through Cloudflare.
Okay, we'll figure out the certificates for you.
Lukas. This Friday, we also have an announcement related to early ins being available on Cloudflare pages, making it faster in a sense.
For those who don't know, what is early ins? One of the things that happens when you use particularly the web is you go to a website and something gets sent to your web browser, HTML.
And within the HTML, there's a whole load of references to other stuff.
So it's basically like the HTML appears and says, here's the web page, but it doesn't contain everything you need to display the web page, right?
So it doesn't contain the images, for example.
And so what happens is your web browser goes like, oh, now I've got the HTML.
That's great. But I need this, and I need this, and I need this.
And so it's kind of wasteful to sit there, the web server sitting there waiting for me to come request my browser to come request those things.
And so there's been various ways to kind of try to fix this problem.
And one of them was called server push in HTTP2, where the server just says, hey, I know he's going to need this image.
I'm just going to start sending it to him.
That hasn't actually worked out very well in practice, partly because I probably have it or I might have it in cache already and I don't want it.
It's a lot of bandwidth being used for things. And so there's an emerging standard called early hints.
It uses a special HTTP status code, which is 103.
And 103 says, here's a bunch of stuff I know you're going to need. Subsequently, right?
And it comes along with that initial response. So you're able to be like, by the way, here's a bunch of stuff here.
And there's a bunch of what are called link headers in there.
So you're going to need this, you're going to need this, you're going to need this to display this web page.
And then the browser can make a decision.
Oh, I don't actually have that in cache. Okay. I better get it right now.
In parallel with everything else that's going on, you've got to remember that your computer is doing stuff with its CPU and its CPU might be tied up figuring out the web page and watching you move the mouse around and all that kind of stuff.
But in parallel with that, there is data flying across the Internet to come to you.
So if you can use those two things in parallel, then you get a faster experience.
And Cloudflare Pages, which is our, we have this service where you can put essentially static websites, although not just static because you can include code, in a repository like on GitHub or GitLab, and it gets loaded up onto, and Cloudflare serves it up for you directly.
Well, Cloudflare will now automatically push these early hints out saying, I know that this web page, you're going to need this, and you're going to need this, and you're going to need this.
And we did a bunch of work on early hints with Google and with Shopify to show they really make a difference.
And because they make such a difference, we're going to have them as part of Cloudflare Pages automatically.
And that will be announced in a few hours from now.
So by the time you're watching this, no doubt that's out there.
So if you just think about everything we talked about, what is Cloudflare trying to do?
We're trying to make the Internet faster for everybody because we have that expectation that it's fast.
We're trying to make it more secure. So there's a bunch of announcements today about faster, more reliable, and more private.
And obviously privacy has been a big part of many announcements in the past.
And actually, there's more coming up later this year. So faster with early hints, better video with AV1, more security with total TLS, post-quantum, automatic origin connections being secure.
And that's the week after birthday week. Exactly.
Forget about birthday week. It continues in a sense. It carries on. And then on Monday, for those of you who really love the super deep dives, about stuff, there is a blog post coming written by an engineer about BPF, which is something we use enormously in Linux.
And that blog post is packed with assembly code for x86 and for ARM.
So we're going to go from product announcements to not quite the hardware, but almost.
A good deep dive there. You've been seeing reactions from customers.
Were you surprised by any of the reactions for different products in the last few days?
A lot of feedback for sure, right? Well, I think there's something I really, really strongly believe in, and that is hardware keys for authentication.
I mean, I think that all other methods of two-factor authentication, be they SMS or be they authenticator apps like Google Authenticator or Authy, are fundamentally broken from a security perspective, because they all fall over for phishing.
You can phish someone who's using Google Authenticator.
You can phish someone who's using SMS. You can even steal someone's SIM card if you want to go that route.
The only solution is to use a hardware key. And I've been using them for a very, very long time.
They're supported on Cloudflare.
They're supported on Cloudflare Access. Cloudflare Access allows you to enforce their use even if the app we're protecting doesn't support hardware keys.
And the announcement we made on Thursday, which is a special collaboration with Yubico around our customers being able to get YubiKeys hardware keys for their use, I think has had a big reaction.
And what I hope is that beyond the collaboration with Yubico, that people start to turn around and recognize that this is the only real way to protect against the phishing threat.
We've seen it internally.
There was a group called Octopus which did a phishing attack against 130 companies.
We were one of those companies. Some of our employees fell for the phishing because you know what?
They're human too. And one thing you can't do is blame people for falling for phishing because think about phishing is you have an adversary who is deliberately targeting human weakness.
That is humans are busy.
Humans are used to clicking on things. And so what do you do about that problem?
You know that some small number, I believe it was about 25 people out of what 3,500 or whatever we are now, fell for it.
Well, guess what? It didn't matter.
It didn't matter. That's the difference. We have hardware keys and you know what?
Even if those employees typed in their password, they were still protected.
And so this is the reason. So I'm really happy that we made that collaboration with Yubico and that people are getting hardware keys.
And I would really urge people to look at, are they using them?
They are a little bit more complicated than software you download on your phone to use authenticator or something, but they are much, much, much more secure.
Make a big difference. Before we go, let me just share some trends we saw.
The Nobel prizes are being awarded this week.
And we saw some trends, DNS traffic trends related to the Nobel related websites.
And the Nobel in physics that was attributed to someone that was actually three researchers that are in the base of quantum mechanics.
And we spoke about quantum here already, was the announcement that we saw more interest with our DNS data, which was interesting.
And today, the Peace Prize. The Peace Prize was announced this morning.
Yeah, that's right. Yeah, it's interesting. You can see people obviously going there.
I'll tell you one thing about the Nobel website.
Some years ago, I wrote a travel book for nerds. And some of the places in there and the people associated with it are Nobel Prize winners.
And one of the very, very nice things about the Nobel website is that the transcripts of all of the speeches given by Nobel winners are on the Nobel website.
And it is very fascinating to go back and read the original comments by someone who won the Nobel Prize, because in general, they gave a very accessible lecture about the thing they won the prize for.
And so actually, the Nobel website, obviously, a lot of people are visiting it right now, but I'd urge people to visit other times because these great scientists gave these fascinating lectures about the thing they discovered or were involved in that caused them to win the prize.
But they were doing it for the royal family of Norway, right?
Exactly. For everyone to understand, in a sense.
For everyone to understand. So it's utterly fascinating. I'll have to check that.
And it goes a long way from like 100 years ago. You'll have like Albert Einstein's remarks there, possibly.
So before we go, let me just mention that the Iran shutdowns continue also, and we still are monitoring that regarding Internet.
So hopefully things will get better there.
I probably should recognize that Nobel himself is Swedish, right?
Even though the Norwegians were involved in the peace prize.
So I apologize to Norway and Sweden for confusing you. No worries. Thank you so much, John.
And that's a wrap. Thank you.