SSL VPN for SMBs: Secure Remote Access

By Lauren Simonds | Posted August 15, 2005

Small businesses looking for a way to let their mobile employees connect to the home office while on the road or working from home may want to know about the Firebox SSL Core VPN Gateway, a new network appliance developed jointly by WatchGuard Technologies and Citrix Systems.

Both companies say that Firebox is the first professional grade SSL-VPN product designed for the mid-market, and that the appliance is designed for companies with a workforce ranging anywhere from 20-to-500 employees.

The main benefits for small businesses, according to Mark Stevens, chief strategy officer for WatchGuard, include increased remote access security, decreased technical complexity and a lower total cost of ownership. Stevens said that small businesses have typically relied on IPsec-based VPN solutions, mainly because SSL options were priced too high or weren't fully featured.

"We designed Firebox specifically for small business because SSL is easier to use. IPsec is much harder to work with," he said. "You have to load client software onto every PC, and it often conflicts with firewalls. IPsec requires a lot of hands-on attention, and that's a burden for companies that don't have an in-house IT staff. What's more," he added, "IPsec often has issues with firewalls, and so a business traveler staying at a hotel, for example, often runs into trouble trying to access his network."

WatchGuard says Firebox provides "secure, always-on connectivity to core applications from any Internet access device." Stevens added that this level of SSL had, until now, been available only to large companies that employed IT staffs capable of handling complex remote access technology.

Two Access Paths
The Firebox SSL VPN appliance offers anywhere access in two distinct modes: Secure Access and Kiosk. Secure Access client mode lets you work with client/server applications, file servers, printer servers and any other resources you maintain on a network resource — just as if you're connected to a LAN. In Kiosk mode, they can access Web applications from Web-enabled devices, such as PDAs and smart phones. The Firebox device can support up to 205 remote workers accessing the appliance at the same time.

WatchGuard provided the hardware platform for the device, and Citrix, a leader in secure remote access software technology, provides the software that handles the 196-bit TLS encryption, which supports all OpenSSL ciphers including 3DES and RC4 encryption.

Stevens said the device supports several levels of authentication including user name and password, Windows Active Directory and tokens for two-factor authentication.

Cost Containment
Stevens emphasized that Firebox SSL helps reduce over all costs through its simple setup and low maintenance requirements. "Setting up the Firebox is very streamlined and requires a lot less configuration," he said. "You don't have to spend a lot of time setting up or maintaining the box, and that saves you money." Features that contribute to the easy set up include:

  • No additional adapters, application connectors or complex network reconfiguration
  • Automatic client installation — no ongoing administration required
  • Intuitive interfaces for IT administrators reduce time spent configuring and managing access policies
  • Built-in desktop sharing for SSL-encrypted remote help desk support
  • Comprehensive support package delivered by LiveSecurity Service experts

Pricing
The Firebox SSL Core VPN Gateway appliance — with five-seats — costs $2,790. Stevens said this package could comfortably support a company with 25-to50 employees. Additional five-, 10-, 20- and 50-seat packs cost $495, $990, $1,980 and $4,950, respectively.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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