What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
Find out why there’s more emphasis on keeping data secure and private with the European GDPR legislation coming into force in May
In order to establish secure connections, many businesses are turning to a virtual private network (VPN). But exactly what is VPN?
In simple terms, a VPN is a service that allows you to use the internet while hiding what you do from other people. It can allow you to connect securely even from a public network; it can enable you to circumvent issues such as geographical restrictions, and it can give you safe access to a business network from home or elsewhere.
VPN originated from the need to allow remote workers to connect with corporate networks so they could safely access company files when out of the office. This is still the technology’s major use, but there are now also VPN services available to anyone, giving them the ability to connect securely and privately to the internet.
How does a virtual private network work?
Usually, when you connect to the internet, your computer links to your internet service provider (ISP). The ISP then connects you to any websites that you want to visit. This means that all of the traffic passes through their servers.
So what is VPN? And how is it different? You connect to your ISP in the same way, but you then connect to a VPN server – whether public or corporate. This connection is encrypted (it’s sometimes referred to as a tunnel) which means that the traffic passing through that tunnel is visible only to you and the VPN server, it’s not visible to the ISP and the rest of the internet.
If you’re accessing the internet via VPN, this means that you are effectively using the VPN server’s address rather than your own, which stays hidden. This makes it safe to use Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes or hotels; even if your data is intercepted it’s encrypted and therefore unreadable.
You might notice a slight drop in performance when using a VPN as encrypting and decrypting the data requires some processing power. This is likely to be more noticeable on lower powered devices such as tablets or smartphones. VPNs can be used on pretty much all operating systems, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux and so on.
As with any service that is dependent on the internet, using a VPN effectively needs you to have a reliable, fast, stable connection. Because data is travelling in both directions, broadband with its asynchronous link may present a problem as data flowing up to the internet has less bandwidth available than that coming in. In addition, because broadband links are shared (contended) there may be less bandwidth available at peak times.
For businesses, therefore, an Ethernet leased line connection to the internet will deliver a more reliable VPN connection. Ethernet is synchronous, it offers the same speed in both directions and there’s no contention, so it will deliver consistently reliable performance. All of this is good for businesses that want to take advantage of the benefits of VPNs.
VPN for business
When it comes to business, what is VPN? And why is it important? The modern world increasingly requires employees to be in touch wherever they are. Whether they are operating from a branch office, in the field, or working from home, they need access to corporate information. Providing that information safely and securely is where a VPN is useful. It’s akin to extending your wide area network to many more locations. This means that users get the same functionality and look as if they were in the office wherever they are connecting from.
There are other advantages too. VPN significantly reduces the chance of falling victim to a security breach or cyber attack. Public networks and Wi-Fi hotspots are a common source of data breaches and a VPN allows your staff to use these safely. This also offers the employees themselves peace of mind when logging on, so they are more likely to be productive.
If you’re linking to other companies to share data as part of a digital integration project, using a VPN gives your partners reassurance too. They can be sure that you’re going the extra mile to keep your and their data secure.
A VPN is an advantage when travelling abroad too. It allows you to use an IP address in your own country. This means that you can access sites that may be blocked in other locations, and also continue to send emails from your firm’s servers. Again, this is an important element of trust for the people you are dealing with.
While there are a lot of public VPN services available on a subscription basis that allows people to access the internet securely and anonymously, most businesses choose to set up their own systems. This usually involves adding a network appliance that users can connect to with VPN client software when they are out of the office.
All of this may sound like it’s going to be the preserve of mega-corporations but, in fact, VPNs can be useful for smaller businesses too. Small companies typically have limited resources when it comes to their IT systems and using VPN can add an extra layer of security for remote workers at a low extra cost. It can also help the business to grow, making it easier to connect securely to new locations as the company expands. Using a VPN can also help with compliance, not just with GDPR but with other industry regulations.
Although it’s secure, VPN like any other technology is not entirely foolproof. Users need to be educated to use it correctly, being sure to log out correctly when they are finished, for example, in order to guard against unauthorised access. That said, a VPN is one of the most secure ways of allowing access to a company network and is something that any business with a need for remote working should be taking seriously.
If you want to improve your internet, or you aren’t sure which service would be right for you, call our team on 0808 115 4281 or get in touch online today so our team can help find the best solution for you and your business.Call Us On 0808 115 4281