Cloudflare launches Spectrum to protect the internet beyond the web

When it launched back in 2010, Cloudflare was all about speeding up websites and protecting them from hackers. Today, with the launch of Spectrum, it’s taking a major step to move beyond the web and into protecting — and potentially speeding up — other parts of the internet.

While Cloudflare’s regular services work well for apps, APIs and websites, all of which tend to use regular web protocols, Spectrum is about all of the other traffic that moves across the internet. Or as the company puts it: Spectrum extends Cloudflare to 65,533 ports.

To be clear, this is not a self-serve product like the majority of Cloudflare’s existing services. It’s also mostly about security, not performance (though somewhat incidentally, it does often speed up connections, too). This is very much a product for large enterprises that want to ensure their various services sit behind a secure connection.

As Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince told me, the company started with protecting websites in part because it was going after small customers during its early days. And those customers were mostly setting up websites at the time. As the company’s customer base grew, those customers went from small websites to more advanced web applications and mobile apps. Cloudflare is talking to the largest financial institutions and other major enterprise clients and they are starting to ask for services that go beyond just protecting their websites.

“For born-on the web companies, we’ve been great, but if you are a big financial institution, there is a bunch of stuff that you use networks for that isn’t on the web,” Prince noted.

With Spectrum, those companies can now put their internal email servers, booking engines, IoT devices or even gaming servers behind Cloudflare’s network to protect them from DDoS attacks and other security risks. Indeed, Prince noted that he believes that gaming companies will be among the early adopters of this service, simply because they tend to have to deal with regular DDoS attacks.

“Hypixel was one of the first subjects of the Mirai botnet DDoS attacks and frequently receives large attacks,” said Bruce Blair, CTO of Minecraft server specialist Hypixel. “Before Spectrum, we had to rely on unstable services and techniques that increased latency, worsening the user experience. Now, we’re able to be continually protected without added latency, which makes it the best option for any latency and uptime-sensitive service such as online gaming.”

As Prince also noted, these users can also opt to then encrypt their traffic — something that many legacy protocols don’t support out of the box.

Because traffic is then routed through Cloudflare’s network, these connections are also often faster than before. That’s not always the case, though, but Prince stressed that there is no performance penalty to pay either. Because of the kind of traffic that will move through Spectrum, Cloudflare can’t work its usual magic to speed up sites by caching content at the edge, but then, the selling point here is security, not speed.

Spectrum is now available to enterprises that want to sign up for the service. Cloudflare isn’t publishing any pricing plans, but Prince told me the company will charge based on how much traffic companies will route through the service.