The acronym VPN could stand for Very Popular Nowadays because virtual private networks have become the go-to way of securely accessing a business network from anywhere. VPNs have proliferated lately because home offices have been forced to flourish and remote network traffic has remarkably inflated.
FirstDigital wants you to understand the ins and outs of having a VPN.
- Why use a VPN?
- What exactly is it, and how does it work?
- Why should businesses and their employees use a VPN every single time they log into a network?
- What are the risks associated with not using one (or that come with using a free VPN)?
- How do you even get a VPN, and what should you look for in one?
These are a lot of questions and we’ll answer them all so you can get to the bottom of this very popular (and necessary) type of network.
What Is a VPN?
A VPN (virtual private network) is essentially a way for users (both in-house and remote) to securely access restricted internet, no matter their location. The service forwards all traffic to and from a private network through a secure connection, so that sensitive data is seen only by permitted eyes.
A VPN works by connecting a user’s computer or mobile device to a secure server where browsing and working can be done in a protected environment, rather than in the open over the public internet. To connect to a VPN once it’s been set up, an employee simply needs to log in and the VPN does the rest.
A VPN is created through an established point-to-point connection of dedicated circuits (or tunneling protocols that are running conventional routing protocols). This all takes place over existing networks.
There are three categories of VPNs:
- Remote based is a secure connection from a remote computer network. This is often used for companies with a large number of employees who work off-site.
- Intranet-based site-to-site is a completely private network that can only be accessed by authorized, in-network users. This is used for connecting the private networks of many different remote offices or locations.
- Extranet-based site-to-site is a connection between partner companies. This is used for allowing internal workers from each company to access each other’s secure internal networks.
Why Do Businesses Use a VPN?
Whatever the type, VPNs are used by businesses not only because they authenticate remote access from multiple locations, but also because they provide confidentiality and message integrity through an encrypted connection.
Other day-to-day reasons why a VPN is used for business are because it allows for:
- Downloading large files without throttling and interfering with other traffic.
- Browsing activity invisibly on public websites (do note that VPNs may still log your traffic).
- Accessing region-restricted sites and services when a user is out of the host country.
- Bypassing internet censorship encountered in some countries.
- Enforcing company internet policies with usage agreements.
- Providing a Kill-Switch feature that prevents the receiving or transmitting of information should the VPN disconnect.
Why Should Every Employee Use a VPN?
For all of the reasons listed above–and the ones listed below–every employee should use a company VPN, should one exist.
To reiterate, businesses use a VPN to allow employees to access a private, secure network that can be accessed both inside and outside of the office while still keeping company and client information safe.
The only way this will be successful, however, is if every employee uses the VPN every time they work. Forgetting to do this even once can result in prying eyes viewing things they shouldn’t, as well as heavy workloads bogging down online traffic.
Logging in also means you can ensure your employees’ online activity complies with the company’s terms and conditions of company internet use.
What Are the Risks for Businesses Who Don’t Use a VPN?
Again, why use a VPN? Let’s go through an unhealthy list of risks businesses who don’t use a VPN face, starting with security.
Protecting the data transmitted to/from each device, whether PC, laptop, tablet, or phone, is a hallmark feature of VPNs. Your business relies on the privacy of data. This includes trade secrets, strategies and tactics, sensitive communications, data of all sorts, budgets, and customer personal information. All of this is very valuable to hackers, competitors, and many others who can greatly benefit from siphoning or selling it.
A breach or hack can devastate a company. The fallout can range from angry executives and lowered client trust, to a firestorm of bad media coupled with a significant drop in stock value.
A VPN can solve these potential problems by following one of these six security protocols:
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is an older method of encryption and many VPNs have upgraded to newer technology, but this is still often used because it is easy to set up and offers fast speeds. Unfortunately, there are major security concerns that come with its use, so avoid using a VPN that has this as their main security protocol.
- L2TP/IPSec has a 256-bit key and double encapsulation to protect top-secret communications, although it’s not fail-safe when pre-shared keys are used by the encryption.
- Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is only available on Windows, but is one of the most secure protocols. It uses TCP port 443, passing through firewalls and proxy servers, to route traffic.
- OpenVPN TCP is an open-source protocol that gives access to secure code so that, instead of allowing flaws and backdoors in, they can be identified and dealt with properly. It uses a pre-shared key, supports up to 256-bit encryptions, and has integrated error correction. OpenVPN TCP is highly reliable, but can slow down the network speed.
- OpenVPN UDP targets low-latency data transmission during communications between the client and the internet. While reliability is maximized, packets are transmitted without redundancy and checks, so it has lower latency. However, this protocol is optimal for audio/video streaming.
- WireGuard is an up-and-coming protocol that uses a simple and small code base but provides current encryption standards, high reliability, and very fast speeds. Linux users in particular are excited by its state-of-the-art cryptography.
While security is the main issue, let’s continue through our list of the many other risks associated with not using a VPN.
- Remote employees don’t have access to private company data or encrypted means of communication, leaving them out of the loop and unable to work productively.
- There isn’t a shared network between offices spread across multiple locations, causing a constant disconnect between teams.
- Browsing activity isn’t hidden from local networks, meaning anyone nearby has access to knowing exactly what is being searched and seen.
- Downloading large files can interfere with traffic, throttling efficiencies of time-sensitive activities.
- Geographic restrictions can’t be bypassed, making work difficult to do in internet-censored countries.
- Exact location is tracked, rather than allowing an employee to lean into online anonymity when pertinent or prudent.
As you can see, the risks are not worth taking.
What Are the Risks With Free VPNs?
There are many options available when you begin your search for a VPN to protect your company. The problem is that if you don’t choose the right provider, your information won’t be as safe as you are led to believe. This is especially the case with free VPNs.
A free VPN provider may entice you to use their service to save costs without sacrificing security, but too often this is too good to be true. By nature, VPNs are complicated, expensive software that needs to be maintained and updated regularly. They are an investment, not a quick solution. With a free VPN, you get what you pay for (or worse).
If you don’t pay for a VPN up front, you will end up paying for it in the end and in the worst ways:
- Your security will be compromised (sometimes by the free VPN provider itself).
- The amount of data you need to use will be limited (unless you pay for an upgrade).
- Your internet speeds will be slow (again, unless you upgrade your plan).
- You will be bombarded with ads (some of which will contain malware).
- Your bandwidth will be sold to other paying customers (opening you to botnet attacks).
Fortunately, if you go with a premium VPN provider, all these issues will be avoided and work can get done easily and expeditiously without any interruptions.
How Can You Get a VPN?
Now that you know why you should use a VPN, how do you find an exceptional VPN provider who will protect your assets and provide a streamlined place for employees to do business?
The first thing to do is to research different providers recommended by experts in the field. Search trusted online PC magazines, VPN blog posts, and tech forums for solid intelligence.
Then, round up the top contenders using a few key metrics:
- Where is the VPN company based (legal jurisdiction and data retention laws vary by country)? Or, does it connect users to the company’s server without any intermediate steps (many businesses prefer this method)?
- Does the VPN service allow enough devices (of all employees) to be connected at the same time?
- Does the VPN service allow BitTorrent or P2P traffic on its servers?
- Can you try the service for free before you buy?
- What is the monthly fee, and what does it cover?
One thing you don’t need to be swayed by is speed. Tests show there is too much variation in day-to-day usage for that metric to be of much use.
Once you’ve settled on a VPN provider, download the app from their website. Configure each device to connect directly to the VPN service. Then, each time you sign in, the device’s network settings will automatically connect to the VPN server that is closest to your current location (note, there is an option to connect to a different server if needed).
You can now work as usual with the VPN running invisibly in the background.
It’s important to know that the above steps are for a premium, but basic VPN cloud service. Depending on the nature and size of your company, you will want to directly contact a professional, business-forward provider to have their experts walk you through the setup and implementation process.
If your company doesn’t use a VPN for their network connections, the time to get one is now because efficiency, privacy, and security are all at stake.