A Colorado-based startup is aiming to leapfrog the networking giants in shipping routers that can create secure tunnels through the Internet.
Compatible Systems aims to ship its secure tunnel establishment protocol (Step) in its routers next month. Major network suppliers, including Cisco and 3Com, are working on tunnelling technologies which set up secure virtual connections by including digital signatures, or other authentication mechanisms, in each packet. This authenticates the sending system at the receiving end, while routers between the two see the traffic as ordinary IP packets.
A standards battle is likely to break out over the technology. Cisco and Microsoft are already promoting their development, level 2 tunnelling protocol (L2TP), over the virtual tunnelling protocol (VTP) from US Robotics and 3Com. Compatible, despite its likely headstart in product shipments, will almost certainly be forced to ally with a larger group.
Its VP of marketing, Tom Ferrell, has said the company is working on merging Step with VTP. Compatible?s technology may gain support outside its own product line later this year when it ships a dedicated tunnelling device that works with other vendors? routers.
This device will fit behind any router and will add encryption. There are significant differences between the three protocols under development. Cisco?s L2TP authenticates users at the beginning of a session only. Step authenticates traffic packet by packet so that one connection cannot monopolise a tunnel. It is suited to smaller organisations and ISPs as it does not need to be supported in their installed routers.
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