A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network that uses encryption to connect to the Internet and give online anonymity.

Personal data and Internet activity security has always been a subject of concern. To overcome this issue, the notion of virtual private networks arose. The breadth of technology gradually extended to fulfil the needs of various sized organisations and corporations.

A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network that offers online privacy to users by establishing an encrypted connection between a device and a network. It encrypts sensitive data from the sender, transmits it, and then uses tunnelling protocols to decode it at the receiver’s end.

Because the user’s internet protocol (IP) address is hidden and untraceable during this process, it gives a high level of privacy. VPN technology is most commonly used to disguise an individual’s online recreational activities, even when connected via a private Wi-Fi network.

When used for business, a VPN restricts access to company data through the Internet to only authorised workers. A VPN allows a company with many locations around the world to share data with its employees regardless of location. Because their IP addresses are hidden even when utilising public Wi-Fi networks, this is possible. VPN considerably minimises the threat of cyber-attacks and security breaches.

How does a VPN function? Simply put, VPNs operate in three stages:

1) The data you send out is encrypted by the service.
2) The data is placed in a secure capsule and sent over the Internet via a private tunnel that masks the origin IP address.
3) Without seeing the origin address, the receiving address receives the capsules and decrypts the information.

When the Internet was first imagined, the primary goal was to efficiently send data from point A to point B. This was accomplished by moving data on the IP, which has rules governing how data must be transferred between these points.

Computer servers made this possible over long distances, and if one failed, another would take over immediately. The primary concern back then, and still today, was transmission rather than security. This means that, for all practical purposes, the Internet remains a relatively insecure setup.

A VPN provides the necessary security while allowing you to leverage the power of the Internet.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using VPN

Advantages of a VPN.

1) Enhanced security: A VPN’s basic operation increases the security of network traffic. It protects all communication between remotely located employees from cybercriminals while not interfering with the flow of work. A VPN employs a variety of encryption techniques, including IP security (IPSec), layer 2 tunnelling protocol (L2TP)/IPSec, secure sockets layer (SSL), and transport layer security (TLS). All of these elements work together to form the tunnel through which encrypted data is transferred from origin to destination points via a server.

2) Bypass geo-restrictions: Geo-restrictions can be bypassed to gain access to sites, especially when using a VPN for personal use. The scramble to access Netflix from other regions is a prime example. VPN also aids in avoiding censorship impositions when visiting restricted sites while travelling. This access, however, can be restricted if necessary.

3) Anonymous downloads: While torrents are commonly associated with piracy, they also have several legitimate applications. Despite this, accessing Torrents can land you in hot water. VPNs can be used for access in such cases, as long as they are used for legitimate purposes. There is still a chance that your IP address will be revealed by shady service providers.

4) Easy file sharing: VPNs enable large networks to provide easy access to information contained within a private network. It simplifies management of multiple remote locations and employees by providing access similar to a local intranetworking. This procedure necessitates a large amount of bandwidth. However, internet service providers (ISPs) frequently use bandwidth and data throttling to increase the Internet speed of other customers; that is, they limit the amount of data and bandwidth used. VPNs aid in circumventing these restrictions.

Disadvantages of using a VPN.

1) Speed issues: The stronger a VPN’s encryption, the slower it becomes. This is especially true for free VPN providers (which come with several other negative points). However, paid services can provide adequate encryption at reasonable speeds. There are several methods for increasing speed, such as reducing the distance between the device and the VPN server location. Furthermore, upgrading to the required number of servers that can handle the load of a large number of people using it makes a significant difference.

2) Increased network complexity: If you require a high-quality VPN, the network configuration will be more complicated. This includes various network topologies, protocols, and hardware devices. Users may require some time to comprehend the complexities.

3) Security issues: Businesses use VPNs primarily to provide data access to employees working remotely. The security of the company’s network is then determined by the number of users, devices, and access points, reducing control over the VPN.

This can happen in many ways, including:

  • Logging policies: If your service provider keeps logs of your browsing activities, using them to hide your online activities becomes pointless.
  • Data leaks: There is a possibility of data leakage, despite the secure tunnel through which your data travels. IP leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTCLeaks are all common examples.
  • Fine print: If you don’t read privacy policies, you might not realize you’ve agreed to have your user data shared with third parties, usually advertisers.
  • Faulty configuration: Your network and data may be jeopardized if your requirements are not properly configured.
  • Malware: There is a chance that malware will be downloaded along with the VPN client, giving hackers and spammers access to your data.

These tips can also be used as a checklist when narrowing down VPN providers.

Types of VPNs

To find the best VPN for your business or personal needs, first determine what you require. VPNs are classified into the following types:

1) Remote access VPNs
Remote-access VPNs are used by businesses to establish a secure connection between corporate networks and personal or company devices used by remote employees. Employees can access information on the company network once connected, just as if their devices were physically plugged in on office premises.

2) Site-to-site VPNs
Site-to-site VPNs are ideal for businesses and enterprises. They enable users in various fixed locations to access and share information with one another.

