VPN stands for “virtual private network”. It means using encryption to establish a secure network connection between two computers, or a computer and a server, over an untrusted network.
In business, VPNs are normally used to allow connections to a company LAN over the internet. There are also many consumer VPN services that act as internet proxies, allowing individuals to conceal or disguise their true identity and location online.
Why does a business need a VPN?
Using a VPN allows remote staff to access servers and other resources as if they were directly connected to the company network. Once a user has been authenticated by the VPN gateway, all communications are encrypted, so anyone monitoring the connection won’t be able to capture passwords or data.
For businesses with multiple premises, an always-on VPN connection can also be used to connect office networks together. This effectively creates a single LAN where all resources can be directly accessed from all locations.
What are the downsides of using a VPN?
If a VPN gateway is compromised then that could allow intruders onto the network – although as long as suitable security practices are in place, they still shouldn’t be able to access servers or sensitive information.
VPN connections have greater latency than a direct connection, as encryption and routing add an overhead to every exchange of data.
And while a VPN can provide easy access to a company network, the situation becomes more complicated for workflows involving cloud services. Remote workers may need to maintain direct connections to cloud providers alongside a VPN connection to the internal LAN.
How do I set up a VPN?
Server editions of Windows feature a built-in VPN server, which can be managed from the Routing and Remote Access console. Desktop editions of the OS can connect over any internet connection.
Alternatively, open-source VPN servers such as OpenVPN and WireGuard can be deployed on Linux systems as well as Windows. Free desktop client software is used to initiate and manage the VPN connection.
There are also various commercial VPN products, such as Cisco AnyConnect and Citrix Gateway, plus numerous router and firewall appliances with built-in VPN capabilities, from companies including Draytek, Netgear, TP-Link and Zyxel.
What are the uses of consumer VPNs?
Most consumer VPN services are focused on online privacy: rather than protecting a remote network, they enable anonymous internet access, blocking websites and servers from capturing identifying information about the user. Since the connection between the user and the gateway is encrypted, not even the ISP is able to track what information is being transmitted, or which sites are being visited.
This can be useful for whistleblowers and journalists who need to operate with an assurance of anonymity. Consumer VPNs are also popularly used to disguise one’s location, in order to access content on video streaming services that’s only available in specific regions.
- A VPN allows uses encryption to enable secure access to remote resources over the internet.
- VPN gateway functions are available in all server platforms, or can be provided by a hardware appliance.
- VPNs add latency to a connection, and may not be suitable for cloud-based processes.
- Consumer VPN services provide anonymous internet access, and can disguise or spoof the user’s location.
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