Cloudflare Launches Its Security-Focused Mobile VPN, Again

Cloudflare Launches Its Security-Focused Mobile VPN, Again

In April, Cloudflare, the internet infrastructure giant, launched a security- and speed-focused mobile VPN called Warp. The idea was to offer a sleek, streamlined alternative to the buggy, laggy, generally frustrating options that make up most of the mobile VPN market. But things with Warp didn’t go as planned. In fact, the original release had almost all the problems that Cloudflare was trying to solve. And a waitlist of about 2 million people who wanted to try a half-baked product.

On Wednesday, the company is finally relaunching Warp, which Cloudflare says is better for its rocky debut—even if it was embarrassing. The VPN builds on Cloudflare’s existing mobile app, which encrypts “domain name system” connections, so your internet service provider or other lurkers can’t see which websites you access. But Warp goes beyond this protection to encrypt the whole journey from your device to a web server and back—even if the website itself still isn’t offering HTTPS web encryption. And all of this happens quickly, without draining your battery, and without complicated setup. Seriously. Like, for real this time.

“Yeah, what we thought was going to be easy back in April turned out to be a lot harder than we expected,” says Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince. “We had been testing this primarily in San Francisco and Austin and London, which is where the teams that were working on this are based. But as soon as users started to get anywhere that didn’t have a fairly reliable internet connection, just all hell broke loose.”

In describing the hurdles Cloudflare faced getting Warp off the ground, John Graham-Cumming, the company’s chief technology officer, and Dane Knecht, its head of product strategy, note that many of the challenges came from dealing with interoperability issues between mobile device models, operating system versions, and different mobile network and Wi-Fi configurations around the world. For example, Warp is built on a newer secure communication protocol for VPNs known as WireGuard, which isn’t ubiquitous yet and therefore isn’t always natively supported by devices. The team also faced challenges dealing with web protocols and standards that are implemented inconsistently across different wireless carriers and internet service providers around the world. Cloudflare’s focuses on encrypting DNS connections specifically, but Warp aims to encompass everything in one protected tunnel. Keeping everything together as data traverses the labyrinth of servers that make up the internet, including Cloudflare’s own massive network, was tough.

“What’s really hard about mobile is you can switch between Wi-Fi and LTE and within Wi-Fi and your IP address changes,” Knecht says, referring to the string of numbers that gets assigned to devices on the internet as a sort of mailing address. “Normally your connection is tied to your IP, so if you change IPs or change networks you have to start all over again with what your device has been doing. Instead we abstracted away that reliance on a connection ID, so no matter if the device is traveling over LTE or Wi-Fi it all gets to the same place and the underlying connection can still continue.”

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