Security and the Virtual Office

Doing Business: Setting up your own 'virtual private network.'

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

As more travel professionals do business just about anywhere, accessing valuable information and services can be a challenge.

That’s why many agencies and organizations are relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) that provide a private and secure “tunnel” through the Internet, so remote users or satellite offices can access central files.

“A VPN can allow employees who travel, or who work remotely, to access corporate file servers, e-mail servers, printers and other private network assets,” explains Mike Millar, CEO of Millar Technology Partners in Los Angeles. “This gives them the freedom of working from home, or from any location with an Internet connection.”

Frank Shellabear, sales division president for CSA Travel Protection in San Diego, says he uses a VPN:

To send and receive e-mail. “Everything from initial contact to sign up to sell CSA to day-to-day information on products and changes,” he says. Recently, CSA used its VPN to distribute information to agencies, travelers and others affected by Hurricane Isabel.

To post CSA data on a host’s intranet, extranet or Web site.

To create and execute Webex or similar online training and/or conferences. “Many consortia and host agencies conduct their own online training and CSA participates periodically,” he notes.

And, to link an agent to the CSA Web site using affiliate links and customized desktop shortcuts.

Creating a Network

So how do you get a VPN? The easy way is to hire a technology consultant. To build your own, you should have an understanding of available VPN technologies and their compatibility with systems already in use.

“In general, most travel agents will not want to attempt to build a VPN on their own unless they are computer-networking hobbyists as well,” says Marc Russell, CEO of Cows in the Mist, a Seattle-based technology consultancy.

Millar agrees. “I wouldn’t try to plan a complicated international trip,” he says. “You shouldn’t try to plan a complicated technology solution.”

The Nuts And Bolts

Before creating a VPN, consultants Mike Millar and Marc Russell advise you to consider:

Software-Only. A software-only VPN is the least expensive. Russell suggests Microsoft Windows 2000 Server (;en-us; 308208) and Microsoft Windows 2003 Server ( com/windowsserver2003/technologies/networking/vpn/default.mspx ). For open-source systems, FreeS/WAN ( handles the IPSec protocol and most Linux distributions include PPTP server support, as does MacOS X 10.2 (Jaguar).

Firewalls. Check consumer-grade firewall appliances such as the 2Wire OfficePortal and Home- Portal series (www.2wire. com/). Most Microsoft systems include client-side VPN support but pre-2000 Windows will need separate VPN software.

Hardware. VPN appliances, which allow fast tunnels and more users, are made by companies such as Cisco (, Symantec (enterprisesecurity. and NetScreen ( home.jsp?intro=flash).

Security. VPN technology uses the Internet so security is a concern. “It’s vital to thoroughly understand the infrastructure of your Local Area Network (LAN) and firewall before implementing a VPN,” Millar says.

Bandwidth. As the number of users increases, so does the network’s need for bandwidth (the speed at which its Internet connection allows it to send data.) “Cable modems and DSL do not have adequate upstream bandwidth for most applications,” Millar says “A fractional T1 line is a better choice if the VPN will be used extensively.”