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Deep dives & how the Internet works


9 min read

When August comes, for many, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time to enjoy summer and/or vacations. Here are some deep dive reading suggestions from our Cloudflare Blog for any time, weather or time of the year. There’s also some reading material on how the Internet works, and a glimpse into our history.

To create the list (that goes beyond 2022), initially we asked inside the company for favorite blog posts. Many explained how a particular blog post made them want to work at Cloudflare (including some of those who have been at the company for many years). And then, we also heard from readers by asking the question on our Twitter account: “What’s your favorite blog post from the Cloudflare Blog and why?”

In early July (thinking of the July 4 US holiday) we did a sum up where some of the more recent blog posts were referenced. We’ve added a few to that list:

  • Eliminating CAPTCHAs on iPhones and Macs (✍️)
    How it works using open standards. On this topic, you can also read the detailed blog post from our research team, from 2021: Humanity wastes about 500 years per day on CAPTCHAs. It’s time to end this madness.

  • Optimizing TCP for high WAN throughput while preserving low latency (✍️)
    If you like networks, this is an in depth look of how we tune TCP parameters for low latency and high throughput.

  • Live-patching the Linux kernel (✍️)
    A detail focused blog focused on using eBPF. Code, Makefiles and more within.

  • Early Hints in the real world (✍️)  
    In depth data about it where we show how much faster the web is with it (in a Cloudflare, Google, and Shopify partnership).

  • Internet Explorer, we hardly knew ye (✍️)
    A look at the demise of Internet Explorer and the rise of the Edge browser (after Microsoft announced the end-of-life for IE).

  • When the window is not fully open, your TCP stack is doing more than you think (✍️)
    A recent deep dive shows how Linux manages TCP receive buffers and windows, and how to tune the TCP connection for the best speed. Similar blogs are: How to stop running out of ephemeral ports and start to love long-lived connections; Everything you ever wanted to know about UDP sockets but were afraid to ask.

  • How Ramadan shows up in Internet trends (✍️)
    What happens to the Internet traffic in countries where many observe Ramadan? Depending on the country, there are clear shifts and changing patterns in Internet use, particularly before dawn and after sunset. This is all coming from our Radar platform. We can see many human trends, from a relevant outage in a country (here’s the list of Q2 2022 disruptions), to events like elections, the Eurovision, the ‘Jubilee’ celebration or the James Webb Telescope pictures revelation.

2022, research focused

  • Hertzbleed attack (✍️)  
    A deep explainer where we compare a runner in a long distance race with how CPU frequency scaling leads to a nasty side channel affecting cryptographic algorithms. Don’t be confused with the older and impactful Heartbleed.

  • Future-proofing SaltStack (✍️)  
    A chronicle of our path of making the SaltStack system quantum-secure. In an extra post-quantum blog post, we highlight how we are preparing the Internet and our infrastructure for the arrival of quantum computers.

  • Unlocking QUIC’s proxying potential with MASQUE (✍️)
    A deep dive into QUIC transport protocol and a good up to date way to know more about it (related: HTTP usage trends).

  • HPKE: Standardizing public-key encryption (finally!) (✍️)  
    Two research groups have finally published the next reusable, and future-proof generation of (hybrid) public-key encryption (PKE) for Internet protocols and applications: Hybrid Public Key Encryption (HPKE).

  • Sizing Up Post-Quantum Signatures (✍️)  
    This blog (followed by this deep dive one that includes quotes from Ancient Greece) was highlighted by a reader as “life changing”. It shows the peculiar relationship between PQC (post-quantum cryptography) signatures and TLS (Transport Layer Security) size and connection quality. It’s research about how quantum computers could unlock the next age of innovation, and will break the majority of the cryptography used to protect our web browsing (more on that below). But it is also about how to make a website really fast.

If you like Twitter threads, here is a recent one from our Head of Cloudflare Research, Nick Sullivan, that explains in simple terms the way privacy on the Internet works and challenges in protecting it now and for the future.

