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(?) Success and Horror Stories

From Faber Fedor

Answered By Jim Dennis

Anyone know where I can find success/horror stories about setting up and running VPNs under (Red Hat) Linux? I've got all the HOWTOs, tutorials, and theory a guy could want. I've even heard rumblings that a Linux VPN isn't "a good business solution" but I've not seen any proof one way or another.


(!) [JimD] It would be really cool if crackers had a newsgroup for kvetching about their failures. Then their horror stories might chronicle our successes.
However, there isn't such a forum, to my knowledge. Even if there was, it would probably not get much "legitimate" traffic considering that crackers thrive on their reputation for successful 'sploits. They'd consider it very uncool to catalogue their failures for us.
Aside from that any forum where firewalls, VPNs and security are discussed is likely to be filled with biased messages and opinions. Some of the bias is deliberate and commercially motivated ("computer security" is a competitive, even cut throat, business). In other cases the bias may be less overt. For example the comp.security.firewalls attracts plenty of people with a decided preference for UNIX. I don't see any recent traffic on comp.dcom.vpn (but that could be due to a dearth of subscribers at my ISP --- which dynamically tailors its newsfeeds and spools according to usage patterns).
I would definitely go to netnews for this sort of research. It tends to get real people expressing their real preferences (gripes especially). Most other sources would be filled with marketing drivel and hype, which is particular prevalent in the fields that relate to computer security, and encryption.
(I visited the show floor at the RSA conference in San Francisco last month. It was fascinating how difficult it was for me to figure out whether each company was hawking services, software or hardware --- much less actually glean any useful information about their products. Talk about an industry mired in vagary!)
Incidently the short answer regarding the question: "What are my choices for building a VPN using Linux systems" comes down to a choice among:
FreeS/WAN (Linux implementation of the IETF IPSec standards)
CIPE (Crypto IP Encapsulation over UDP)
PoPToP (MS PPTP compatible)
There are probably others. However, I've restricted my list to those that I've heard of, which have some reasonable reputation for security (actually the PPTP protocol seems to be pretty weak, but I've included PoPToP in case a requirement for Microsoft compatibility and an aversion to better MS compatible tools overrides better judgment). I've only listed tools which are able to route TCP/IP traffic (rather than including application specific single connection "tunnels" --- which would be adequate for some applications but which don't constitute a "VPN").
I specifically left out VPS (a project that used PPP through ssh tunnels). This approach was useful in its day (before FreeS/WAN was released and while CIPE et all were maturing). However, the performance and robustness of a "PPP over ssh" approach was just barely when I was last using it with customers. I've recommended that they switch.
Normally I'd recommend the Linux Documentation Project (LDP) HOWTOs. However, this is one category (http://www.linuxdoc.org/HOWTO/HOWTO-INDEX/networking.html#NETVPN) where the LDP offerings are pretty paltry (I should try to find time to contribute more directly there). In fact the VPN HOWTO (http://www.linuxdoc.org/HOWTO/VPN-HOWTO.html) suggests and describes the VPS (PPP over ssh) approach (though it doesn't use the VPS software package, specifically). I've blind copied the author of that HOWTO on this, in case he feels like updating his HOWTO to point at the most recent alternatives for this.
The other HOWTOs in this category relate to running FreeS/WAN or CIPE behind an IP masquerading router (or Linux box), and using PPP over a telnet/tunnel to "pierce" through a firewall.
Hope that helps. There isn't much in the way of "easy to use" prepackaged VPN distros, yet.

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