The major problem with VPNs is that users have to trust the server they are on. Jigsaw, owned by Alphabet, is seeking to eliminate this worry. The firm, formerly Google Ideas, has released VPN software that will allow users to cloak themselves while operating on their own servers. The software is called Outline, and is an open source platform designed to keep the identities of journalists, activists and others secure.
Working around the issue of trusting a third party
According to Jigsaw, Outline allows organizations to safely connect to the internet from their own servers, eliminating the need to rely on other companies to keep their identities safe. Since VPNs aren’t always safe, millions of users who rely on them to cloak their identities are at risk of exposure. The third party that is in charge of running a particular VPN may or may not be trustworthy, and some VPNs don’t even bother encrypting user data. Outline is built to work on an organization’s own server and does not track web traffic. Outline is usable on any cloud provider or on private infrastructure, so users can operate their own VPN. The software will run on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
Outline uses 256-bit Authenticated Encryption with Associated Data, which is capable of resisting probing and protocol fingerprinting. It is an open source kit that has been thoroughly vetted by independent security firm Radically Open Security, who helped Jigsaw work out a number of bugs. The audit that Radically Open Security performed for Jigsaw was not fully comprehensive, though. Where ROS did check out Outline fully, it did not check for flaws in Shadowsocks. Shadowsocks is an open source encrypted proxy server, capable of UDP proxying. The reason this should be noted, according to ROS security teams, is to point out that the audit completed on Outline has not covered all potential holes.
Cost effective security in a digitally dangerous world
Jigsaw says that this solution will be inexpensive, user friendly, and versatile. In an age where user data is highly sought after, as seen in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica debacle, it is becoming increasingly valuable to have a means of controlling one’s own information. Hybrid cloud services like Outline may be a huge asset in the fight for privacy. Cloud based VPN software is a great example of how the cloud can be leveraged to actually protect users, rather than leave us open to exposure.
In times like these, those of us who might want to live more private online lives are going to have to start protecting ourselves. While Outline was designed for journalists and the like, there is no reason that others can’t jump on the bandwagon, especially if Jigsaw is true to their word, and the software is affordable. This development could also mean a lot to people in countries like China, and Iran, where the government bans certain information on the web, and trolling the web on a VPN can be dangerous if caught.