Web 2.0 and cloud computing have naturally pushed all things toward application-centric views, why not the VPN? f5friday

When SSL VPNs were first introduced they were a welcome alternative to the traditional IPSEC VPN because they reduced the complexity involved with providing robust, secure remote access to corporate resources for externally located employees.

Early on SSL VPNs were fairly simple – allowing access to just about everything on the corporate network to authenticated users. It soon became apparent this was not acceptable for several reasons, most prominently standing out the risk of infection by remote employees who might have been using personal technology to work from home. While most organizations have no issue with any employee working a few extra hours at home, those few extra hours of productivity can bemobile-user easily offset by the need to clean up after a virus or bot entering the corporate network from an unsecured, non-validated remote source. This was especially true as one of the selling points for SSL VPN was (and still is) that it could be used from any endpoint. The “clientless” nature of SSL VPN made it possible to use a public kiosk to log-in to corporate resources via an SSL VPN without fear that the ability to do so would be “left behind.” I’m not really all that sure this option was ever widely used, but it was an option.

Then SSL VPNs got more intelligent. They were able to provide endpoint security and policies such that an “endpoint”, whether employee or corporate owned, had to meet certain criteria – including being “clean” – before it was allowed access to any corporate resource. This went hand in hand with the implementation of graded authentication, which determined access rights and authorization levels based on context: location, device, method of access, etc… That’s where we sat for a number of years. There were updates and upgrades and additions to functionality but nothing major about the solution changed.

Until recently. See, the advent of cloud computing and the increasing number of folks who would  like to “work from home” if not as a matter of course then as a benefit occasionally has been driving all manner of solutions toward a more application-centric approach and a more normalized view of access to those applications. As more and more applications have become “webified” it’s made less sense over time to focus on securing remote access to the corporate network and more sense to focus on access to corporate applications – wherever they might be deployed.

THE NEXT GENERATION of ACCESS CONTROL

That change in focus has led to what should be the next step in the evolution of remote access – from SSL VPN to secure access management, to managing application access by policy across all users regardless of where they might be located.

Similarly, it shouldn’t matter whether corporate applications are “in the cloud” or “in the data center”. A consistent method of managing access to applications across all deployment locations and all users reduces the complexity inherent in managing both sides of the equation.

We might even call this a Virtual Application Network (VAN) instead of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) because what I’m suggesting is that we create a “network” of applications that is secured by a combination of transport layer security (SSL) and controlled by context-based access management at the application layer. Whether a user is on the corporate LAN or dialed-in from some remote location that has yet to see deployment of broadband access shouldn’t matter. The pre-access validation that the accessing system is “clean” is just as important today when the system is local as if it were remote; viruses and bots and malware don’t make the distinction between them, why should you?

By centralizing application access across users and locations, such secure access methodologies can be used to extend control over applications that may be deployed in a cloud computing environment as well. Part of F5’s position on cloud computing is that many of the solutions that will be required to make cloud-deployed applications viable is that the control that exists today over locally deployed applications must be extended somehow to those remote applications as a means to normalize management and security as well as controlling the costs of leveraging what is supposed to be a reduced cost environment.

That’s part of the promise of F5’s BIG-IP Edge Gateway. It’s the next step in secure remote access that combines years of SSL VPN (FirePass) experience with our inherent application-aware delivery infrastructure. It provides the means by which access to corporate applications can be normalized across users and application environments without compromising on security and control. And it’s context-aware because it’s integrated into F5’s core enabling technology platform, TMOS, upon which almost all other application delivery functionality is based and deployed.

I highly encourage a quick read of George Watkin’s latest blog on the topic, Securing the Corporate Intranet with Access Policy Manager, in which he details the solution and some good reasons behind why you’d want to do such a thing (in case I’m not convincing enough for you). You may also enjoy a dive into a solution presented in a previous F5 Friday, “F5 Friday: Never Outsource Control”, that describes an architectural approach to extending normalized control of application access to the cloud.


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