Hamachi: Roll Your Own VPNs - Page 2

By Joseph Moran

June 05, 2006

Making Connections with Hamachi

Other systems can join a Hamachi network provided they know the network's name and have the password. If our experience is any indication, users ought to have little if any difficulty connecting to each other via Hamachi. In fact, we were easily able to connect to a colleague's Hamachi network across the Internet even though both networks were using different routers and NAT address ranges.

Hamachi VPN Screenshot
Creating a new VPN or joining an existing network is a simple, straightforward process in Hamachi

Connecting via Hamachi worked equally well irrespective of which end initiated the connection, and even more impressive was the fact that the link was established without the need to open ports or perform any kind of router/firewall configuration on either end. Since most software firewalls will recognize the Hamachi adapter as a separate network connection and block traffic on it, you may need to configure that firewall to allow the kinds of traffic you want over the Hamachi interface.

We were able to use Hamachi for a variety of tasks, including running Windows File and Printer sharing, an FTP server, and several games. You can have multiple Hamachi networks active at one time, and all the clients that are members of a given network are listed in the interface (they're grayed out if not currently connected). When you right-click on a network member you can ping the user's system or send a text message, and if you're the owner of the network, disconnect a system and prevent it from reconnecting in the future.

As mentioned earlier, Hamachi offers very little in the way of configuration options. That's probably a good thing because the software unfortunately lacks documentation, a built-in help system, or even a readme file (though there is evidently a support forum available at the company's Web site). Most of the configuration options that exist are self-explanatory and concern how the software displays information or behaves during startup or shutdown.

The Bottom Line

Hamachi is currently available for Windows (XP and 2000 only) and Linux, with a MacOS version also under development according to the company. Hamachi is currently available free of charge for unlimited use, but given that it's a pre-1.0 copy it wouldn't be surprising if the next version had some restrictions and/or a registration fee.

So exactly how secure is Hamachi? That's hard to say definitively, since we're neither cryptographers nor experts in network security. One thing to be aware of is that unlike most commercial VPN products, Hamachi authenticates only systems and not individual users (since all users connect using the same network name and password). Therefore, anyone that knows this information could potentially become a member of your secure network.

Given that the trust most people put in a product ultimately depends on the trustworthiness of the company that made it, the fact that Applied Networking is for the most part an unknown quantity may be enough to give some pause for concern. And although the company's .cc domain denotes a Cocos (Keeling) Islands registration, it's actually located in Vancouver, BC, Canada — the .cc domain is commonly used by large companies worldwide.

For its part, Applied Networking states that Hamachi communications are secured using 256-bit AES encryption; it also publishes a detailed description of its security architecture on its web site. For what it's worth, the company also pledges that Hamachi doesn't include any kind of spyware, and we didn't detect any after installing the software.

We probably wouldn't be quite comfortable transmitting truly sensitive information over a Hamachi connection right now, and we would only use it with someone we trusted to keep the network name and password private. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with Hamachi's impressive ease of connection, so if you're looking for a simple VPN for gaming or similar purposes that won't make you pull your hair out, Hamachi is definitely worth a look.

Pros: Extremely easy to set up and use; works through NAT without any router adjustments; attractive (if rather Spartan) interface

Cons: No documentation; authenticates systems rather than specific users; relatively unknown company, making it hard to gage how secure the software ultimately is.

Story courtesy of WinPlanet.com.

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