VPN: Beginners Guide to Understanding Virtual Private Networks

When used wisely, the internet is a wonderful tool. Ten years ago when I was finishing undergrad, I only used computers for word processing. Now my income is derived solely from computer and internet activities. Although I reminisce about younger days, computer free, I recognize how liberating internet based employment can be because you can work from almost anywhere. This is true even if you need to be on a private network, like most offices create for sharing files and communication. It is possible to work on a private office network without being present in the office with the help of a virtual private network or VPN.

In today’s world we often think in global terms with relative ease. Logistics and infrastructures continually reinforce our desire to connect worldwide. Companies have operations across nations and around the globe and the need to maintain secure and reliable communications grows with them. Until fairly recently, this was done through wide area networks or WANs and by leasing lines to maintain them. This created a public network like the internet. However, the more expansive the distance between offices increased the cost of maintaining the WAN.

Intranets became popular as they are password protected sites only accessible to privileged users. Intranets allowed sharing of information and files within a protected network. Intranets are limited in many ways in their download and upload capabilities.

The increase in remote employees and the need to have full office network accessibility has prompted many companies to create VPNs. A VPN uses a public network, like the internet, to connect remote users to company networks. Instead of paying to lease a line and create a WAN, VPNs can use virtual connections just like any internet user. This creates an extensive geographic ability while reducing operational costs providing global networking possibilities.

To create a secure connection to a network by using a public network requires security measures to maintain data within access only to intended users. VPNs achieve this by tunneling information. The process of tunneling routes data without being detected on a public network. This is done by encapsulating the private network data and information. This allows private information to remain out of public view.

Large remote access VPN are usually set up by an enterprise service provider or ESP. The ESP sets up a network access server or NAS and provides VPN users with desktop software, NAS numbers and passwords. ESPs may also provide anti-virus and anti-spyware update programs for each client computer. A firewall sits between the remote user and the host network and any information transmitted is done so under authentication. Many VPNs require that all internet protocol traffic passes through the “tunnel.” This hides the remote computer from the public network and decreases the risk of a security breach. This is especially important when traveling VPN users access through a Wi-Fi source in a public place such as an airport. A well designed VPN should be secure and reliable.

Most of the technical aspects of setting up a VPN can and should be handled by the company IT professional. However, having basic knowledge of VPN possibilities can have a wide array of benefits. In February of this year, I started a new job in the United States. In March unexpected circumstances required me to be out of the country for an undetermined amount of time. I did a little research and quickly decided that by purchasing a laptop and working over a VPN I could maintain my employment and spare the company that had just hired me from starting over in there search for administrative support. There were no costs to the company and the laptop I purchased under advice of the IT specialist has paid itself off several times over. Although it took a little time to figure out the ins and outs, I have been working over the VPN successfully for four months even using it from remote places like an island in the North Sea off Germany.

The VPN has extended the life of my employment without cost to my employer. Because of this it has become an attractive option for many companies that desire to expand their networking capabilities without expanding their operational costs. It is especially useful to companies with scattered representatives and salespeople but can also be implemented to accommodate temporary situations such as maternity leave, family illness or even less critical issues like inclement weather.

No matter your current communication situation, VPN is a good technology to know something about.

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