Alphabet’s ‘Outline’ Software Lets Anyone Run A Homebrew VPN

A VIRTUAL PRIVATE network, that core privacy tool that encrypts your internet traffic and bounces it through a faraway server, has always presented a paradox: Sure, it helps you hide from some forms of surveillance, like your internet service provider’s snooping and eavesdroppers on your local network. But it leaves you vulnerable to a different, equally powerful spy: Whoever controls the VPN server you’re routing all your traffic through.

To help solve that quagmire, Jigsaw, the Alphabet-owned Google sibling that serves as a human rights-focused tech incubator, will now offer VPN software that you can easily set up on your own server—or at least, one you set up yourself, and control in the cloud. And unlike older homebrew VPN code, Jigsaw says it’s focused on making the setup and hosting of that server simple enough that even small, less savvy organizations or even individual users can do it in minutes.

Jigsaw says that the free DIY proxy software, called Outline, aims to provide an alternative to, on the one hand, stronger anonymity tools like Tor that slow down web browsing by bouncing connections through multiple encrypted hops around the world and, on the other hand, commercial VPNs that can be expensive, and also put users’ private information and internet history at risk.

“The core of the product is that people can run their own VPN,” says Santiago Andrigo, the Jigsaw product manager who led Outline’s development. “You get the reassurance that no one else has your data, and you can rest easier in that knowledge.”

Trust in Yourself

Any basic commercial VPN like Freedome, NordVPN or Private Internet Access encrypts all of your online traffic and routes it from your PC or smartphone through a server in a remote data center, and only then out to the open internet. The result is that any snoop or censor watching your local connection can only see your scrambled communications to that server, not the actual destinations of your browsing or the contents of your communications. But while most decent VPNs promise not to keep sensitive logs of users’ online histories, it’s hard for users to confirm that safeguard is actually in place. And many of the most proven privacy-conscious VPNs are too expensive for users in surveillance-heavy countries in the developing world. The result, for many, is that “your privacy is in someone else’s hands,” Andrigo says.

Outline’s setup integrates with cloud provider Digital Ocean to let the user choose which country their VPN server will be hosted in.

Outline, which will run on Windows and Android to start and Apple operating systems in the coming weeks, instead lets anyone set up their own VPN server on a virtual server either hosted on a cloud platform like Rackspace, Google Cloud Engine, or Amazon EC2, or on a physical server under their control. The program most seamlessly integrates with the cloud provider Digital Ocean, which Jigsaw recommends for the easiest setup experience. Choose that provider, which offers 500 gigabytes of traffic for $5 a month, and Outline integrates with its API to offer a menu of its available server locations from London to Bangalore.

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