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Investigating threats using the Cloudflare Security Center

Cloudflare blocks a lot of diverse security threats, with some of the more interesting attacks targeting the “long tail” of the millions of Internet properties we protect. The data we glean from these attacks trains our machine learning models and improves the efficacy of our network and application security products, but historically hasn’t been available to query directly. This week, we’re changing that.

All customers will soon be granted access to our new threat investigations portal, Investigate, in the Cloudflare Security Center (first launched in December 2021). Additionally, we’ll be annotating threats across our analytics platform with this intelligence to streamline security workflows and tighten feedback loops.

What sorts of data might you want to look up here? Let’s say you’re seeing an IP address in your logs and want to learn which hostnames have pointed to it via DNS, or you’re seeing a cluster of attacks come from an autonomous system (AS) you’re not familiar with. Or maybe you want to investigate a domain name to see how it’s been categorized from a threat perspective. Simply enter any of those items into the omni search box, and we’ll tell you everything we know.

IPs and hostnames will be available to query this week, followed by AS details to give you insight into the networks that communicate with your Cloudflare accounts. Next month as we move to general availability we’ll add data types and properties. Integrations with partners will allow you to use your existing license keys to see all your threat data in a single, unified interface. We also plan to show how both your infrastructure and corporate employees are interacting with any objects you look up, e.g., you can see how many times an IP triggers a WAF or API Shield rule, or how many times your employees attempted to resolve a domain that’s known to serve malware.

Annotations in the dashboard: actionable intelligence in context

Looking up threat data on an ad hoc basis is great, but it’s better when that data is annotated directly in logs and analytics. Starting this week, we will begin rolling out intelligence that is available in Investigate in the dashboard where it is relevant to your workflow. We’re starting with the web application firewall analytics for your websites that are behind Cloudflare.

Say you are investigating a security alert for a large number of requests that are blocked by a web application firewall rule. You might see that the alert was caused by an IP address probing your website for commonly exploited software vulnerabilities. If the IP in question were a cloud IP or flagged as an anonymizer, contextual intelligence will show that information directly on the analytics page.

This context can help you see patterns. Are attacks coming from anonymizers or the Tor network? Are they coming from cloud virtual machines? An IP is just an IP. But seeing a credential stuffing attack coming from anonymizers is a pattern that enables a proactive response, “Is my bot management configuration up-to-date?”

Analytics view of top events showing requests coming from anonymizer

Cloudflare’s network vantage point and how this informs our data

The scale at which each product suite operates at Cloudflare is staggering. At peak, Cloudflare handles 44 million HTTP requests a second, from more than 250 cities in over 100 countries. The Cloudflare network responds to over 1.2 trillion DNS queries per day, and it has 121 Tbps of network capacity to serve traffic and mitigate denial of service attacks across all products. But on top of this immense scale, Cloudflare’s architecture enables refining raw data and combining intelligence from all of our products to paint a holistic picture of the security landscape.

We are able to take signals refined from the raw data generated by each product and combine them with signals from other products and capabilities to enhance our network and threat data capabilities. It is a common paradigm for security products to be built to have positive flywheel effects among users of the products. If one customer sees a new piece of malware, an endpoint protection vendor can deploy an update that will detect and block this malware for all their other customers. If a botnet attacks one customer, this provides information that can be used to find the signature of that botnet and protect other customers. If a device participates in a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, that information can be used to make the network able to faster detect and mitigate future DDoS attacks. Cloudflare’s breadth of product offerings means that the flywheel effect benefits to users accumulate not just between users, but between products as well.

Let’s look at some examples:

DNS resolution and certificate transparency

First, Cloudflare operates 1.1.1.1, one of the largest recursive DNS resolvers in the world. We operate it in a privacy-forward manner, so here at Cloudflare we do not know who or what IP performed a query, nor are we able to correlate queries together to distinct anonymous users. However, through the requests the resolver handles, Cloudflare sees newly registered and newly seen domains. Additionally, Cloudflare has one of the most advanced SSL/TLS encryption products on the market, and as part of that is a member organization helping to maintain the Certificate Transparency logs. These are public logs of every TLS certificate issued by a root certificate authority that is trusted by web browsers. Between these two products, Cloudflare has an unmatched view of what domains are out there on the Internet and when they become active. We use this information not only to populate our new and newly seen domains categories for our Gateway product, but we feed these domains into machine learning models that label suspicious or potentially malicious domains early in their lifecycle.

Email security

As another example, with the acquisition of Area 1, Cloudflare will bring a new set of mutually-reinforcing capabilities into its product offering. All the signals we can generate for a domain from our 1.1.1.1 resolver will become available to help identify malicious email, and Area 1’s years of expertise in identifying malicious email will be able to feed back into Cloudflare’s Gateway product and 1.1.1.1 for Families DNS resolver. In the past, data integrations like this would have been performed by IT or security teams. Instead, data will be able to flow seamlessly between the points on your organization’s attack surface, mutually reinforcing the quality of the analysis and classification. The entire Cloudflare Zero Trust toolkit, including request logging, blocking, and remote browser isolation will be available to handle potentially malicious links delivered via email, using the same policies already in place for other security risks.

Over the last few years, Cloudflare has integrated the use of machine learning in many of our product offerings, but today we’ve launched a new tool that puts the data and signals that power our network security into our customer’s hands as well. Whether responding to security incidents, threat hunting, or proactively setting security policies to protect for your organization, you, human, can now be part of the Cloudflare network as well. Cloudflare’s unique position in the network means that your insights can be fed back into the network to protect not just your organization across all Cloudflare products it uses, but also can participate in mutual insight and defense among all Cloudflare customers.

Looking forward

Cloudflare can cover your organization’s whole attack surface: defending websites, protecting devices and SaaS applications with Cloudflare Zero Trust, your locations and offices with Magic Transit, and your email communications. Security Center is here to make sure you have all the information you need to understand the cyber security risks present today, and to help you defend your organization using Cloudflare.

“What is the wiper malware that I hear about on the news, and how do I protect my company from it?” We hear your questions, and we’re going to give you answers. Not just raw information, but what is relevant to you and how you use the Internet. We have big plans for Security Center. A file scanning portal will provide you with information about JavaScript files seen by Page Shield, executable files scanned by Gateway, and the ability to upload and scan files. Indicators of Compromise like IP addresses and domains will link to information about the relevant threat actors, when known, giving you more information about the techniques and tactics you are faced with, and information about how Cloudflare products can be used to defend against them. CVE search will let you find information on software vulnerabilities, along with the same easy-to-understand Cloudflare perspective you are used to reading on this blog to help decode the jargon and technical language. With today’s release, we’re just getting started.