This morning, Cloudflare announced some surprising news: last December, the optimization and DDos protection service raised $50 million in Series C funding from Union Square Ventures, a funding round that's been kept secret until now. Even more surprising is what they plan on doing with the money. The company has announced plans to offer its customers free SSL protections, shifting millions of sites into encrypted traffic protocols. According to CEO Matthew Prince, the goal is to double SSL usage on the internet in 2014, from 2 million to roughly 4 million sites worldwide. Cloudflare currently hosts 1.5 million sites, and company statistics suggest they route roughly five percent of global web requests.
"We want to be the place that people trust, fundamentally."
The service would be a win for privacy advocates and potentially a serious headache for the NSA. SSL and HTTPS encryption already protect the traffic to most banking and email sites, but the procedures are rarely used on run-of-the-mill websites. The lack of encryption makes it much easier for the NSA and other surveillance organizations to track users across the web. As a result, privacy advocates have been pushing for more SSL adoption, particularly among religious organizations or news sites that could find themselves under surveillance, but the sites often balk at the added expense and intricacy of the system. If a third-party company like Cloudflare is willing to foot the bill and manage the certificates, the sites might be more willing to take the leap.
Cloudflare is still ironing out many of the details of the new program, including how the certificates will be acquired and how they'll manage the extra computational load, but they believe they can launch to customers by the end of Q1. The biggest obstacle may be convincing privacy-minded sites to trust a third party with routing their data, a particularly big leap in a post-PRISM era. But for Prince, that's part of the point. "We want to be the place that people trust, fundamentally," he told The Verge. "And we want to earn that trust."