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On this episode of the Security Visionaries podcast host Max Havey engages in a fascinating discussion with Steve Riley, former Gartner analyst and Field CTO at Netskope and Carl Smittle, Network Engineer for Charter Communications, about the history, significance, and future of virtual private networks (VPNs). Understand how VPNs revolutionized businesses, and how the advent of zero trust network access (ZTNA) shows a potential replacement for VPNs, as Steve and Carl provide advice for organizations looking to take the next step as they retire their existing appliances.

The only constant is change. So don’t be afraid. Embrace that change. Always find ways that you can help your business be successful. Change is good. Use it to your advantage.

—Steve Riley, Field CTO at Netskope
Steve Riley, former Gartner analyst and Field CTO at Netskope

 

Timestamps

*(00:01): Introduction*(14:28): ZTNA as a potential VPN replacement
*(01:25): A Look Back at the Pre-VPN era*(16:55): Future predictions for VPNs and remote access technologies
*(04:13): The Impact of VPNs on Businesses*(21:27): Excitement about what’s next
*(08:30): VPNs and Their Influence on Connectivity and Flexibility*(24:48): Expert advice on transitioning away from VPN
*(11:47): The lasting significance of VPNs and emergence of New Technologies*(28:51): Closing

 

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On this episode

Carl Smittle
Network Engineer for Charter Communications

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Carl Smittle

Carl Smittle is an experienced Senior Network / Security Engineer with a demonstrated history of working multiple industries. Carl is skilled in Networking and Security, Data Center, Cisco Firewall/Route/Switch, and Information Security. He is a strong information technology professional with a Master’s degree focused in Information Technology Management from Webster University.

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Steve Riley
Field CTO at Netskope

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Steve Riley

Steve Riley is a Field CTO at Netskope. Having worked at the intersection of cloud and security for pretty much as long as that’s been an actual topic, Steve offers that perspective to field and executive engagements and also supports long-term technology strategy and works with key industry influencers. A widely-renowned expert speaker, author, researcher, and analyst, Steve came to Netskope from Gartner, where for five years he maintained a collection of cloud security research that included the Magic Quadrant for Cloud Access Security Brokers and the Market Guide for Zero Trust Network Access. Before Gartner, Steve spent four years as Deputy CTO of Riverbed Technology and held various security strategy and technical program management roles at Amazon Web Services for two years and at Microsoft for eleven years. Steve’s interest in security began all the way back in 1995, when he convinced his then-employer that it would be a good idea to install a firewall on their brand new internet connection.

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Max Havey
Senior Content Specialist at Netskope

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Max Havey

Max Havey is a Senior Content Specialist for Netskope’s corporate communications team. He is a graduate from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with both Bachelor’s and Master’s in Magazine Journalism. Max has worked as a content writer for startups in the software and life insurance industries, as well as edited ghostwriting from across multiple industries.

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Carl Smittle

Carl Smittle is an experienced Senior Network / Security Engineer with a demonstrated history of working multiple industries. Carl is skilled in Networking and Security, Data Center, Cisco Firewall/Route/Switch, and Information Security. He is a strong information technology professional with a Master’s degree focused in Information Technology Management from Webster University.

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Steve Riley

Steve Riley is a Field CTO at Netskope. Having worked at the intersection of cloud and security for pretty much as long as that’s been an actual topic, Steve offers that perspective to field and executive engagements and also supports long-term technology strategy and works with key industry influencers. A widely-renowned expert speaker, author, researcher, and analyst, Steve came to Netskope from Gartner, where for five years he maintained a collection of cloud security research that included the Magic Quadrant for Cloud Access Security Brokers and the Market Guide for Zero Trust Network Access. Before Gartner, Steve spent four years as Deputy CTO of Riverbed Technology and held various security strategy and technical program management roles at Amazon Web Services for two years and at Microsoft for eleven years. Steve’s interest in security began all the way back in 1995, when he convinced his then-employer that it would be a good idea to install a firewall on their brand new internet connection.

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Max Havey

Max Havey is a Senior Content Specialist for Netskope’s corporate communications team. He is a graduate from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with both Bachelor’s and Master’s in Magazine Journalism. Max has worked as a content writer for startups in the software and life insurance industries, as well as edited ghostwriting from across multiple industries.

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Episode transcript

Open for transcript

Max Havey [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to another edition of Security Visionaries, a podcast all about the world of cyber, data, and tech infrastructure, bringing together experts from around the world and across domains. I'm your host, Max Havey, and today we have two exciting guests, both experts from the world of networking, here to talk about the highs and lows of virtual private networks or VPNs. First up, we have Steve Riley, a field CTO here at Netscape and an experienced information technology professional who's held a number of different technology and security roles throughout the industry, including a stint as an analyst for Gartner. Welcome to the show, Steve.

