Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 12 News List

The Switzerland of cyberspace

CloudFlare protects Web sites from hackers, but the company is facing tough questions from law enforcement agencies

By Gerry Shih  /  Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

MATERIAL SUPPORT

Although it has never prosecuted an Internet company under the Patriot Act, the government’s use of the material support argument has steadily risen since 2006. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 260 cases have been charged under the provision, according to Fordham Law School’s Terrorism Trends database.

Catherine Lotrionte, the director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Law, Science and Global Security and a former CIA lawyer, argued that Internet companies should be more closely regulated.

“Material support includes Web services,” Lotrionte said. “Denying them services makes it more costly for the terrorists. You’re cornering them.”

But others have warned that an aggressive government approach would have a chilling effect on free speech.

“We’re resurrecting the kind of broad-brush approaches we used in the McCarthy era,” said David Cole, who represented the Humanitarian Law Project, a non-profit organization that was charged by the Justice Department for teaching law to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated by the US as a terrorist group. The group took its case to the Supreme Court but lost in 2010.

The material support law is vague and ill-crafted, to the point where basic telecom providers, for instance, could be found guilty by association if a terrorist logs onto the Web to plot an attack, Cole said.

In that case, he asked, “Do we really think that AT&T or Google should be held accountable?”

CloudFlare said it has not been contacted about its services by the US government. Spokespeople for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad told Reuters they contracted a cyber-security company in Gaza that out-sources work to foreign companies, but declined further comment. The IDF confirmed it had hired CloudFlare, but declined to discuss “internal security” matters.

CloudFlare offers many of its services for free, but the company says websites seeking advanced protection and features can see their bill rise to more than US$3,000 a month. Prince declined to discuss the business arrangements with specific customers.

While not yet profitable, CloudFlare has more than doubled its revenue in the past four months, according to Prince, and is picking up 3,000 new customers a day. The company has raked in more than US$22 million from venture capital firms including New Enterprise Associates, Venrock and Pelion Venture Partners.

Prince, a Midwestern native with mussed brown hair who holds a law degree from the University of Chicago, said he has a track record of working on the right side of the law.

A decade ago, Prince provided free legal aid to Spamhaus, an international group that tracked e-mail spammers and identity thieves. He went on to create Project Honey Pot, an open source spam-tracking endeavor that turned over findings to police.

Prince’s latest company, CloudFlare, has been hailed by groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists for protecting speech. Another client, the World Economic Forum, named CloudFlare among its 2012 “technology pioneers” for its work. But it also owes its profile to its most controversial customers.

CloudFlare has served 4Chan, the online messaging community that spawned Anonymous. LulzSec, the hacker group best known for targeting Sony Corp, is another customer. And since last May, the company has propped up WikiLeaks after a vigilante hacker group crashed the document repository.

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