Google parent Alphabet has a new VPN service you can run from your own server

Alphabet incubator Jigsaw has released a free open source VPN called Outline that can be hosted on a local or cloud-based server.

Why you should care about privacy
Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Google parent company Alphabet has released a new enterprise VPN service called Outline. It's free, open source, and can be set up to run on a local or cloud-based server.
  • As a new service, Outline lacks clients for all OSes and some administrative controls that interested parties may want to wait for before trying it.

Jigsaw, an incubator at Google parent company Alphabet, has released a new private VPN service called Outline that organizations can host on their own servers.

Outline can be installed locally using a Bash script or on a cloud hosted server. Outline recommends using DigitalOcean to host an Outline VPN server--its setup application even features an option to automatically set it up by logging in to a DigitalOcean account. An Outline VPN set up through DigitalOcean will cost $5 a month for 500GB of traffic.

Outline is marketed by Alphabet as a service for journalists visiting countries with restricted internet access, but any organization that needs a VPN can benefit from the service. That said, Outline is in its earliest stage of life, so many of the features of a typical corporate VPN are still in development.

What Outline does, and doesn't, offer

Outline consists of two apps: a server management app and a client app.

The management app is what allows Outline server admins to manage user keys, send client app download invitations, and monitor the health of the VPN server. As of right now the Outlook manager app is only available for Windows and Linux, with plans for a macOS management app to be released later.

The client application is similarly restricted to only a few operating systems: Android, Windows, and Chrome OS users can use it now, but iOS and macOS users will need to wait. There are no plans to release a Linux client, though Outline is compatible with Shadowsocks.

SEE: Securing Linux policy (Tech Pro Research)

In terms of what using Outline as a VPN client offers, there are a few catches, especially for Windows users.

While Outline on Android and Chrome OS is a full system VPN, it isn't on Windows. Instead, it sets a registry key that instructs applications to route traffic through the Outline server specified by the installed app. Not all apps will recognize the key, though, so some manual application proxy configuration may be required. Windows users will also find themselves unable to use UDP outside of making DNS queries.

In addition, it's not possible to tell an Outline server to block certain applications--that's another feature that's yet to be released. Nor can Outline server locations be changed without wiping the entire setup and redoing it, which will require telling all clients the new connection information.

Those restrictions aside, Outline is still a simple setup, private, and free VPN service that can be hosted by anyone with a server running Docker. Once it's set up it will keep itself updated with the latest security patches and can be easily maintained through the Outline management app.

Organizations interested in using Outline can learn more at the Outline Help Center, at the Outline GitHub page, or on the Outline subreddit.

Also see

Google Jigsaw Outline VPN
Image: Google/Jigsaw