Subscribe to receive notifications of new posts:

The Zero Trust platform built for speed


9 min read

Cloudflare for Teams secures your company’s users, devices, and data — without slowing you down. Your team should not need to sacrifice performance in order to be secure. Unlike other vendors in the market, Cloudflare’s products not only avoid back hauling traffic and adding latency — they make your team faster.

We’ve accomplished this by building Cloudflare for Teams on Cloudflare. All the products in the Zero Trust platform build on the improvements and features we’re highlighting as part of Speed Week:

  1. Cloudflare for Teams replaces legacy private networks with Cloudflare’s network, a faster way to connect users to applications.
  2. Cloudflare’s Zero Trust decisions are enforced in Cloudflare Workers, the performant serverless platform that runs in every Cloudflare data center.
  3. The DNS filtering features in Cloudflare Gateway run on the same technology that powers, the world’s fastest recursive DNS resolver.
  4. Cloudflare’s Secure Web Gateway accelerates connections to the applications your team uses.
  5. The technology that powers Cloudflare Browser Isolation is fundamentally different compared to other approaches and the speed advantages demonstrate that.

We’re excited to share how each of these components work together to deliver a comprehensive Zero Trust platform that makes your team faster. All the tools we talk about below are available today, they’re easy to use (and get started with) — and they’re free for your first 50 users. If you want to sign up now, head over to the Teams Dashboard!

Shifting From an Old Model to a New, Much Faster One

Legacy access control slowed down teams

Most of our customers start their Zero Trust journey by replacing their legacy private network. Private networks, by default, trust users inside those networks. If a user is on the network, they are considered trusted and can reach other services unless explicitly blocked. Security teams hate that model. It creates a broad attack surface for internal and external bad actors. All they need to do is get network access.

Zero Trust solutions provide a more secure alternative where every request or connection is considered untrusted. Instead, users need to prove they should be able to reach the specific applications or services based on signals like identity, device posture, location and even multifactor method.

Cloudflare Access gives your team the ability to apply these rules, while also logging every event, as a full VPN replacement. Now instead of sneaking onto the network, a malicious user would need valid user credentials, a hard-key and company laptop to even get started.

It also makes your applications much, much faster by avoiding the legacy VPN backhaul requirement.

Private networks attempt to mirror a physical location. Deployments start inside the walls of an office building, for example. If a user was in the building, they could connect. When they left the building, they needed a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client. The VPN client punched a hole back into the private network and allowed the user to reach the same set of resources. If those resources also sat outside the office, the VPN became a slow backhaul requirement.

Some businesses address this by creating different VPN instances for their major hubs across the country or globe. However, they still need to ensure a fast and secure connection between major hubs and applications. This is typically done with dedicated MPLS connections to improve application performance. MPLS lines are both expensive and take IT resources to maintain.

When teams replace their VPN with a Zero Trust solution, they can and often do reduce the latency added by backhauling traffic through a VPN appliance. However, we think that “slightly faster” is not good enough. Cloudflare Access delivers your applications and services to end users on Cloudflare’s network while verifying every request to ensure the user is properly authenticated.

Cloudflare’s Zero Trust approach speeds teams up

Organizations start by connecting their resources to Cloudflare’s network using Cloudflare Tunnel, a service that runs in your environment and creates outbound-only connections to Cloudflare’s edge. That service is powered by our Argo Smart Routing technology, which improves performance of web assets by 30% on average (Argo Smart Routing became even faster earlier this week).

On the other side, users connect to Cloudflare’s network by reaching a data center near them in over 250 cities around the world. 95% of the entire Internet-connected world is now within 50 ms of a Cloudflare presence, and 80% of the entire Internet-connected world is within 20ms (for reference, it takes 300-400 ms for a human to blink).

