Understanding Virtual Private Networks

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VPN definition

The definition of a virtual private network (VPN) is creating a secure network over network transport that is less secure, such as the internet.

VPNs are used to connect two or more nodes in a network and are most commonly used to connect individual users’ machines to sites or to connect sites to sites.  It’s possible to connect users to each other, but the use case for that is very limited so such deployments are rare.

A possible use case is to connect things to a network, and while this is uncommon today, there will likely be an uptick in device-to-network VPNs as the Internet of Things (IoT) grows.

Remote access VPNs

Remote-access VPNs are the most common type and allow users to access company resources even when they are not directly connected to the corporate network.  Remote access VPNs are typically temporary connections and are shut off when users have completed whatever task they were working on.

To ensure privacy, a secure tunnel is established between the user’s endpoint such as a laptop, mobile device or home computer.  Establishing calls for some sort of authentication – passwords, tokens, biometric identification.

Sometimes usernames and passwords are embedded in VPN software located on the user’s endpoint to make connecting easy for the user, but there’s always some form of authentication.

Benefits of remote-access VPNs

The upside of using remote-access VPNs is that workers can connect to any company resource regardless of where they are and without a dedicated physical circuit.

This reduces costs but also enables connectivity where it wasn’t possible before.

Remote-access VPN example

A partner at a law firm may wish to access client files stored on a shared server remotely.  It’s possible the company could connect the partner’s home to the company network using a dedicated private line but that could be very expensive.

In this case, a VPN would be an excellent alternative as it enables the lawyer to connect virtually over his home internet service.

If the partner is travelling to a conference in a different city, there would be no feasible way to connect the attorney over a private connection, so a VPN over a  temporary internet service would enable reaching the shared server, making it a critical business tool for the law firm.

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