What Is A VPN and Why Should I Use One
A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that creates an encrypted connection over a less secure network. VPNs can be used to access region-restricted websites, shield your browsing activity from prying eyes on public Wi-Fi, and more. The benefit of using a secure VPN is it ensures the appropriate level of security to the connected systems when the underlying network infrastructure alone cannot provide it. The justification for using VPN access instead of a private network usually boils down to cost and feasibility: It is either not feasible to have a private network — e.g., for a traveling sales rep — or it is too costly to do so. The most common types of VPNs are remote-access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs.
What Is a VPN?
Put simply, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a group of computers (or discrete networks) networked together over a public network—namely, the internet. Businesses use VPNs to connect remote datacenters, and individuals can use VPNs to get access to network resources when they’re not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their communications when they’re using an untrusted public network.
When you connect to a VPN, you usually launch a VPN client on your computer (or click a link on a special website), log in with your credentials, and your computer exchanges trusted keys with a faraway server. Once both computers have verified each other as authentic, all of your internet communication is encrypted and secured from eavesdropping.
What Makes for a Good VPN?
The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.
Protocol: When you’re researching a VPN, you’ll see terms like SSL/TLS (sometimes referred to as OpenVPN support,) PPTP, IPSec, L2TP, and other VPN types. Amongst these, SSL is what is commonly used although all of these protocols will provide a secure connection.
Corporate and Exit Locations: Depending on what you’re using a VPN for, your service’s location—and the exit locations you can choose—are important to consider. Also, it’s important to make sure a VPN has servers in multiple locations—or at least the location you’re interested in—when shopping.
Logging: When you connect to a VPN, you’re trusting the VPN service provider with your data. Your communications may be secure from eavesdropping, but other systems on the same VPN—especially the operator—can log your data if they choose. If this bothers you (e.g., you’re the privacy/security advocate or the downloader), make absolutely sure you know your provider’s logging policies before signing up.
Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware Features: Using a VPN doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable. Some VPN service providers—especially mobile ones—bundle their clients with anti-malware scanners to make sure you’re not downloading viruses or trojans. When you’re shopping, see if the providers you’re interested in offer anti-malware protection while you’re connected.
Mobile Apps: If you’re going to spend money on a VPN service provider, you should be able to get a consistent experience across all of your devices.
Uses for VPNs
VPNs are a fairly simple tool, but they can be used to do a wide variety of things:
Access a Business Network While Travelling: VPNs are frequently used by business travelers to access their business’ network, including all its local network resources, while on the road. The local resources don’t have to be exposed directly to the Internet, which increases security.
Access Your Home Network While Travelling: You can also set up your own VPN to access your own network while travelling. This will allow you to access a Windows Remote Desktop over the Internet, use local file shares, and play games over the Internet as if you were on the same LAN (local area network).
Hide Your Browsing Activity from Your Local Network and ISP: If you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection, your browsing activity on non-HTTPS websites is visible to everyone nearby, if they know how to look. If you want to hide your browsing activity for a bit more privacy, you can connect to a VPN. The local network will only see a single, secure VPN connection. All the other traffic will travel over the VPN connection. While this can be used to bypass connection-monitoring by your Internet service provider, bear in mind that VPN providers may opt to log the traffic on their ends.
Access Geo-Blocked Websites: Whether you’re an American trying to access your Netflix account while travelling out of the country or you wish you could use American media sites like Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu, you’ll be able to access these region-restricted services if you connect to a VPN located in the USA.
Bypass Internet Censorship: Many Chinese people use VPNs to get around the Great Firewall of China and gain access to the entire Internet. (However, the Great Firewall has apparently started interfering with VPNs recently.)
VPNs are an extremely valid and important security measure, and one that is becoming increasingly popular. If you’re concerned about the potential of hacking or may wish to keep your IP address private then setting up a VPN is certainly worth looking into. For more information about setting up a VPN connectivity for your remote workforce, Contact us.