My 15 pieces of flair… Cloudflare

With parts of my home lab exposed to the internet for my own convenience, it is always good to add layers of protection to incoming traffic. At a colleague’s suggestion, I took Cloudflare up on their free WAF offering to help add some protection to my setup. As a bonus, I have a much better DNS for my domains, which made automating my SSL certificate renewals a snap.

What’s a WAF?

A Web Application Firewall, or WAF, protects your web applications by processing requests and monitoring for attacks. While not a comprehensive solution, it adds a layer of protection.

Cloudflare offers cloud-based services which have a variety of price points. For my hobby/home lab sites, well, free as in beer is the best price point for me. Now, you may notice on the price sheet, that “WAF” is not actually included in the free version. The free edition does not let you define custom firewall rules and block, challenge, or log requests that match those rules.

Well, that’s not 100% accurate: you get 5 active firewall rules with the free plan. Not enough to go crazy, but enough to test if you need it.

And, well, I do not particularly care: For my home lab, the features of most interest to me are the DNS, Caching, DDoS Protection, and the Managed Ruleset.

Basic Content Caching

Cloudflare provides some basic caching on my proxied sites, which definitely helps with sites like WordPress. My PageSpeed insights scores are almost 100 ms faster on mobile devices (down from 310 ms), which is pretty good. While I have never paid too much attention to page load speeds, it is good to know that I can improve some things while adding a layer of protection

DDoS and Managed Rulesets

Truthfully, I have not read up on much of this, and have left the Cloudflare defaults pretty much intact. Cloudflare’s blog does a good job of explaining the Managed Rules, and their documentation covers the DDoS rulesets.

Perhaps if I get bored, or need something to put me to sleep at night, I will start reading up on those rulesets. For now, they are in place, which gives me a little more protection than I had without them.

Cloudflare DNS

Truthfully, if Cloudflare did nothing else than manage my DNS in a way that allowed certbot to automatically renew my Let’s Encrypt certificates, I would have still moved everything over. Prior to the cutover, I was using GoDaddy’s DNS management and, well, it’s a pain. GoDaddy is very good at selling websites, but DNS management is clearly very low on their list. Cloudflare’s DNS, meanwhile, is simple to manage both through their portal and through the APIs.

With my DNS moved over, I revisited the certificates on my internal reverse proxy. Following the instructions from Vineet Choudhary over at, I updated certbot to renew using the Cloudflare plugin.

Automagic Renewals?

In the past, with certbot-auto, you would have to schedule a cron job to schedule automatic renewals. The new certbot snap, however, uses systemctl and timers to achieve the same. So, with my certificates renewed using the correct plugin, I ran a quick test:

sudo certbot renew --dry-run

The dry run succeeded without issue. So I checked the timers with the following command:

systemctl list-timers

Lo and behold, the certbot time is scheduled to run in the middle of the night.

Restarting Nginx on Certbot renewals

There is one small issue: even though I am using the --cert-only option to only get or renew certificates and not edit Nginx, I AM using Nginx as a reverse proxy. Therefore, I need a way to restart Nginx after certbot has done its thing. I found this short article and followed the instructions to edit the /etc/letsencrpyt/cli.ini file with a deploy hook.

The article above noted that, to test, you can run the following:

certbot renew --dry-run

However, for me, this did NOT trigger the deploy hook. To force triggering the deploy hook, I needed to run this command:

sudo certbot renew --dry-run --run-deploy-hooks

This command executed the renewal dry run and successfully reloaded Nginx.

Minimal Pieces of Cloudflare

Sure, I have only scratched the surface of Cloudflare’s offerings by adding some free websites and proxying some content. But, as I mentioned, it adds a layer of protection that I did not have before. And, in this day and age, the wire coming into the house presents a bigger security threat than the front door.