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Securing Your Wireless Network with OpenVPN

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Wireless is great, unless your next-door neighbor is stealing your data while you work. Stefan Alpers explains a cheap preventive measure that can help you avoid intrusion and attack on your wireless network.
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For several reasons, wireless networks are not secure:

  • They're not bound by physical restrictions. As a result, an attacker can detect, connect to, and perform denial-of-service attacks against a wireless network from a distance of several hundred feet (if not more).
  • Wireless encryption is not always an option, such as in hotspots.
  • Even if encryption is used, several of the current encryption schemes are flawed and not considered secure.

While the logistics of an attack are an important subject, this article focuses on providing an alternative means of security via a wireless virtual private network (VPN). With this protection in place, wireless users don't have to worry about their data being captured. In addition, because VPNs require some form of authentication, they help to keep host networks secure from hacker attacks.

IPsec Versus OpenVPN

As mentioned earlier, one method of securing wireless traffic is to implement a VPN between the wireless user and the host network. Currently, the industry standard for VPN solutions is IPsec, which is a set of protocols that creates a secure virtual tunnel between the client and the host network.

The main advantage of IPsec is that it's a standard protocol. As a result, one vendor's implementation of IPsec should be compatible with that of another vendor. While this is the general rule, however, it's not true 100% of the time. Therefore, every solution must be thoroughly tested to make sure that it works correctly.

Another downside of IPsec is that it's relatively expensive to purchase and time-consuming to implement. Depending on the particular solution, a vendor may require additional management software and/or a public key infrastructure (PKI) server.

For this example, we'll eliminate the out-of-pocket costs by using OpenVPN. While this open source solution requires some hands-on configuring and setup, you can save thousands of dollars; at the same time, you have an opportunity to truly understand how your VPN works.

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