This month we also did a full reading list/guide with our blog posts about all sorts of attacks (from DDoS to phishing, malware or ransomware) and how to stay protected in 2022.

How does it (the Internet) work

  • Cloudflare’s view of the Rogers Communications outage in Canada (✍️ 2022)
    One of the largest ISPs in Canada, Rogers Communications, had a huge outage on July 8, 2022, that lasted for more than 17 hours. From our view of the Internet, we show why we concluded it seemed caused by an internal error and how the Internet, being a network of networks, all bound together by BGP, was related to the disruption.

  • Understanding how Facebook disappeared from the Internet (✍️ 2021).
    “Facebook can't be down, can it?”, we thought, for a second, on October 4, 2021. It was, and we had a deep dive about it, where BGP was also ‘king’.

Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity famously dictates that no known object can travel faster than the speed of light in vacuum, which is 299,792 km/s.

  • Welcome to Speed Week and a Waitless Internet (✍️ 2021).
    There’s no object, as far as we, humans, know, that is faster than the speed of light. In this blog post you’ll get a sense of the physical limits of Internet speeds (“the speed of light is really slow”). How it all works through electrons through wires, lasers blasting data down fiber optic cables, and how building a waitless Internet is hard.
    We go on to explain the factors that go into building our fast global network: bandwidth, latency, reliability, caching, cryptography, DNS, preloading, cold starts, and more; and how Cloudflare zeroes in on the most powerful number there is: zero. And here’s a challenge, there are a few movies, books, board game references hidden in the post for you to find.

“People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”
Ray Bradbury, from Beyond 1984: The People Machines

  • Securing the post-quantum world (✍️ 2020).
    This one is more about the future of the Internet. We have many post-quantum related posts, including the recent standardization one (‘NIST’s pleasant post-quantum surprise’), but here you have an easy-to-understand explanation of a complex but crucial for the future of the Internet topic. More on those challenges and opportunities in 2022 here.
    The sum up is: “Quantum computers are coming that will have the ability to break the cryptographic mechanisms we rely on to secure modern communications, but there is hope”. For a quantum computing starting point, check: The Quantum Menace.

  • SAD DNS Explained (✍️ 2020).
    A 2020 attack against the Domain Name System (DNS) called SAD DNS (Side channel AttackeD DNS) leveraged features of the networking stack in modern operating systems. It’s a good excuse to explain how the DNS protocol and spoofing work, and how the industry can prevent it — another post expands on improving DNS privacy with Oblivious DoH in

  • Privacy needs to be built into the Internet (✍️ 2020)
    A bit of history is always interesting and of value (at least for me). To launch one of our Privacy Weeks, in 2020, here’s a general view to the three different phases of the Internet. Until the 1990s the race was for connectivity. With the introduction of SSL in 1994, the Internet moved to a second phase where security became paramount (it helped create the dotcom rush and the secure, online world we live in today). Now, it’s all about the Phase 3 of the Internet we’re helping to build: always on, always secure, always private.

  • 50 Years of The Internet. Work in Progress to a Better Internet (✍️ 2019)
    In 2019, we were celebrating 50 years from when the very first network packet took flight from the Los Angeles campus at UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) building in Palo Alto. Those two California sites had kicked-off the world of packet networking, on the ARPANET, and of the modern Internet as we use and know it today. Here we go through some Internet history.
    This reminds me of this December 2021 conversation about how the Web began, 30 years earlier. Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming meets Dr. Ben Segal, early Internet pioneer and CERN's first official TCP/IP Coordinator, and Francois Fluckiger, director of the CERN School of Computing. Here, we learn how the World Wide Web became an open source project.

  • Welcome to Crypto Week (✍️ 2018).
    If you want to know why cryptography is so important for the Internet, here’s a good place to start. The Internet, with all of its marvels in connecting people and ideas, needs an upgrade, and one of the tools that can make things better is cryptography. There’s also a more mathematical privacy pass protocol related perspective (that is the basis of the work to eliminate CAPTCHAs).

