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Security

Cloudflare offers mobile VPN to hide more of your browsing history

It'll speed up your connection too, the company says.

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James Martin/CNET

Your web traffic can be an open book. When your data travels over an unsecured connection, it can fall into the hands of anyone from your internet service provider to bad guys with tools to intercept it.

Cloudflare wants to prevent that from happening. On Monday, the web security company said it would offer a tool for hiding web traffic coming from your phone with Warp, a new VPN. What's more, Warp aims to get around some of the problems that come with a typical virtual private network, which can sometimes be a slow experience. 

Some savvy internet users already use VPNs, but convincing friends and family members to take the extra step can be hard. Cloudflare said its service is such an improvement that everyday web surfers will use it, too. 

"We built Warp because we've had those conversations with our loved ones too and they've not gone well," said Matt Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, in a blog post.

Much of your sensitive web traffic, like email and financial transactions, is encrypted so a middlemen can't read them. But not all of it is. VPNs address that issue by encrypting all of a user's web traffic. Interest in the tools surged in 2017, when the US Congress reversed an Obama-era policy that forbid internet service providers from selling your web browsing histories. But as Prince noted, VPNs have issues. For example, some services have been found to read all your web traffic and use it for commercial purposes. One VPN slowed internet connections for users of its free product to help out their paying customers.

Cloudflare says Warp will avoid these problems by submitting to audits to make sure it's sticking to its privacy promises. The company will make money with a freemium model, eventually billing companies for an enterprise version of the VPN. And the more people who use Warp, the better Cloudflare's other products, which improve a website's performance, will work. Prince said that means high adoption of the free VPN will make Cloudflare's other products more valuable.

You can sign up for the service in Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 mobile app, though it isn't being rolled out just yet. Signing up now puts you on a waiting list.

Warp builds on a series of products that Cloudflare began rolling out a year ago. Last April, the company launched 1.1.1.1, a DNS resolution service that matches URLs to their IP addresses. The service could increase privacy, because Cloudflare pledged not to store your web traffic with any identifying information.

The company also made 1.1.1.1 compatible with an emerging privacy protocol called DNS over HTTPS. The protocol reduces your internet service provider's ability to record your browsing history because it encrypts your DNS queries, a list of websites you've visited. In November, the company launched a mobile app, also called 1.1.1.1, that lets you encrypt those DNS queries.

Warp will be a new feature of the 1.1.1.1 app. Prince said the feature will also improve speed and reliability for many users, adding that the improvement in speed will be more noticeable if you already have a bad connection.

"Generally, the worse your network connection the better Warp should make your performance." he said.