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This chapter is from the book

5.4 Other VPNs

In the remainder of Part 2, we examine several other VPN technologies. We begin with examinations of the SSL/TLS (Chapter 6) and SSH (Chapter 7) protocols. Because these protocols operate at the application layer, some might consider them merely secure applications and not real VPNs. We will see, however, that they meet our definition for a VPN, and that we can, in fact, use them to build traditional network-to-network VPNs.

Regardless of whether SSL/TLS and SSH are "real" VPNs, they solve the central problems of privacy, authentication, and key management that every VPN must address. By studying their solutions to these problems and by noting where they succeed and where they fail, we will gain a deeper appreciation for both the problems and their solutions. Indeed, we will see that the design sets we introduce in our examination of SSL/TLS and SSH are used again and again in other types of VPNs. For these reasons alone, our study of these protocols will pay handsome dividends.

Next, we introduce and study some lightweight VPN technologies. When we say that they are lightweight, we mean that they are simpler and easier to deploy than, for example, the more comprehensive IPsec protocols (Part 3). In some applications—especially ad hoc applications—using one of these protocols might make sense.

We begin with an examination of VTun, a very simple VPN that illustrates the difficulty of engineering robust security protocols. At the same time, VTun also illustrates the use of a common framework for building lightweight VPNs. Because of its simplicity, VTun exposes this framework in a way that makes it easy to see and understand.

After VTun, we take a quick look at CIPE, a VPN running only on Linux and Windows NT. Because CIPE depends on a kernel module, porting it to other platforms is difficult. As we'll see, CIPE solves some of the security problems in VTun but still has flaws.

Next, we examine tinc, a VPN using the same framework as VTun. We'll see that it solves most of the problems that CIPE did not resolve. Tinc is interesting because it is designed as a network of VPNs, where a set of tinc gateway nodes securely connect a series of networks by maintaining encrypted tunnels between the nodes. Within this network, tinc manages routing and the decryption and reencryption of IP datagrams as they pass through intermediate nodes to their destination node.

Finally, we study OpenVPN, an excellent VPN that appears to offer security comparable to that of IPsec. OpenVPN achieves this by reusing the TLS/SSL protocol (Chapter 6) for endpoint authentication and key exchange, and by closely mimicking ESP (Chapter 12) for its data channel. Although it uses the same simple framework as VTun and tinc, OpenVPN provides robust security by leveraging the proven SSL and ESP protocols.

Again, the study of these VPNs will deepen our appreciation for the problems that all VPNs must solve. It will also help us to understand their limitations and enable us to make informed decisions as to whether they are appropriate for any given application.

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