The world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Instead of simply dealing with local or regional concerns, many businesses now have to think about global markets and logistics. Many companies have facilities spread out across the country or around the world, and there is one thing that all of them need: A way to maintain fast, secure and reliable communications wherever their offices are.
Until fairly recently, this has meant the use of leased lines to maintain a
wide area network (WAN). Leased lines, ranging from ISDN (integrated services digital network, 128 Kbps) to OC3 (Optical Carrier-3, 155 Mbps) fiber, provided a company with a way to expand its private network beyond its immediate geographic area. A WAN had obvious advantages over a public network like the Internet when it came to reliability, performance and security. But maintaining a WAN, particularly when using leased lines, can become quite expensive and often rises in cost as the distance between the offices increases.
As the popularity of the Internet grew, businesses turned to it as a means of extending their own networks. First came
intranets, which are password-protected sites designed for use only by company employees. Now, many companies are creating their own
VPN (virtual private network) to accommodate the needs of remote employees and distant offices.
Image courtesy Cisco Systems, Inc.
A typical VPN might have a main LAN at the corporate headquarters of a company, other LANs at remote offices or facilities and individual users connecting from out in the
Basically, a VPN is a private network that uses a public network (usually the Internet) to connect remote sites or users together. Instead of using a dedicated, real-world connection such as leased line, a VPN uses "virtual" connections routed through the Internet from the company's private network to the remote site or employee. In this article, you will gain a fundamental understanding of VPNs, and learn about basic VPN components, technologies, tunneling and security.
What Makes a VPN?
A well-designed VPN can greatly benefit a company. For example, it can:
• Extend geographic connectivity
• Improve security
• Reduce operational costs versus traditional WAN
• Reduce transit time and transportation costs for remote users
• Improve productivity
• Simplify network topology
• Provide global networking opportunities
• Provide telecommuter support
• Provide broadband networking compatibility
• Provide faster ROI (return on investment) than traditional WAN
What features are needed in a well-designed VPN? It should incorporate:
• Network management
• Policy management
There are two common types of VPN. Remote-access, also called a virtual private dial-up network (VPDN), is a user-to-LAN connection used by a company that has employees who need to connect to the private network from various remote locations. Typically, a corporation that wishes to set up a large remote-access VPN will outsource to an enterprise service provider (ESP). The ESP sets up a network access server (NAS) and provides the remote users with desktop client software for their computers. The telecommuters can then dial a toll-free number to reach the NAS and use their VPN client software to access the corporate network.
A good example of a company that needs a remote-access VPN would be a large firm with hundreds of sales people in the field. Remote-access VPNs permit secure, encrypted connections between a company's private network and remote users through a third-party service provider.
VPN Security: Firewalls
A well-designed VPN uses several methods for keeping your connection and data secure:
• AAA Server
In the following sections, we'll discuss each of these security methods. We'll start with the firewall.
A firewall provides a strong barrier between your private network and the Internet. You can set firewalls to restrict the number of open ports, what type of packets are passed through and which protocols are allowed through. Some VPN products, such as Cisco's 1700 routers, can be upgraded to include firewall capabilities by running the appropriate Cisco IOS on them. You should already have a good firewall in place before you implement a VPN, but a firewall can also be used to terminate the VPN sessions.
VPN Security: IPSec
Internet Protocol Security Protocol (IPSec) provides enhanced security features such as better encryption algorithms and more comprehensive
A remote-access VPN utilizing IPSec
IPSec has two encryption modes: tunnel and transport. Tunnel encrypts the header and the payload of each packet while transport only encrypts the payload. Only systems that are IPSec compliant can take advantage of this protocol. Also, all devices must use a common key and the firewalls of each network must have very similar security policies set up. IPSec can encrypt data between various devices, such
• Router to router
• Firewall to router
• PC to router
• PC to server
Most VPNs rely on tunneling to create a private network that reaches across the Internet. Essentially, tunneling is the process of placing an entire packet within another packet and sending it over a network. The protocol of the outer packet is understood by the network and both points, called tunnel interfaces, where the packet enters and exits the network.
Tunneling requires three different protocols:
• Carrier protocol - The protocol used by the network that the information is traveling over
• Encapsulating protocol - The protocol (GRE, IPSec, L2F, PPTP, L2TP) that is wrapped around the original data
• Passenger protocol - The original data (IPX, NetBeui, IP) being carried
Tunneling has amazing implications for VPNs. For example, you can place a packet that uses a protocol not supported on the Internet (such as NetBeui) inside an IP packet and send it safely over the Internet. Or you could put a packet that uses a private (non-routable) IP address inside a packet that uses a globally unique IP address to extend a private network over the
In a site-to-site VPN, GRE (generic routing encapsulation) is normally the encapsulating protocol that provides the framework for how to package the passenger protocol for transport over the carrier protocol, which is typically IP-based. This includes information on what type of packet you are encapsulating and information about the connection between the client and server. Instead of GRE, IPSec in tunnel mode is sometimes used as the encapsulating protocol. IPSec works well on both remote-access and site-to-site VPNs. IPSec must be supported at both tunnel interfaces to use.