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Presented by Daniel Lenski, PhD


Virtual private network (VPN) software creates a connection between peers across a wide-area network (normally, the Internet!) and builds an encrypted tunnel that behaves like a direct connection to the same local, private network. VPNs have become a pervasive feature of modern workplaces, and even more indispensable in this era of COVID-19 and widespread remote work.

The most widely-deployed VPN client and server software in workplace environments — including Cisco AnyConnect, Juniper/Pulse Networks, PAN GlobalProtect, and others  — is all proprietary and closed-source. These VPNs differ in idiosyncratic ways, ranging from authentication to security requirements imposed on the client computers. Combined with bugs, missing features, and often mystifyingly vague error reporting, they can be very difficult to use, especially for those who need to access multiple VPNs. Under the hood, however, they all work in extremely similar ways.

The speaker is one of the main developers of OpenConnect, an open-source VPN client which can connect to all of the aforementioned VPNs using a common interface (with several others in development). In this talk, he will explain in detail how modern client-server VPNs work, in terms of authentication, encrypted tunneling, Internet protocol routing, and client roaming. He will illustrate how the operation of a VPN can be reverse-engineered and reimplemented in OpenConnect, using an implementation of PAN GlobalProtect as an example. He’ll show some of the advantages of being able to connect to different VPNs in a consistent and automated way, which can be particularly indispensable for those who work as consultants or vendors to multiple companies using different VPNs. Finally, he’ll discuss some recent and ongoing developments in VPNs and other kinds of remote connectivity software

Daniel Lenski received his PhD in semiconductor physics and has worked at Seagate, Intel, and Amazon Elemental, and he has been using Linux and open-source software since the ’90s. He started modifying and contributing to OpenConnect out of the necessity of interfacing with many different companies’ VPNs while at a semiconductor consulting startup (FPS, now part of Inficon) and has continued developing it as a side project.


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Date – Thursday, Sept. 17th
Time – 8:30 – 10:30am