Remote User Access in the Era of COVID-19

The worldwide lockdown due to COVID-19 has given me an opportunity to reflect on many aspects of life and work. Nowadays I’m helping enable companies and non-profits for secure remote access work (i.e. not site-to-site VPN). I was looking into enterprise-grade solutions for secure remote users access to VPNs when I came across the Smart SAML Remote User VPN solution from Aviatrix

I have prior experience with inexpensive/free solutions such as Libreswan for site-to-site IPSec VPN and OpenVPN for site-to-site SSL VPN. While OpenVPN also handles remote user VPN, I haven’t come across many solutions that can also handle SAML. SAML of course stands for Security Assertion Markup Language and, simply put, is a way allowing identity providers to pass authorization credentials to service providers for Single Sign On (SSO). Facebook is a common example of an Identity Provider. One of the best write-ups I’ve seen that explains how SAML works is on Duo’s site.

Brief tangent: in mid-2011, Spotify launched a 6-month ad-free trial period in USA. I signed up for it using my Facebook account as the Identity Provider. In January 2012, I converted my account to Premium. Nine years and hundreds of playlists later, I am still a Spotify Premium member, but because of the notoriety Facebook has gained from its stance on privacy, I’ve wanted to dissociate my Spotify account from Facebook only to learn the hard way that “If your Spotify account was created on Facebook, you can’t disconnect from Facebook.

Of course, while many end-users use Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google as an Identity Provider so that they don’t have to create multiple accounts, the more common solutions used by Enterprises are Okta, Duo, and Active Directory from Microsoft. Enterprises often use commercial Remote Access VPN clients that correspond to the VPN Concentrator of their choice. Alternatively, they may also use open source based clients, such as OpenVPN.

Aviatrix has an OpenVPN client that supports SAML authentication through Enterprise-grade Identity Providers. The solution will enable remote access to employees, customers, and partners who need to remotely access private company resources that reside in public clouds as well as on-premise applications. Aviatrix actually has a promotion through June 2020 to credit organizations that use this solution. For a list of other offers/promotions made by tech companies, visit this page on Packet Pushers.

I had heard of Aviatrix for a couple of years as a leader in multi-cloud networking. I’ll save some of those thoughts for my next post.

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