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Post-quantum crypto should be free, so we’re including it for free, forever


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Post-quantum crypto should be free, so we’re including it for free, forever

At Cloudflare, helping to build a better Internet is not just a catchy saying. We are committed to the long-term process of standards development. We love the work of pushing the fundamental technology of the Internet forward in ways that are accessible to everyone. Today we are adding even more substance to that commitment. One of our core beliefs is that privacy is a human right. We believe that to achieve that right the most advanced cryptography needs to be available to everyone, free of charge, forever. Today, we are announcing that our implementations of post-quantum cryptography will meet that standard: available to everyone, and included free of charge, forever.

We have a proud history of taking paid encryption products and launching it to the Internet at scale for Free. Even at the cost of short and long-term revenue because it’s the right thing to do. In 2014, we made SSL free for every Cloudflare customer with Universal SSL. As we make our implementations of post-quantum cryptography free forever today, we do it in the spirit of that first major announcement:

“Having cutting-edge encryption may not seem important to a small blog, but it is critical to advancing the encrypted-by-default future of the Internet. Every byte, however seemingly mundane, that flows encrypted across the Internet makes it more difficult for those who wish to intercept, throttle, or censor the web. In other words, ensuring your personal blog is available over HTTPS makes it more likely that a human rights organization or social media service or independent journalist will be accessible around the world. Together we can do great things.”

We hope that others will follow us in making their implementations of PQC free as well so that we can create a secure and private Internet without a “quantum” up-charge.

The Internet has matured since the 1990’s and the launch of SSL. What was once an experimental frontier has turned into the underlying fabric of modern society. It runs in our most critical infrastructure like power systems, hospitals, airports, and banks. We trust it with our most precious memories. We trust it with our secrets. That’s why the Internet needs to be private by default. It needs to be secure by default. It’s why we’re committed to ensuring that anyone and everyone can achieve post quantum security for free as well as start deploying it at scale today.

Our work on post-quantum crypto is driven by the thesis that quantum computers that can break conventional cryptography create a similar problem to the Year 2000 bug. We know there is going to be a problem in the future that could have catastrophic consequences for users, businesses, and even nation states. The difference this time is we don’t know the date and time that this break in the paradigm of how computers operate will occur. We need to prepare today to be ready for this threat.

To that end we have been preparing for this transition since 2018. At that time we were concerned about the implementation problems other large protocol transitions, like the move to TLS 1.3, had caused our customers and wanted to get ahead of it. Cloudflare Research over the last few years has become a leader and champion of the idea that PQC security wasn’t an afterthought for tomorrow but a real problem that needed to be solved today. We have collaborated with industry partners like Google and Mozilla, contributed to development through participation in the IETF, and even launched an open source experimental cryptography suite to help move the needle. We have tried hard to work with everyone that wanted to be a part of the process and show our work along the way.

As we have worked with our partners in both industry and academia to help prepare us and the Internet for a post-quantum future, we have become dismayed by an emerging trend. There are a growing number of vendors out there that want to cash in on the legitimate fear that nervous executives, privacy advocates, and government leaders have about quantum computing breaking traditional encryption. These vendors offer vague solutions based on unproven technologies like “Quantum Key Distribution” or “Post Quantum Security” libraries that package non-standard algorithms that haven’t been through public review with exorbitant price tags like RSA did in the 1990s. They often love to throw around phrases like “AI” and “Post Quantum” without really showing their work on how any of their systems actually function. Security and privacy are table stakes in the modern Internet, and no one should be charged just to get the baseline protection needed in our contemporary world.

Launch your PQC transition today

Testing and adopting post-quantum cryptography in modern networks doesn’t have to be hard! In fact, Cloudflare customers can test PQC in their systems today, as we describe later in this post.

Currently, we support Kyber for key agreement on any traffic that uses TLS 1.3 including HTTP/3. (If you want a deep dive on our implementation check out our blog from last fall announcing the beta.) To help you test your traffic to Cloudflare domains with these new key agreement methods we have open-sourced forks for BoringSSL, Go and quic-go. For BoringSSL and Go, check out the sample code here.

