The quick and easy way to create an SSL VPN

A few weeks back, I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was looking to find a secure method of getting into my home network from wherever I happen to be and he recommended his friend’s SSL VPN product – SSL-Explorer.

I should also add that the aforementioned colleague has since taken a position with 3SP, the creators of SSL-Explorer (good luck Chris), but I have no such conflicts of interest – I’m simply writing about a product that’s I’ve found to be very useful.

According to 3SP:

“SSL-Explorer is the world’s first open-source, browser-based SSL VPN solution. This unique remote access solution provides users and businesses alike with a means of securely accessing network resources from outside the network perimeter using only a standard web browser.”

The community edition of SSL-Explorer is an open source product licensed under the GNU general public license (GPL) and the enterprise edition builds on this to provide additional functionality for organisations who require enhanced features and dedicated commercial support.

I used a (remarkably) similar product from Neoteris a few years back; however that required a dedicated appliance server and was a commercial product. There’s also the OpenSSL project but, despite earlier versions of SSL-Explorer requiring compilation using Apache Ant, the installer I used (v0.2.8_01) required no such effort and I was amazed at how quickly I was able to install SSL-Explorer onto a standard Windows server (I could also have used a Linux box). Furthermore, despite not yet being a version 1 product (and using Java, which I’m not a fan of), SSL-Explorer seems to be remarkably stable.

Through SSL-Explorer, I can provide users with access to file shares (read-only or read-write – and the product only enumerates those folders for which the user has access), reverse proxy to internal web servers (including single sign-on to Outlook Web Access) and access internal servers (using RDP or VNC – other modules are also available). Some features require an agent to be loaded on the fly but the SSL-Explorer product is still a clientless VPN (all interaction is within a web browser). Management is via a web interface and self-signed certificates can be used (for those of us who don’t have the budget to buy third party certificates).

I still have some issues with the remote desktop functionality from behind my employer’s proxy server; however I suspect that is related to the ISA Server configuration in use – SSL-Explorer is working perfectly from other networks. I also operate using a single NATted IP address, so if I want to forward all HTTPS traffic from my firewall to the SSL-Explorer server then I can’t do the same for any other web servers that I might like to expose to the Internet directly (at least not on the same port).

Of course, there are other solutions that may better suit an organisation’s network or security policies; however for many smaller companies and private individuals, SSL-Explorer could be the perfect solution to remote access – it’s definitely worth a look.

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