Steve Riley [00:00:36] Hey, thanks, Max. Good to be here. Hi, everybody.

Max Havey [00:00:39] Glad to have you. And additionally, we have Carl Smittle, a network engineer for Charter Communications and a senior network and security engineer who has worked across multiple industries, including stints at Spectrum and Mastercard. Welcome to the show, Carl.

Carl Smittle [00:00:51] Thanks for having me.

Max Havey [00:00:52] Absolutely. So today we're going to be talking about sort of the past and present of VPNs and looking at sort of the highs and lows as well as where things are headed next and what organizations who are, you know, where where things are headed next for organizations. So to start things off here, you know, the specification for the VPN was published back in the last millennium, 1999, to be precise. So for our younger listeners and, you know, to help some of our older listeners reminisce, can you sort of describe what the world before the VPN sort of looked like? Steve, can you can you start us off there?

Steve Riley [00:01:25] Yeah, I think, Max, you're talking about the RFC four PPTP point to point tunneling protocol in 1999. That was actually developed three years prior by a Microsoft person. It didn't get RFC status until 99, so it originated in 96, but that was a derivative of an even earlier protocol called point to point protocol from 1994. So yeah, I mean, you're right, these VPN things have been around for a while. You know, if you think about when the Internet was originally designed in the 70s, the notion of remote access wasn't really a thing. Right. But eventually, as people started to realize it was useful for more than just connecting universities to the Defense Department, it would be good if people could be somewhere other than in the local network to get on to wherever their Internet connection might happen to be. And so that's what the VPN did. It hooked people who were remote to some local network that could then, you know, either just interact with resources on that local network or elsewhere on the Internet. Why not just go to the Internet if you're already on it instead of into the corp net? Well, sometimes people wanted to apply certain kinds of security traffic to all app on Internet traffic, even those from remote users. So you bring them into the corporate and then back out to the Internet, which, you know, we lovingly call hairpin today. And fortunately, we have many, much more improved technologies from these than these things from the middle 90s that give us great performance and avoid all that hairpin and don't compromise security.

Max Havey [00:02:59] Definitely. And Carl, sort of, what are some of your thoughts? Do you have any anything sort of additional you'd like to add to that question there?

Carl Smittle [00:03:06] Yeah, I know it's hard to believe we've come this far. It's been a long time ago since before VPN. In the past I actually also worked a lot on side to side VPN connections, which, you know, the precursor to a lot of other things we've got today as far as file sharing and you know, getting from branch side to headquarters site type scenario. But yeah, I agree with Steve that if you're looking more to individual user to corporate site, I mean, there's there's a lot of different technologies that have come and gone. That, you know say maybe, concentrator that that we used to use that Mastercard fe'd pull 5,000 people on a snow day on the concentrator just people trying to work your remote and you know it's ever changing, so yeah.

Max Havey [00:03:59] Absolutely and Carl you know on that on that sort of note there, how how did the VPN sort of change things for businesses once it sort of arrived on the scene? Like how did it really sort of like alter the way people were doing business, the way organizations operated?

Carl Smittle [00:04:13] Yeah. So when I first started in IT I used to actually support, you know, we had the Novell networks. I actually supported a 90 site x025 network that basically is terminal to mainframe type scenario. And we ran on just dedicated circuits. So for the VPN site to site tunnels for corporations, say from a branch side to a headquarters side or 100 branch sites to the headquarters sites, a lot of those guys had to have dedicated circuits to get there and that was very time consuming to get stood up. The maintenance, you had to rely on the old telco to troubleshoot things, call them up, say, Hey, I'm down, whatever. They didn't really monitor. And, you know, it's very, very expensive also. So the VPN allowed you to kind of do your own thing, if you will. Like I'm going to set up a tunnel from point A to point B over the public Internet or, you know, I can more easily allow client to server or client to head in connection. And then I can, like Steve was saying, do the hairpin turn there to allow him back out to better manage your security profile. But yeah for you know, for a lot of businesses I think it added more flexibility, lowered the cost and instead of relying a lot more on telco than what we do now, and we can build our own stuff out there in Internet world. So that's that's where I see it.

Max Havey [00:05:53] Definitely kind of driving things to be a bit more flexible, a bit more independent, making it so that people can work from really anywhere.

Carl Smittle [00:05:59] Right? Yeah.

Max Havey [00:06:01] Definitely. And Steve, sort of where does your perspective come in on this sort of around, you know, these these sorts of these changes and impacts that VPN sort of brought when it first came out?

