Securing Self-Hosted Apps with Cloudflare Tunnel

839 words · 5 minutes

Cloudflare Zero Trust


Cloudflare has slowly released a set of tools across the past few years that are aimed at replacing legacy security perimeters with their own edge servers. These tools have culminated in the Cloudflare Zero Trust product.

For personal users of Cloudflare (e.g., me) who use Cloudflare as a buffer or DMZ between their homes and the public internet, some of these tools are incredibly useful for fighting spam and malicious attacks.

One of the biggest benefits of using Cloudflare Tunnel is that you can close ports on your home network and prevent common spam and abuse that people and bots try to attack. I found that my home network went from ~100 attacks per day to zero after setting up Cloudflare Tunnel and closing ports 80 and 443!

In this post, I will be walking through the process of setting up a tunnel between Cloudflare and my home network (using the GUI method, not in a terminal), connecting local services to domain names, and protecting them all with an application authentication.

Getting Started

Once you're ready to set-up a security configuration, launch the Cloudflare Zero Trust Dashboard and log in to your account.

Once you're in, you should see your personal dashboard. In my case, the dashboard shows how many users are connected, top logins by application, and links to various pages.

Cloudflare Zero Trust Dashboard

Cloudflare Tunnel Set-Up

Initial Config

To create your first tunnel, open the Access section on the left-hand side of the Zero Trust Dashboard and then open the Tunnels link.

On the Tunnels page, use the Create a Tunnel button to open the initial configuration page. These settings will ask you to name your tunnel first:

Tunnel Name

Next, you will need to install the connector for your system and the guide page will provide the proper commands to run on your system. For example, here's a test tunnel I've created on a macOS system:

Tunnel Connector

Finally, the last step is to connect a local service on your connected machine to the tunnel. In the example below, I'm telling Cloudflare that I have an application running on port 3000 of the local host machine.

Note that if you currently have an A record for the domain you're using to connect this app, you will need to delete it so that the tunnel can create a CNAME instead.

Tunnel Routing

Once set-up, your application traffic is now routed through a Cloudflare tunnel and will not expose your IP address or local network information to public visitors.

Adding Additional Apps

If you would like to add additional applications to the tunnel, simply go back to the tunnel page, click Configure, open the Public Hostname tab, and add your new public host names.

Cloudflare Application Access


Finally, you can add an additional layer of security to your applications with Cloudflare's application authentication. So far, the tunnel protects your local network information but still tunnels public traffic straight to your local ports.

If you would also like to restrict access to yourself or a group of people, keep reading to find out how to set-up the application authentication.

Set-Up Process

To get started, click the Access menu item in the left-hand side of the dashboard and open the Applications page.

Next, click the Add an Application button and choose the appropriate type of application that you are adding. When in doubt, choose the Self-hosted option.

App Types

Next, set-up the app with a name, point it toward the proper domain name, and customize the app's appearance and authentication methods.

App Config

Finally, you will need to create a policy that defines who can and cannot access this application. In the example below, I've told Cloudflare that [email protected] and [email protected] are allowed to access this app and any users in Antarctica are not allowed to access it.

Access Policy

We are all done now. When you attempt to access your application in the browser, you will be greeted with a Cloudflare access authentication page.

Following the policy above, I'd need to enter [email protected] or [email protected] as my email and then enter the authentication code into the access page to be able to login to the application.

Note that if your local service has its own authentication page, you will need to login to that local service once you pass the Cloudflare authentication page.

Cloudflare Application Authentication

While there are different ways to protect local applications, I've found that Cloudflare's tunnel and authentication products allow for a much higher sense of security for self-hosted applications in my network.