Telecommuting securely with PowerVPN

Secure mobile access environments for telecommuters and mobile workers is becoming more important for corporate survival. A Maryland-based company has released a new version of its virtual private network (VPN) to help companies create such access.

AXENT Technologies Inc. has introduced PowerVPN, a stand-alone, firewall-independent VPN solution designed to help companies move more of their business to the Web, while at the same time remain securely entrenched behind a firewall.

Barry Cioe, PowerVPN’s product manager, sees two major types of companies benefiting from its technology: “Companies with a very mobile work force, or [companies] where data is a very valued asset and they need to find a way to move it around securely and inexpensively.”

Without this type of software, many companies use 800 numbers for employees to access e-mail and other corporate data. This can create additional costs and partially defeat the whole idea of saving money by having employees telecommute.

Reliant General Insurance Services Inc. in San Diego originally had its telecommuters using a modem switch and an 800 number. “With the 800 number the cost was extremely high. We got our T1 line, we got the PowerVPN software, we cut the cost by about 70 per cent and we have been able to increase the number of users…and the only increase in cost has been to buy additional software licences for PowerVPN,” said Cary White, MIS at Reliant General.

The software can work either as a complete stand-alone or integrated with AXENT’s Raptor Firewall. Cioe also points to factors he says separates the product from others on the market. On the security side he talked pointed to a feature in the server called “proxy secured.”

“That allows us to…keep much tighter control on the type of traffic that is passing through our VPN server. A typical [VPN] decrypts the traffic and makes sure the authentication has taken place, but basically once it gets to the server it has passed in. It doesn’t really control what the user is doing through that valid tunnel,” he said. The server allows systems administrators to specify security policies that filter encrypted network traffic through application proxies, according to AXENT.

The other difference, according to Cioe, is AXENT’s free client. “We have a client that is licensed for free with the server that includes a personal firewall and it can be used regardless of whether that client is in the VPN tunnel,” he said.

The Winter’s Co. of Tucson, Ariz., uses PowerVPN for its mobile workforce. The company supplies engineering and consulting services to the mining industry around the world. Prior to using PowerVPN, the company was also using a direct modem pool dial-in. Now it uses IBM GlobalNet, which covers 85 to 90 per cent of the areas in which it works. For the rest, it sets up temporary AOL accounts. Mike Flemming, the MIS director of Winter’s, does have a bit of a wish list though. “I’d like to see more control over the step by step of the firewalls,” he said. As a caveat, he did add that he has yet to see any fire wall system that tells you what you are doing each step of the way.

“What I’d like to see, in plain language: ‘What do you want to do? Here is the most secure, here is the next most but it is a little faster.’ Things along that line,” he added. He also liked the fact that all of the configuration is on the server end.

Each user in the field has software loaded onto his or her computer. After that it is a simple process for the user to connect. “You double click on the icon on your desktop and that automatically establishes any tunnels that were predefined, and you are prompted with the authentication mechanism that has been defined by your company’s policy and then you are in. You are on a virtually-extended intranet,” AXENT’s Cioe said

The PowerVPN server works with any firewall and supports a wide range of protocols. Standards supported include: LDAP and NT Domain; X.509 PKI support for digital certificates; International Computer Security Association certification; and full IPSec/IKE support that allows PowerVPN securely connect to other certified VPN solutions.

PowerVPN ( works on Windows NT, 95 and 98 platforms, is priced starting at $US1,995 and will be available Q1.

AXENT in Rockville, Md., is at 1-888-442-9368.