  • Why TLS 1.3 isn't in browsers yet (✍️ 2017).
    It’s all about: “Upgrading a security protocol in an ecosystem as complex as the Internet is difficult. You need to update clients and servers and make sure everything in between continues to work correctly. The Internet is in the middle of such an upgrade right now.” More on that from 2021 here: Handshake Encryption: Endgame (an ECH update).

  • How to build your own public key infrastructure (✍️ 2015).
    A way of getting to know how a major part of securing a network as geographically diverse as Cloudflare’s is protecting data as it travels between datacenters. “Great security architecture requires a defense system with multiple layers of protection”. From the same year, here’s something about digital signatures being the bedrock of trust.

  • A (Relatively Easy To Understand) Primer on Elliptic Curve Cryptography (✍️ 2013).
    Also thinking of how the Internet will continue to work for years to come, here’s a very complex topic made simple about one of the most powerful but least understood types of cryptography in wide use.

  • Why Google Went Offline Today and a Bit about How the Internet Works (✍️ 2012).
    We had several similar blog posts over the years, but this 10-year old one from Tom Paseka set the tone on how we could give a good technical explanation for something that was impacting so many. Here ​​Internet routing, route leakages are discussed and it all ends on a relevant note: “Just another day in our ongoing efforts to #savetheweb.” Quoting from someone in the company for nine years: “This blog was the one that first got me interested in Cloudflare”.

Again, if you like Twitter threads, this recent Nick Sullivan one starts with an announcement (Cloudflare now allows experiments with post-quantum cryptography) and goes on explaining what some of the more relevant Internet acronyms mean. Example: TLS, or Transport Layer Security, it’s the ubiquitous encryption and authentication protocol that protects web requests online.

Blast from the past (some history)

A few also recently referenced blog posts from the past, some more technical than others.

  • Introducing DNS Resolver, (not a joke) (✍️ 2018).
    The first consumer-focused service Cloudflare has ever released, our DNS resolver, — a recursive DNS service — was launched on April 1, 2018, and this is the technical explanation. With this offering, we started fixing the foundation of the Internet by building a faster, more secure and privacy-centric public DNS resolver. And, just this month, we’ve added privacy proofed features (a geolocation accuracy “pizza test” included).

  • Cloudflare goes InterPlanetary - Introducing Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway (✍️ 2018).
    We introduced Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway, an easy way to access content from the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS). This served as the platform for many new, at the time, highly-reliable and security-enhanced web applications. It was the first product to be released as part of our Distributed Web Gateway project and is a different perspective from the traditional web.
    IPFS is a peer-to-peer file system composed of thousands of computers around the world, each of which stores files on behalf of the network. And, yes, it can be used as a method for a possible Mars (Moon, etc.) Internet in the future. About that, the same goes for code that will need to be running on Mars, something we mention about Workers here.

  • LavaRand in Production: The Nitty-Gritty Technical Details (✍️ 2017).
    Our lava lamps wall in the San Francisco office is much more than a wall of lava lamps (the YouTuber Tom Scott did a 2017 video about it) and in this blog we explain the in-depth look at the technical details (there’s a less technical one on how randomness in cryptography works).

  • Introducing Cloudflare Workers (✍️ 2017).
    There are several announcements each year, but this blog (associated with the explanation, Code Everywhere: Why We Built Cloudflare Workers) was referenced this week by some as one of those with a clear impact. It was when we started making Cloudflare's network programmable. In 2018, Workers was available to everyone and, in 2019, we registered the trademark for The Network is the Computer®, to encompass how Cloudflare is using its network to pave the way for the future of the Internet.

  • What's the story behind the names of CloudFlare's name servers? (✍️ 2013)
    Another one referenced this week is the answer to the question we got often back in 2013: what the names of our nameservers mean. Here's the story — there’s even an Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak tribute.
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