9.11 Using a Virtual Private Network to Secure Network Connections

9.11.1 Problem

Your program operates over a network and interacts with an existing network infrastructure that provides no support for secure communications such as SSL. You're guaranteed that your program will be used only by a select group of people, and you need to secure its network traffic against sniffing and hijacking.

9.11.2 Solution

For this type of problem, using an SSL tunnel such as Stunnel is sufficient, but the certificate requirements and limited verification options provided by Stunnel may not provide everything you need. In addition, some network protocols do not lend themselves to SSL tunneling. (FTP is such a protocol because it may use random ports in both directions.) An alternate solution is to use a virtual private network (VPN) for the network services that your program needs.

9.11.3 Discussion

VPNs can be tricky to set up and get to work properly. There can be many interoperability problems across platforms, but VPNs provide a clean solution insofar as requiring fewer modifications to firewall rules (especially if there are many insecure network services involved), less deployment of tunneling software, and less ongoing maintenance. Adding or removing services becomes an issue of turning the service on or off?no changes to firewalls or tunneling configurations are required. Once the VPN is up and running, it essentially takes care of itself.

Although we do suggest the possibility of using a VPN when the other solutions we've provided here aren't feasible for your situation, a complete discussion of VPN solutions is well beyond the scope of this book. Entire volumes have been dedicated to the topic, and we recommend that you consult one or more of those books if you want to pursue the use of VPNs. A good launch point for VPN information is Building & Managing Virtual Private Networks by Dave Kosiur (John Wiley & Sons).