VPNs Illustrated: Tunnels, VPNS, and IPsec -- A Book Review

by Geoff Baker

Title: VPNs Illustrated: Tunnels, VPNs, and IPsec

Author: Jon C. Snader

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

ISBN: 0-321-24544-x

Price: $49.95

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VPNs Illustrated: Tunnels, VPNS, and IPsec offers a clear and concise evaluation of the technology that allows private networks to extend through insecure channels. Overall, the purpose of this book is to inform readers of the benefits a VPN can offer. This is done through examples, diagrams and source code analysis. As a reference guide, the material does a good job of informing the reader about private networking over a public channel.

This book is not, however, a guide to configuring and installing a virtual private network (VPN), nor is it for beginners. If you are looking for a basic introduction to VPNs, you would be better served and could save some money by researching on-line publications. This book does provide a simple introduction, but the introduction is only a few pages long. This leaves the rest of the book to more advanced topics.

VPNs Illustrated is a solid reference guide that benefits students and engineers who want to gain a better knowledge of the design behind daemon- and kernel-based secure networking. It provides more than an analysis of VPNs and tunnels; there also are sections on TCP/IP, Cryptography and Secure Sockets Layer. This additional information is useful as references in other works or, as is the case here, to help explain and outline how a secure network can be created over an insecure public channel.

Snader provides the information through packet analysis, code samples and definitions taken from RFCs. This method allows the user to see a real-world implementation of the theory and get visual verification of the protected data path.

VPNs Illustrated also explains the methods behind the encryption process, through insight into the mathematics and the latest methods for bypassing the encryption. This explanation aided me in selecting a different encryption method for my own VPN, which improved security and performance on my system.

Many books in this field include only code snippets to explain their points. VPNs Illustrated does an excellent job of explaining by providing beneficial examples and interpretations. For example, the author provides code for a VPN encapsulated in an SSH tunnel. Currently, I am experimenting with this technique on my own server, as it provides a lightweight, easy-to-manage solution.

Snader does not investigate VPNs on Windows and instead focuses exclusively on BSD/Linux. Many IT departments would benefit from further study on how the various VPN tools discussed in the book interoperate with Windows.

Geoff Baker is a software developer at a telecommunications design firm. He currently is enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, working towards a Masters in Electrical Engineering.

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