Finally, Cloudflare’s network finds the best route to get your users to your applications — regardless of where they are located, using Cloudflare’s global backbone. Our backbone consists of dedicated fiber optic lines and reserved portions of wavelength that connect Cloudflare data centers together. This is split approximately 55/45 between “metro” capacity, which redundantly connects data centers in which we have a presence, and “long-haul” capacity, which connects Cloudflare data centers in different cities. There are no individual VPN instances or MPLS lines, all a user needs to do is access their desired application and Cloudflare handles the logic to efficiently route their request.

When teams replace their private networks with Cloudflare, they accelerate the performance of the applications their employees need. However, the Zero Trust model also includes new security layers. Those safeguards should not slow you down, either — and on Cloudflare, they won’t.

Instant Zero Trust decisions built on the Internet’s most performant serverless platform, Workers

Cloudflare Access checks every request and connection against the rules that your administrators configure on a resource-by-resource basis. If users have not proved they should be able to reach a given resource, we begin evaluating their signals by taking steps like prompting them to authenticate with their identity/Sign-Sign On provider or checking their device for posture. If users meet all the criteria, we allow them to proceed.

Despite evaluating dozens of signals, we think this step should be near instantaneous to the user. To solve that problem, we built Cloudflare Access’ authentication layer entirely on Cloudflare Workers. Every application’s Access policies are stored and evaluated at every one of Cloudflare’s 250+ data centers. Instead of a user’s traffic having to be backhauled to an office and then to the application, traffic is routed from the closest data center to the user directly to their desired application.

As Rita Kozlov wrote earlier this week, Cloudflare Workers is the Internet’s fast serverless platform. Workers runs in every data center in Cloudflare’s network — meaning the authentication decision does not add more backhaul or get in the way of the network acceleration discussed above. In comparison to other serverless platforms, Cloudflare Workers is “210% faster than Lambda@Edge and 298% faster than Lambda.”

By building on Cloudflare Workers, we can authenticate user sessions to a given resource in less than three milliseconds on average. This also makes Access resilient — unlike a VPN that can go down and block user access, even if any Cloudflare data center goes offline, user requests are redirected to a nearby data center.

Filtering built on the same platform as the world’s fastest public DNS resolver

After securing internal resources, the next phase in a Zero Trust journey for many customers is to secure their users, devices, and data from external threats. Cloudflare Gateway helps organizations start by filtering DNS queries leaving devices and office networks.

When users navigate to a website or connect to a service, their device begins by making a DNS query to their DNS resolver. Most DNS resolvers respond with the IP of the hostname being requested. If the DNS resolver is aware of what hostnames on the Internet are dangerous, the resolver can instead keep the user safe by blocking the query.

Historically, organizations deployed DNS filtering solutions using appliances that sat inside their physical office. Similar to the private network challenges, users outside the office had to use a VPN to backhaul their traffic to the appliances in the office that provided DNS filtering and other security solutions.

That model has shifted to cloud-based solutions. However, those solutions are only as good as the speed of their DNS resolution and distribution of the data centers. Again, this is better for performance — but not yet good enough.

We wanted to bring DNS filtering closer to each user. When DNS queries are made from a device running Cloudflare Gateway, all requests are initially sent to a nearby Cloudflare data center. These DNS queries are then checked against a comprehensive list of known threats.

We’re able to do this faster than a traditional DNS filter because Cloudflare operates the world’s fastest public DNS resolver, Cloudflare processes hundreds of billions of DNS queries per day and the users who choose enjoy the fastest DNS resolution on the Internet and audited privacy guarantees.

Customers who secure their teams with Cloudflare Gateway benefit from the same improvements and optimizations that have kept the fastest resolver on the Internet. When organizations begin filtering DNS with Cloudflare Gateway, they immediately improve the Internet experience for their employees compared to any other DNS resolver.

A Secure Web Gateway without performance penalties

In the kick-off post for Speed Week, we described how delivering a waitless Internet isn’t just about having ample bandwidth. The speed of light and round trips incurred by DNS, TLS and HTTP protocols can easily manifest into a degraded browsing experience.

