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What is a VPN? Everything a Small Business Owner Needs to Know

What is a VPN? Everything a Small Business Owner Needs to Know

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.

When you choose a provider, make sure they list the connection protocols they use and thoroughly go through the privacy policy and terms of service. If they log whatever you’re doing online and collect data, find another company. Also check how many connections are supported at the same time, if it is for your small business, make sure you don’t get a single use only plan.

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:

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

Bottom Line

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

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

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