26 Feb 2015

Extra security and speed with CloudFlare

Anyone running a website will be aware of a growing threat from malicious software, usually powered by networks of infected computers known as botnets. Vulnerabilities in software are increasingly targeted, and the numbers of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on websites are estimated to have increased tenfold since 2009.

I’ve been running websites for over 15 years, and I’ve seen first-hand how much growth there has been in this type of traffic.

Checking the logs for most websites will reveal that a botnet has been testing for a vulnerability.  Website security has never been so important.

There are common sense steps that will help protect most websites. For example, using strong passwords, and ensuring all system software is kept up-to-date.

However, there is also a security service available for websites, which has been growing in popularity over the last few years – CloudFlare.

CloudFlare routes all traffic to a website through its own servers first. Doing this allows it to block a large amount of malicious software from reaching the website. Users don’t notice this extra step - it’s like having an invisible digital bouncer for your website.

Another advantage of this service is that it speeds up your site and reduces the load on your server. This is achieved by CloudFlare storing popular website files and pages for quick access on their own servers.

Similar services have existed in the past, but they have only been affordable to large and well-resourced websites such as Facebook and Microsoft. CloudFlare was launched in 2009 to provide a similar service for smaller websites.

It has a free basic offering that the majority of its customers use, but you can also pay for more advanced protection.

CloudFlare does have limitations. It adds an extra point of failure. If the part of the CloudFlare network that deals with your site goes down, then so will your site.

Also, it doesn’t block all malicious software – some will still get through. In addition, you will need to move control of your domain settings (the ‘nameservers’) to CloudFlare in order to use the service.

However, the advantages are clear, and I’ve increasingly been using this service to add extra protection to some of the websites I work on, including the new unionlearn website.

The speed advantages are really useful, and with the growing risk from malicious software, the extra security is particularly welcome.

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