To protect their teams from threats and data loss on the Internet, security teams inspect and filter traffic on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Secure Web Gateway (SWG). On an unfiltered Internet connection, your DNS, TLS and HTTP requests take a short trip from your browser to your local ISP which then sends the request to the target destination. With a filtered Internet connection, this traffic is instead sent from your local ISP to a centralized SWG hosted either on-premise or in a zero trust network — before eventually being dispatched to the end destination.

This centralization of Internet traffic introduces the tromboning effect, artificially degrading performance by forcing traffic to take longer paths to destinations even when the end destination is closer than the filtering service. This effect can be eliminated by performing filtering on a network that is interconnected directly with your ISP.

To quantify this point we again leveraged Catchpoint to measure zero trust network round trip time from a range of international cities. Based on public documentation we also measured publicly available endpoints for Cisco Umbrella, ZScaler, McAfee and Menlo Security.

There is a wide variance in results. Cloudflare, on average, responds in 10.63ms, followed by Cisco Umbrella (26.39ms), ZScaler (35.60ms), Menlo Security (37.64ms) and McAfee (59.72ms).

Cloudflare for Teams is built on the same network that powers the world’s fastest DNS resolver and WARP to deliver consumer-grade privacy and performance. Since our network is highly interconnected and located in over 250 cities around the world our network, we’re able to eliminate the tromboning effect by inspecting and filtering traffic in the same Internet exchange points that your Internet Service Provider uses to connect you to the Internet.

These tests are simple network latency tests and do not encapsulate latency’s impact end-to-end on DNS, TLS and HTTPS connections or the benefits of our global content delivery network serving cached content for the millions of websites accelerated by our network. Unlike content delivery networks which are publicly measured, zero trust networks are hidden behind enterprise contracts which hinder industry-wide transparency.

Latency sensitivity and Browser Isolation

The web browser has evolved into workplace’s most ubiquitous application, and with it created one of the most common attack vectors for phishing, malware and data loss. This risk has led many security teams to incorporate a remote browser isolation solution into their security stack.

Users browsing remotely are especially sensitive to latency. Remote web pages will typically load fast due to the remote browser’s low latency, high bandwidth connection to the website, but user interactions such as scrolling, typing and mouse input stutter and buffer leading to significant user frustration. A high latency connection on a local browser is the opposite with latency manifesting as slow page load times.

Segmenting these results per continent, we can see highly inconsistent latency on centralized zero trust networks and far more consistent results for Cloudflare’s decentralized zero trust network.

The thin green line shows Cloudflare consistently responding in under 11ms globally, with other vendors delivering unstable and inconsistent results. If you’ve had a bad experience with other Remote Browser Isolation tools in the past, it was likely because it wasn’t built on a network designed to support it.

Give it a try!

We believe that security shouldn’t result in sacrificing performance — and we’ve architected our Zero Trust platform to make it so. We also believe that Zero Trust security shouldn’t just be the domain of the big players with lots of resources — it should be available to everyone as part of our mission to help make the Internet a better place. We’ve made all the tools covered above free for your first 50 users. Get started today in the Teams Dashboard!

Watch on Cloudflare TV

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.

Visit from any device to get started with our free app that makes your Internet faster and safer.

To learn more about our mission to help build a better Internet, start here. If you're looking for a new career direction, check out our open positions.
Speed WeekZero Trust

Follow on X

Kenny Johnson|@KennyJohnsonATX
Tim Obezuk|@obezuk

Related posts

June 23, 2023 1:00 PM

How we scaled and protected Eurovision 2023 voting with Pages and Turnstile

More than 162 million fans tuned in to the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, the first year that non-participating countries could also vote. Cloudflare helped scale and protect the voting application, built by using our rapid DNS infrastructure, CDN, Cloudflare Pages and Turnstile...