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Contributing back to the security community


3 min read

This Friday at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, along with Marc Rogers, Principal Security Researcher at CloudFlare, I'm speaking about a version of The Grugq's PORTAL, an open source network security device designed to make life easier and safer for anyone traveling, especially internationally, with phones, tablets, laptops, and other network-connected devices.

Portal uses open-source software and services to take inexpensive, commodity travel routers and turn them into powerful security devices. Since this is pretty far from CloudFlare's core business, it warrants a brief digression into why we support projects like this.

Computer security was for a very long time only of interest to hobbyists, academics, and obscure government agencies. Cryptography was an interesting offshoot of number theory, a foundational but very abstract part of mathematics, and many of the early infrastructure components of the Internet didn't include security at all -- there was an assumption that anyone who could gain access would be responsible and well-intentioned, a consequence of the academic origins; after all, why would they want to break or steal things which were freely available.

Before the "cambrian explosion" of commercial computer security, there was still a lot of great security research -- it was just done by academics and by individuals in the "security community", who were motivated by a desire to understand how things worked, and to make tools because they loved the technology and wanted to solve their own problems. Some of the most interesting and powerful security tools available today trace their origins to rather humble open-source, hobbyist, or academic beginnings -- PGP, Tor, OTR, various forms of electronic cash, and many others. Many of today's most respected people in computer security entered the field during this period, out of personal curiosity or academic interest.

While CloudFlare is an eager participant in the commercial security world (we're the easiest and fastest way to set up TLS for any website, and we provide edge security and performance to millions of sites, including some of the largest sites on the Internet -- both with free service and paid services in various tiers), we are also very aware of the broad and deep foundation of security tools and research on which we're built.

CloudFlare makes extensive use of open source software, such as the Nginx web server, community collections of Web Application Firewall (WAF) rules originally generated by OWASP, and powerful cryptographic algorithms developed in academia and implemented by open source efforts such as the OpenSSL Project.

Where possible, CloudFlare also contributes back to the community in those areas. We contribute bugfixes and new functionality back to open source packages, and we employ developers who in their spare time make additional contributions to open source software. CloudFlare's GitHub Open Source page is a great collection of many of our contributions to open source.

One of our biggest contributions to date has been CFSSL, CloudFlare's PKI toolkit. We're constantly hearing from various projects and companies how CFSSL has been helpful to them -- one of the most exciting being the Let's Encrypt community Certificate Authority project. Nick Sullivan has written in the CloudFlare blog announcing CFSSL, and exciting things are continuing to happen with that software.

CloudFlare, like many other companies in computer security, makes other contributions to the security community. One of the most interesting is that we, like some other companies, values having employees participate in the security community in a variety of ways. Encouraging side projects independent of work -- research, finding new vulnerabilities and responsibly disclosing them, creating new tools, participating in conferences or working groups, running tutorials, and being active in standards bodies -- sometimes doesn't have a direct connection to the company's products, but contributes to a vibrant security ecosystem. There are often unforeseen benefits of these collaborations -- learning about new tools, finding great engineers -- we're actively hiring for a variety of roles -- and many others.

Marc and I are grateful to CloudFlare for the time to work on this open source tool and to present it to the world, and we're looking forward to presenting at RSA.

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Ryan Lackey|@octal

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