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Featured, Technology

Vulnerabilities in VPN: When the Trusted Tool was Targeted

In recent times a great number of vulnerabilities of the VPN have been exposed resulting in a number of security breaches and losses to enterprises in terms of finances, data, and credibility.

What is VPN?

Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an essence for running an enterprise today. VPN serves to connect a number of entities in a single network. They include business partners, employees, and clients. VPN enables the secure exchange of sensitive corporate information. In effect, the VPN provides for means to harness larger public internet by creating virtual encrypted communication.

Hence the term may be described as “any technology that can encapsulate and transmit network data, typically Internet Protocol data, over another network.”

VPN and Site-to-Site Configurations

The configuration enabling an individual to gain access o a client computer over an intranet as if they were physically connected to it is called Remote Access. Such a configuration is employed when a remote worker needs access to privately access the resources to resolve issues, or to enable a mobile worker (such as a cable technician) to access important tools without exposing them to the public internet.

Site-to-site connections connect two routers. These routers then route traffic headed towards different locations over the VPN, thus, creating a seamless Local Area Network (LAN) spanning multiple physical locations. This configuration specifically serves businesses’ purposes by allowing disparate offices, data centers, and cloud computing platforms to seamlessly interconnect.

In spite of the difference, the two technologies are not mutually exclusive. They may be combined, in a highly complex business network, to enable remote access to resources located at any particular site, for instance, an ordering system that resides in a data center.

Also Read: En Route Decentralization of Internet Governance to Preserving Democracy

Vulnerabilities

In recent times a great number of vulnerabilities have surfaced that resulted in a number of security breaches and losses to enterprises in terms of finances, data, and credibility.

Businesses today are dispersed around the globe and operating round the clock and round the year. Remote locations vary in strengths of a single user to larger branch offices. Communications among such nodes involve the exchange of sensitive internal information in the range of business Intellectual Property (IP), employee’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and sometimes even Personal Health Information (PHI).

Additional support functionalities in the form of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), chats, audio and video conferencing, and a myriad of other collaboration modules come with the VPNs.

VPN eliminates or significantly reduces the need for special meetings, travel, conference rooms, and even entire office spaces. Many corporate houses incur substantial annual savings owing to remote employees.

VPN Security

Apart from reducing the cost, the VPN is the only known medium of selective sharing of information among business partners and employees for small and large enterprises. A number of VPN appliances and VPN software have built-in capabilities of Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC), context-switching, and virtual network mapping.

Corporations and industries at large have warmed up to VPN as the de facto provider of the secure channels connecting various entities. Hence, irrespective of the size of an organization, VPN is the heavily relied-on communication network serving both as the entry point and the final checkpoint.

VPN Vulnerabilities

VPNs traditionally employ security protocols SSL and its successor TLS. although the said protocols have allowed a great deal of privacy and security into the market they have not come bereft of their surmounting pain points. The troubles of using SSL and TLS range from incorrect implementations through the inherent limitations of the chosen protocol. With the increase in computing power, it has become clear that legacy implementations can easily be bypassed with modern computing power.

Yet another risk surfaces from the round-the-clock operation of VPN Servers implying no downtime for these servers unlike email servers and web services. Thus, making it increasingly difficult for patch management teams to patch op the networks. This factor is taken advantage of by the hackers and other malicious entities who regularly target the VPN. In many surfaced cases of attacks, the vulnerability lay not the VPN itself but was targeted for the entry points into the enterprises.

Also Read: India’s Cyber Vulnerabilities Surface: Is the Counter Plan Strong Enough?

The Way Forward

Despite the challenges, experts have been constantly working at reinstating the security factor of the much dependable VPN. A number of recommendations are captured in NIST 800-77 and NIST 800-113 that deal with both traditional VPNs and the newer SSL VPNs. Recommendations of best practices exist that may be built upon for future-proofing the VPN servers and VPN systems from attacks.

The best practices should be adopted by the SSL VPN vendors and enforced by the use of proper configuration by the enterprise to ensure services have sufficient protection from well-known HTTPS attacks. Several recommendations make way for patching on the go, while some are designed to sound alert upon being compromised.

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