If you use Tunnels with cloudflared then upgrading to PQC is super simple. Make sure you’re on at least version 2022.9.1 and simply run cloudflared --post-quantum.

After testing out how Cloudflare can help you implement PQC in your networks, it’s time to start to prepare yourself for the transition to PQC in all of your systems. This first step of inventorying and identifying is critical to a smooth rollout. We know first hand since we have undertaken an extensive evaluation of all of our systems to earn our FedRAMP Authorization certifications, and we are doing a similar evaluation again to transition all of our internal systems to PQC.

How we are setting ourselves up for the future of quantum computing

Here’s a sneak preview of the path that we are developing right now to fully secure Cloudflare itself against the cryptographic threat of quantum computers. We can break that path down into three parts: internal systems, zero trust, and open source contributions.

The first part of our path to full PQC adoption at Cloudflare is around all of our connections. The connection between yourself and Cloudflare is just one part of the larger path of the connection. Inside our internal systems we are implementing two significant upgrades in 2023 to ensure that they are PQC secure as well.

The first is that we use BoringSSL for a substantial amount of connections. We currently use our fork and we are excited that upstream support for Kyber is underway. Any additional internal connections that use a different cryptographic system are being upgraded as well. The second major upgrade we are making is to shift the remaining internal connections that use TLS 1.2 to TLS 1.3. This combination of Kyber and TLS 1.3 will make our internal connections faster and more secure, even though we use a hybrid of classical and post-quantum secure cryptography. It’s a speed and security win-win. And we proved this power house combination would provide that speed and security over three and half years ago thanks to the groundbreaking work of Cloudflare Research and Google.

The next part of that path is all about using PQC and zero trust as allies together. As we think about the security posture of tomorrow being based around post-quantum cryptography, we have to look at the other critical security paradigm being implemented today: zero trust. Today, the zero trust vendor landscape is littered with products that fail to support common protocols like IPv6 and TLS 1.2, let alone the next generation of protocols like TLS 1.3 and QUIC that enable PQC. So many middleboxes struggle under the load of today’s modern protocols. They artificially downgrade connections and break end user security all in the name of inspecting traffic because they don’t have a better solution. Organizations big and small struggled to support customers that wanted the highest possible performance and security, while also keeping their businesses safe, because of the resistance of these vendors to adapt to modern standards. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. We are planning and evaluating the needed upgrades to all of our zero trust products to support PQC out of the box. We believe that zero trust and post-quantum cryptography are not at odds with one another, but rather together are the future standard of security.

Finally, it’s not enough for us to do this for ourselves and for our customers. The Internet is only as strong as its weakest links in the connection chains that network us all together. Every connection on the Internet needs the strongest possible encryption so that businesses can be secure, and everyday users can be ensured of their privacy. We believe that this core technology should be vendor agnostic and open to everyone. To help make that happen our final part of the path is all about contributing to open source projects. We have already been focused on releases to CIRCL. CIRCL (Cloudflare Interoperable, Reusable Cryptographic Library) is a collection of cryptographic primitives written in Go. The goal of this library is to be used as a tool for experimental deployment of cryptographic algorithms targeting post quantum.

Later on this year we will be publishing as open source a set of easy to adopt, vendor-neutral roadmaps to help you upgrade your own systems to be secure against the future today. We want the security and privacy created by post quantum crypto to be accessible and free for everyone. We will also keep writing extensively about our post quantum journey. To learn more about how you can turn on PQC today, and how we have been building post-quantum cryptography at Cloudflare, please check out these resources:

We protect entire corporate networks, help customers build Internet-scale applications efficiently, accelerate any website or Internet application, ward off DDoS attacks, keep hackers at bay, and can help you on your journey to Zero Trust.

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Wesley Evans|@whywevans
Bas Westerbaan|@bwesterb

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