Google unit Jigsaw launches anti-censorship app

There have been quite a few negative recent stories about Google, so it is nice to be able to share some good news from the world’s biggest online company.

Over the past few weeks, we have reported on Google’s hugely controversial Project Dragonfly, which would see them develop a new search engine which complied with the censorship and surveillance requirements of Communist China.

There has also been the case of the forced login policies added to their Chrome browser, issues over Gmail privacy, and the privacy of kids on YouTube.

But now, with relatively little fanfare, Jigsaw, which is a division of Google’s parent company Alphabet has launched a new app called Intra, which is able to prevent DNS manipulation attacks.

How Intra can help users evade online censorship

The new app, called Intra, is designed to help internet users to defend themselves against state censorship who can use these attacks to either block websites or redirect users to fake sites.

It sounds like a really great addition to the anti-censorship arsenal. It has even been designed with users in developing countries in mind and is also extremely easy to use.

A DNS manipulation attack takes advantage of the moment when a regular website address is converted to an IP address. This usually takes place over an insecure connection which means there is an opportunity for state censors to intercept web traffic.

Once they have intercepted the traffic, it is then a relatively simple process to either block the connection or redirect traffic to another fake site they have set up themselves

DNS manipulation attacks like these have been used by countries like Turkey and Venezuela and countless other oppressive regimes are believed to have employed them as well. Now Google believes it has developed an app that can prevent them.

How Intra works

The Intra app works in a very simple way. It automatically redirects all of your online traffic, whether you are using a browser or an app, through an encrypted connection to a trusted Domain Name Server.

By doing this, users are encrypting the process of converting to an IP Address and so not giving state censors the opportunity to interfere with their internet traffic.

Intra uses Google’s own DNS server by default. Some people may question how private this will be, especially given Google’s recent track record. But Jigsaw has confirmed that the process is covered by Google’s privacy policy, which does at least offer some degree of protection.

Users can also opt to use Cloudflare, or just about any other third-party DNS server. They do have to place some trust in that company instead, but again most will have a similar privacy policy to Google, and many will be even more robust.

Using Intra is as easy as it gets. All you have to do is download the app and turn it on. Intra then works automatically in the background to redirect all of your traffic.

Google has also confirmed that the app will be made available to download on older devices too. This means that users in developing countries, who cannot always afford the latest device yet are often the victim of state censorship, can benefit from Intra too. It will also be included in their Android Pie operating system.

Evading online censorship with a VPN 

There is no doubt that Intra will be a valuable tool for resisting DNS manipulation attacks and the development of any such tool is to be welcomed.

But, of course, DNS manipulation attacks are just one way in which oppressive regimes seek to censor internet content. There are many other effective methods which Intra will not help with.

So, while we would encourage users, especially those in developing countries, to make use of Intra if necessary, we would still strongly advise that using a VPN is the best way to evade online censorship.

By connecting to a VPN, you can be sure that all of your internet activity is encrypted and your online identity obfuscated. Furthermore, you can use a VPN such as ExpressVPN or IPVanish to get around online censorship easily, just by connecting to a server outside your own country.

The battle against online censorship will continue to be waged as long as regimes like those controlling China, Russia, and Turkey retain their grip on power.

But as long as companies as big as Google are working to combat online censorship, and VPNs remain available across the world, the people living in these countries can still hope to enjoy their right to a free and open internet.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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