Cloudflare establishes Seattle-area office with purchase of browser security startup S2 Systems

Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO, Cloudflare, speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Cloud security giant Cloudflare is entering the Seattle market by acquiring S2 Systems, a Kirkland, Wash., startup that aims to make web browsing safer.

The deal marks Cloudflare’s first acquisition since going public in September. Cloudflare is making the acquisition to bolster a product called Gateway that is part of a new security suite unveiled today called Cloudflare for Teams.

S2 focuses on browser isolation technology, which re-directs web browsing code from the device to the cloud. That reduces the risk of browsing the internet by keeping security threats away from the device.

“You don’t want anything that could cause harm to the end device to ever get to that device itself,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said in an interview with GeekWire.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. S2 has nine employees in its Kirkland office, which will serve as Cloudflare’s Seattle-area engineering center going forward.

The leaders of the company have roots at Microsoft. S2 CEO David Harnett spent 15 years at Microsoft in various roles, bringing products from Microsoft Research to market. Co-founder and Executive Chairman Darren Remington worked at Microsoft for 17 years in several roles, most recently as a general manager of the tech giant’s Startup Business Group.

S2 CEO David Harnett

Cloudflare has traditionally focused on protecting companies’ infrastructure and critical applications that are exposed to the web and all the threats it contains. The new Cloudflare for Teams suite evolves the company’s mission to include shielding employees, who are both the life-blood of any successful organization and also one of the biggest risks when it comes to cybersecurity.

Cloudflare for Teams has two main focal points. A product called Access helps companies ensure that employees and the devices they use are who they claim to be when logging into important applications.

Cloudflare is working with identity services such as Okta and Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory as well as security providers like Carbon Black on Access. The company quietly rolled out the service, and it has already landed customers with high security needs such as the genetic and ancestry company 23andMe and giants like Ericsson.

“We effectively act like the bouncer at the door,” Prince said. “Okta’s providing the ID; you’ve got the metal detector that is Carbon Black making sure somebody’s not bringing in a firearm. But then we’re the one who actually enforces whether you can get into the application or not get into the application.”

Gateway, the other major piece of the new security suite, makes sure employees don’t bring any malware or malicious code into an organization. S2’s browser isolation technology will play a significant role in Gateway.

Most existing options for protecting browser activity tend to slow the user experience. But Cloudflare says Gateway, with S2’s browser isolation tech will stand out from the competition because users will hardly notice any changes in speed.

Prince said the company first discovered S2 when someone on the product strategy team started using its service. Cloudflare employees testing it out could easily navigate through complex sites like Google Maps while using the browser isolation tech. After that, Prince said, Cloudflare reached out to strike up a relationship with S2.

The 10-year-old company began with a focus on providing small businesses with the kinds of security tools only available to tech giants at the time. Today, Cloudflare boasts more than 2 million customers, including some of the biggest banking and medical institutions in the world, and its services are available in 190 cities.

Cloudflare’s entrance to the Seattle area further solidifies the region’s status as a cloud hot spot. It is home to cloud leaders Amazon and Microsoft, and Google opened a big new campus for its cloud division late last year.

Prince said the company doesn’t have a specific growth target for the Seattle office. He envisions the outpost becoming one of the company’s “centers of engineering excellence” alongside locations in San Francisco, Austin, London and Lisbon.

“We see Seattle as a great technical center, and we are going to continue to invest in that region,” Prince said.

Post updated to clarify the history of the S2 founders at Microsoft.

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