Cloudflare CEO: Hackers pushed The Daily Stormer offline as soon as Cloudflare stopped protecting it

Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch
  • The CEO of Cloudflare said he is “deeply uncomfortable” with his own decision to have his company stop protecting The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.
  • He decided to stop working with The Daily Stormer after its team suggested that Cloudflare sympathized with its Nazi ideology.
  • The Daily Stormer’s site was taken down by attackers as soon as Cloudflare stopped protecting it.

Until today, Cloudflare had never dropped a customer due to political pressure.

It’s this fact that company CEO Matthew Prince said makes him so “deeply uncomfortable” with his decision early Wednesday to stop providing paid services to The Daily Stormer, including protecting its website from attackers.

As it turns out, attackers took down the neo-Nazi site as soon as Cloudflare stopped protecting it, Prince told Business Insider. Daily Stormer remained offline on Wednesday evening.

Daily Stormer drew national scrutiny and condemnation after it published a story that demeaned Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed on Saturday when a car rammed into people counter-protesting against a white-supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Prince made clear that he found the website’s content “vile.” But he regrets that he alone was able to decide its fate.

“The ability of somebody to single-handedly choose to knock content offline doesn’t align with core ideas of due process or justice,” Prince told Business Insider on Wednesday. “Whether that’s a national government launching attacks or an individual launching attacks.”

How it ended

While Cloudflare may have been Daily Stormer’s last line of defence, Prince’s decision didn’t actually take the company’s site offline by itself. Earlier in the week, GoDaddy and Google both publicly announced they had dropped Daily Stormer as a customer of their domain hosting services.

And then there were the attackers.

The site going offline was an outcome imagined by both friends and foes of the neo-Nazi site. One of the services Cloudflare provides is to provide a sort of buffer between visitors and websites, to protect sites from denial-of-service attacks. It does this in part by obfuscating the identity of the websites’ hosts. It was that service that helped protect Daily Stormer.

“The size and scale of the attacks that can now easily be launched online make it such that if you don’t have a network like Cloudflare in front of your content, and you upset anyone, you will be knocked offline,” Prince wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “In fact, in the case of the Daily Stormer, the initial requests we received to terminate their service came from hackers who literally said: ‘Get out of the way so we can DDoS this site off the Internet.'”

Government pressure

Cloudflare says it handles 10% of all internet requests. So while this is the first time that Cloudflare has stopped working with a website for political reasons, Prince said his company has faced plenty of external and international government pressure.

“There are human rights organisations that are criticising the Chinese government that we continuously get pressured to restrict,” he said “There are LGBT organisations in the Middle East. Often times it’s things covering abuses by government that governments would rather not have online.”

This is not the first time, though, that Cloudflare has dropped support for a site. It has ended service to other websites in response to illegal activity, such as child pornography. And in 2015, a court ordered Cloudflare to block websites associated with the music streaming service Grooveshark, which was in trouble over copyright violations.

In this case, though, Cloudflare dropped Daily Stormer because the neo-Nazis claimed the company supported their cause.

“The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology,” Prince wrote in the blog.

Prince said that his team is set to have a debate over how to address such issues moving forward.

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