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Get started with a VPN

Steven Vaughan-Nichols, PC World | March 25, 2011
Do you want to be secure -- I mean really secure -- when you're on the Internet? If so, then you want a virtual private network.

When it comes to VPNs, for example, the Vyatta 3500 can handle up to 8000 simultaneous IPSec VPN tunnels at up to 900 mbps for approximately $6000, while a comparable Cisco ASR 1006 setup would run more than $100,000. Is the Vyatta product as good? I haven't done any testing myself, but I know of companies that are using it and are happy with it. More to the point, at that price, why not at least try it out? Though the economy may be showing signs of improving, it's still not good enough that CFOs and CIOs will cheerfully sign off on six-figure hardware purchases.

Of course, you might want to consider outsourcing to meet your VPN needs. That used to be somewhat chancy, but in recent years a few major telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon have started offering national and international VPN services. The fees for such services aren't cheap, but neither is maintaining your own enterprise-level VPNs. Penny-wise and pound-wise network designers will carefully consider VPN outsourcing options.

A Guide to VPN Protocols

VPNs create a secure "tunnel" through the Internet using a variety of protocols.

PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol): This protocol was first used in Windows, but it comes without any built-in security. It’s usually teamed with the MPPE (Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption) protocol to create a secure VPN. I say "secure," but PPTP, aka PP2P, has long had a bad security reputation. Fortunately, PPTP is slowly dying away and being replaced by more secure protocols.

L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol): Microsoft, working in concert with Cisco, did better the second time around. L2TP, combined with IPSec security, is much more secure, and it’s used in all modern versions of Windows. L2TP is also supported on Mac OS X and on Linux with programs such as Openswan

SSL VPN (Secure Socket Layer VPN): Over the past few years, in no small part due to the growing popularity of OpenVPN, SSL VPNs have become more common. You can find SSL VPN clients for all major operating systems.


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