The Story of Hop
The future of VPN is decentralized.
BY TYLER RAYNER
AUGUST 8, 2018
It all started one summer afternoon in 2016 on a long dog walk in the hills of northern California when I was, ironically, trying to disconnect from technology. Thoughts of VPNs were swirling in my head as they often do, and suddenly all signals seemed to be pointing in the same direction. It became instantly clear: The future of VPN is decentralized.
For the past 14 years I've been immersed in VPN software development, programming and running the NetShade VPN service. Back in 2004, NetShade hit the market as one of the first entrants in the now-crowded field of consumer VPN/proxy apps. These were the days when the Mac was a niche platform and the very concept of VPN was in its infancy.
The use of VPN as a privacy tool had its coming-of-age in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents detailing widespread government eavesdropping. Suddenly, the issues of privacy and encryption were on the public's radar. This kicked off a gold rush of sorts, and with any gold rush comes both good and bad. With the increase in VPN usage came increased scrutiny and backlash. Countries, corporations, and major content providers started blocking VPNs en masse.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that VPN is now a victim of its own success. It's almost impossible to find a VPN provider that "just works" everywhere, and isn't blocked on the sites you need to access. The reason is simple: far more people use VPNs today than they did 5 or 10 years ago. VPNs have become a primary target of content blockers. (If you use commercial VPNs you probably know this already.)
If you're traveling to remote networks in untrustworthy or restrictive Internet environments, how do you reliably get to the content you normally access? The de facto answer for the past 5-10 years has been "use a VPN service". But that doesn't work as well as it used to, as more VPN servers are being blocked by more networks and content providers.
But what if the VPN server is your home?
Therein lies Hop's mission: to turn your home into your VPN server. In Hop's world, when you're on a shared airport WiFi overseas with a few hours to kill, you can open up a connection to your home-based Hop server. You've now got a secure, encrypted tunnel between you and your home to carry all your Internet traffic. From your home, traffic gets routed out to the Internet and is indistinguishable from your normal, home-based Internet usage. Your home Internet gets beamed to you anywhere.
Getting your home to function as a VPN provider is no small task, and making all of that "look easy" was a tall order. Behind Hop's simple on/off switch lies some serious network machinery. Hop needs to configure routers, configure your Mac's internal firewall, act as a NAT router for clients, command and control a VPN daemon, manage users, and the list goes on. This is why so few people run their own Internet-routing VPN servers. You truly need to be a systems/networking expert to do it the old-fashioned way. That's why Hop is here.
A promising new idea which happened to fall right in my technical wheelhouse was too good to pass up, and I wanted Hop to be the finest work possible. The team is small: one programmer (me), and one designer (Eileen). Hop is the product of almost two years of problem-solving, iterating, rebuilding and tweaking by two perfectionists who are committed to bringing this idea into reality. We're proud to have built an app that wraps sophisticated internal complexities inside an absolutely simplistic, visually immersive user experience. Hop makes a statement both technologically and visually. The Hop bunny proudly carries the banner for a whole new type of VPN.
It's been a lot of work. I hope this app will be useful.