Steve Riley [00:06:11] Well, I think this notion of work from anywhere is an intriguing one. When did you get your first laptop, Carl or Max?

Carl Smittle [00:06:20] Probably. Actually, we had Desktops for a long time, probably, I would say probably 98, something like that. And so, yeah.

Steve Riley [00:06:28] How about you, Max mid-late 90s.

Max Havey [00:06:31] I had my first laptop I think in like 2002-2003.

Steve Riley [00:06:35] Oh, right. You're young.

Max Havey [00:06:36] I am. I mean, I'm younger. I'm younger than you think. Yeah. Yeah. Like I was going to say, like, I don't think I had Internet in my parents house until like 1998, so I maybe I may be a few years behind the peg here.

Steve Riley [00:06:47] Well, I ask the question because, I mean, think of, you know, we were talking about sort of the Internet before these VPN protocols arose and the VPN protocols arose, which lot people do remote. Well, what else happened that same time? Laptops. Yeah. My my first laptop in 1995. And so this I think this notion that hey this new mechanism materialized to use the Internet to get people to our corporate network when they aren't on the corp net itself is pretty cool. And I can remember I, you know, in very early days when I was experimenting around with some of this, when I worked for a power company in in Ohio that people just couldn't believe they could lug this computer around that, you know, it was like a couple inches thick, right? But then they could sit on a couch or a desk in the evening after dinner and they could do more work. Now, one might argue that VPNs and laptops, you know, were the beginning of the breakdown of the American family because but, you know, whatever. That's that's a joke. Okay. But it's interesting that these two things coincided. And I don't think that was by accident.

Carl Smittle [00:08:07] And you also forget about dial up, too, right?

Steve Riley [00:08:10] Oh, well, that's a big one. I think we all want to forget about dial up, right?

Max Havey [00:08:16] Yeah. I feel like the less said about dial up and having to, you know, endure indoor, you know, the tones, not making calls and, you know, just just the all around slowness compared to the connectivity we see today. I feel like it's better left in the past.

Steve Riley [00:08:30] Well, I mean, that PPP was for dial up. Yeah, basically. I mean it was an encapsulation mechanism for transport between two peers, but to make it work over the public. Internet. That was the edition that the PPTP brought. And then since then, all these. All the newer protocols, the Carl alluded to in the introduction essentially assume the Internet exists now.

Max Havey [00:08:54] Definitely. Well, and Steve, sort of jumping off of that, how was VPNs sort of instrumental in the early days of digital transformation? We kind of touched on that a little bit in your last answer. Could you could you expand on that maybe a little bit?

Steve Riley [00:09:06] Yeah. Well, I've been working from home ever since, I want to say probably about 1998. And that's been able enabled by VPNs and the Internet, whether it was when I was at Microsoft, working in consulting services, living in Denver or, you know, they moved me to Seattle and I was still working from home about half the time. And then Riverbed was home all time. Gartner and Netskope here, too. So it's enabled us to do good work anywhere and let the companies we work for, as well as the customers of those companies benefit from that. I think it clearly shows that humans have the aptitude and the desire to just be productive when the time strikes. You know, I don't always have my best ideas between 9 and 5. Sometimes a really good idea comes up, you know, 7 p.m., 8 p.m.. Yeah. I could jot it down into a notepad on my phone. But I'd rather just take the laptop, open it up, log in and write an email or send a slack message or create a quick doc and then go back to whatever I was doing, you know, blowing my instrument or watching a documentary or something. So the flexibility, I think has been really huge. But then also this notion that we can connect anything to anything. And this goes way back to Carl's early experience with those site to site VPNs. Right. Being able to use this technology as a substitute for expensive, dedicated carrier links that by themselves aren't any more secure. Right. It's just a different physical wire, that's all. The VPN protocols wrap necessary, necessary security around it. I think this lets businesses themselves be more flexible in where they place resources, where they place offices, where they place factories, those sorts of things that might not have been possible before the rise of these technologies.

Carl Smittle [00:11:22] Yeah. And if you just look to our overseas support, I mean, I work every day over a VPN and operations, I might get a call in the middle of the night and I can jump on the computer and do my work and fix stuff. And then also I can collaborate with workers that are, you know, other side of the globe at the same time over their VPN to talk to them. So yeah, it's it's a world changer.

Max Havey [00:11:47] Absolutely. And you know, Carl, kind of going from that there like, you know, is there anything that, you know, we can sort of directly sort of give VPN credit for that today we sort of take for granted when it comes to like the connectivity that we that we operate with as businesses and organizations.