Cisco develops VPN client for PCs, smartphones

The company's AnyConnect software will work with most mobile platforms

Cisco Systems will soon release a VPN client for smartphones and PCs aimed at enterprise administrators who want to provide secure access to their networks and ward off malicious software.

Cisco's AnyConnect Secure Mobility Solution was announced at the Cebit trade show in Germany on Tuesday. It is part of Cisco's "borderless networks" initiative, which aims to provide better performance and security to traveling corporate workers.

While other security vendors have end-point security software, they don't necessarily have the VPN (virtual private network) component as well, said Horacio Zambrano, a Cisco product line manager.

Cisco said its software is superior because once it is set up, it will maintain a VPN connection with a corporate network and users do not have to manually connect.

AnyConnect will automatically detect where a user is and can enforce certain policies determined by an administrator for that type of connection. For example, if the user is in India or China, an administrator may want to implement stronger security measures, said Axel Foery, head of Cisco's borderless network architecture for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Administrators will also have granular control over applications. For example, users may be allowed to send attachments over instant message programs if they are located in certain places but barred from sending attachments in other locales.

Cisco contends the system also allows for greater control over software-as-a-service applications such as Salesforce.com. Access to Salesforce is managed via Cisco's secure gateway, so employees don't have a direct login to the Web application.

If an employee is terminated, their access can be revoked from the gateway, and the employee will not be able to access Salesforce corporate data.

AnyConnect will work on major mobile platforms including Windows, Blackberry, Palm, Symbian and the iPhone by the end of the year, Zambrano said. AnyConnect will be available for PCs running Linux, Windows and Mac OSes, he said.

To install the client on a smartphone, administrators send users an e-mail with a link to the AnyConnect application. Once users have authenticated themselves, AnyConnect will start an encrypted connection.

Cisco is combining its AnyConnect software with its Web security appliances and firewalls. Last October, Cisco bought ScanSafe, a vendor that specialized in Web filtering. In 2007, Cisco bought IronPort, which made Web security appliances.

Technologies from both of those acquired vendors are wrapped into AnyConnect. ScanSafe's technology can stop users from going to malicious Web sites on their PCs or mobile devices, preventing malicious software from possibly invading the corporate network. IronPort's worldwide sensor network is used to gather information on emerging security threats on the Web as well, said Amanda Holdan, Cisco product marketing manager for security.

All of the components for AnyConnect should be released by June, although iPhone and Android compatibility should come by the end of the year, Zambrano said. Pricing has not been finalized.

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