Running a business today almost certainly means having a digital presence, and being connected to the Internet. While the benefits of this transformation are many, the security issues are still a daily challenge, with many solutions in the market place to address them. One of them is VPN, or Virtual Private Network.
Even if you don’t know anything or much about it, you should seriously consider having a VPN, because it can be as important as your Internet connection, if not now then in the future.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a group of computers networked together over a public network like the internet. And these connected computers are a virtual version of a secure, physical network. They are linked together so they can share information by securing internet traffic with encrypted connection over networks that are less secure.
Essentially, a VPN ensures the level of security to systems that are connected is appropriate if/when the existing network infrastructure alone is not capable of providing it.
Why Should You Use a VPN?
Businesses small and large use VPNs so they can connect securely to a remote network through the internet. Having a VPN lets your employees access your company’s resources, such as files, apps, printers and more, on your office network securely. You can also set up a VPN for your home network, so you can access it when you are away.
Additionally, a VPN can be used to connect multiple networks, protect your online privacy with an encrypted VPN when you are using WiFi or other public networks, and bypass geoblocking or regional restrictions if you are outside of your country.
So a VPN encrypts the information you send and receive, and hides your physical location, identity and web history while protecting the privacy of your web experience.
Using a VPN Provider
If you don’t want to go through the process of setting up your own VPN, you can use a VPN provider. There are many vendors out there so find the company best suited for your needs.
Most providers have a free tier, which is supported with ads while you are connected. Even though they do provide a secure connection, they might log your activities to deliver contextual ads. The free version may also have a limit on data, with allowances varying from 500MB to 10GB or even unlimited in some instances.
If you are using the VPN for your business, it is best to go with a paid service. The subscription models vary greatly in price, starting as low as $6 going all the way up to $60 per month. The more expensive providers have more servers in more countries with tens of thousands of IP addresses.
As for the price, the old adage definitely applies, you will get what you pay for. Read any offers that sound too good to be true carefully, especially the small print. Most companies have a free trial, and if you like the service, the best option is to pay an annual contract.
Creating Your Own VPN
You create a VPN by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection using different types of protocols to tunnel the traffic. These are the most popular protocols:
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is developed by Microsoft, U.S. Robotics and several remote access vendor companies and it supports almost every operating system, including Windows, Mac OS, and mobile operating systems.
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) was developed by Cisco, and it is an extension to the PPP protocol so internet service providers can operate VPNs. It is usually used with IPSec to secure the transfer of L2TP data packets over the internet.
- Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) is a set of protocols developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It is used to secure communications over the internet, and it is more secure than PPTP. It can use transport mode or tunneling to encrypt data traffic in a VPN.
- A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPN system is more reliable than PPTP, L2TP or IPsec. It is the same security protocol used for banking and other domains with sensitive data. It creates encrypted channels and you can access it through a web browser from anywhere.
- OpenVPN is based on SSL code so it is highly secure and it is free. However, you have to install a client because it doesn’t have native support from Windows, Mac OS X, and mobile devices.
Pros and Cons for Using a VPN
The benefits of VPN are well established as one of the best and safest way to link together users across distances. It is part of the overall strategy for organizations to securely use the internet to connect remote offices and staff to the main company network, but this doesn’t mean it is for everybody. Here are some pros and cons to help make a more informed decision:
- High level of security with advanced encryption and authentication protocols,
- Reduced operational costs when compared to any traditional Wide Area Network (WAN),
- Low-cost global-networking opportunities,
- Scalability to address growth for large capacity and usage without the capital expenditure of an on premises infrastructure,
- Allows employees to connect with remote offices using locally available high-speed broadband.
- If you are looking to create your own VPN, it is not easy for a business because it requires expertise. It requires a thorough understanding of network security issues with careful installation configuration.
- There is no direct control, because it is reliant on ISPs that supply the VPN. Network conditions can affect the Quality of Service (QoS)
- There is not that much/if any vendor interoperability.
At the end of the day, VPN is a proven technology for secure communications between distributed users. Whether you are a single operator or a small business with many employees, you can use it as an affordable alternative to WAN. With the right VPN service provider or one that you create, your business can have a secure network your employees can use to communicate and access company resources no matter where they are.
VPN Photo via Shutterstock
I’m fairly confident in saying that most SMBs don’t need to set up their own VPNs. But if security is a high priority there are several solid vendors out there. Just do your homework like Michael says.
I would say the same. You don’t need to set up your own VPN. If you want to do it anyway, hiring a tech expert to fix it for you.
Hi Robert and Martin,
I agree with both of you, setting is up your own VPN is not necessary for most SMBs. There are just too many service providers in the market place with effective and affordable option.
However, there are SMBs in the healthcare and financial sector that have to meet strict regulatory compliances, as it applies to remote communications, and setting up their own VPN for this particular group could be the way to go.
Thanks for explaining this. I was actually looking for some information about this and it really confuses me quite a bit.
You are welcome, we are glad it helped.
I want to ask a question though. How is a VPN different from a VPS?
A VPS is a dedicated server that is divided into multiple smaller virtual servers using virtualization technology. It is a software-created emulation of a physical server within a host server. Each virtualized instance has its own operating system, applications, and dedicated resources such as RAM, memory and storage.
A VPN on the other hand extends a private network and its resources across public networks.
Hi Michael. I just wanted to clarify (for my own understanding). When you say use a VPN provider, you mean companies like Cisco and such, not the Hide My Ass or Private Internet Access providers of the world, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re saying, since I don’t see how the latter would benefit a SMB, but just wanted to be sure. Thank you!
@Tim: why can’t the latter be of any help to SMBs? the way i see it, ivacy, HMA and others can be used to cloud the ip, no? they can use it to add a layer of protection. plus, they can also use it to keep an eye on the competitors, big and small, without giving away too many hints. also. if they’re hosting legal files like freeware distros and stuff, vpns can also help smbs as well as the parties benefiting from it.
Businesses should really use VPN for their network security. I highly recommend Astrill for business owners and even individuals who want to protect their security.
What about all Mac users that still need to access large cooperation that supports only pptp ?
Thank you all for your helpful information. I am hoping to set up a remote office over state lines for my family SMB of about 10 employees. I would be the only remote employee, as the others that occasionally take work home can take their personal laptops (management). Would a VPN be the way to go for just one remote employee? What would you suggest?