Site-to-site VPNs are used in large-scale businesses where information must be exchanged securely and continuously between departments. Such VPNs are difficult to set up and necessitate a significant amount of specialised equipment as well as complex hardware and resources. Because these VPNs are custom-built, they may lack the flexibility that commercial VPN services provide. Site-to-site networks include:

  • Intranet-based site-to-site VPNs
    Intranet-based site-to-site VPN connects a company’s internal networks. For example, suppose a company has its headquarters in Germany and wishes to open an office in Australia. Employees in both locations will want to work together throughout the process. As a result, a site-to-site VPN will securely connect the German office local area networks (LANs) to the same wide area network (WAN) as Australia. This is an example of a site-to-site intranet VPN.
  • Extranet VPN site-to-site VPNs
    Extranet-based VPNs provide a link between two intranets that need to be connected but do not have access to each other. An extranet-based VPN will be used if two different companies want to collaborate on a project.

3) Client-based VPNs
Client-based VPNs connect users to a remote network via an application/client that manages the VPN’s connection and communication process. The software is launched and authenticated with a username and password to ensure a secure connection. The device and the remote network are then connected via an encrypted link.

Client-based VPNs connect users’ computers or mobile devices to a secure network. It’s a great way for employees to access sensitive company information while working from home or a hotel.

4) Network-based VPNs
Network-based VPNs are virtual private networks that connect two networks securely over an insecure network. A network-based VPN is an example of an IPsec-based WAN. All of a company’s offices are linked via IPsec tunnels on the Internet in this VPN.

The three most common types of network VPNs are:

  • IPsec tunnels: This method involves establishing a tunnel to exchange encrypted data between two networks. In addition, IPSec tunnels can be used to encapsulate traffic for a single device.
  • Dynamic multipoint VPNs (DMVPN): This method enables IPsec point-to-point tunnels in a cloud of interconnected networks. Any two networks can communicate directly across the DMVPN cloud using DMVPN.
  • MPLS-based L3VPNs: Multiprotocol label switched (MPLS) networks enable network virtualization, allowing users to share physical networks while remaining logically separate.

Key Functionalities of a VPN

VPNs primarily aid in the security of communications and data transfer. This technology has numerous other functions.

1) Enhanced security
A VPN’s primary function is to keep data secure and encrypted from hackers. The current pandemic has resulted in widespread work from home (WFH) across the globe, and as a result, global investments in security have increased.

Microsoft discovered a massive phishing campaign using 2,300 different web pages attached to messages in just 24 hours. These messages took the form of COVID-19 financial compensation data. As a result, a bogus Office 365 sign-in page was created. According to MarketsandMarkets’ pre-COVID global forecast report on cybersecurity, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.2% between 2018 and 2023. According to experts, this figure is skyrocketing during the pandemic.

2) Remote control
Remote working has never been more important than it is today. According to a Gartner report, organisations should expect 75% of their employees to increase their remote work hours by 35% by late 2020. VPNs can be accessed remotely and securely, regardless of where the employee is located. As file sharing becomes safer, a company’s productivity remains stable and even improves.

3) Better performance and lower costs
When deciding whether to invest in VPNs, it is critical to understand that the initial investment is almost always affordable, regardless of the size of your business or the features you require. If you crunch the numbers, you’ll notice that more companies are allowing their employees to work from home. The VPN solution can also be scaled to accommodate your company’s growing size.

VPN, as a technology, can help any business improve its bottom line by ensuring business continuity. It then provides a secure environment that is easily accessible to remote workers, regardless of their location.

Top 15 Best Practices for Using and Managing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in 2021

VPNs do have their own set of vulnerabilities. The most important thing is to have safeguards in place to prevent these vulnerabilities from being exploited. What an organisation must do is as follows:

1) Use the strongest authentication for access
You can choose from four leading authentication solutions: ID Control USB Token, OTP Key, CardID, HandyID, MessageID, and KeystrokeID. You have several secure options for authenticating access to your VPN with each of these. Your service provider will be able to assist you in making the best decision.

2) Use the strongest encryption protocols
The encryption protocol used is determined by the network infrastructure. The following are some of the most popular.

  • Internet key exchange (IKEv2) is one of the oldest but highest ranked security protocols. It employs IPSec tunneling as well as a variety of encryption protocols, including AES-256 encryption, which is difficult to circumvent. It also employs certificate-based authentication and the HMAC algorithm to ensure the integrity of the transmitted data.
  • Microsoft’s Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) provides limited support because it is widely supported on Windows.
  • OpenVPN is a popular open protocol suite that allows multiple sources to check for vulnerabilities.
  • SoftEther is the most recent addition to the market and is also open-source. It can be installed on any operating system, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, and Unix.

3) Limit VPN access
Because the VPN serves as a gateway to your company’s LAN network, access to it must be restricted. Companies should advise their employees to only open it when necessary and not to leave it open all day for safety reasons. It should also not be used to download files that are shared by several departments.

4) Select files can be accessed via intranets
Using intranets or extranets instead of VPNs, with an HTTP secure (HTTPS) website and a secure password for a specific set of files, will expose only the files on the server, not the network. This is more effective when combined with the use of a VPN.

5) Allow email access without a VPN
It is best to enable three main protocols when sending emails: post office protocol 3 (POP3) for receiving emails, Internet message access protocol (IMAP) for receiving emails, and simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) for sending emails. After that, you only need secure password authentication (SPA) and SSL encryption to improve mail system security.

6) Use strong antiviruses and firewalls
Because any computer connected to the VPN can be infected with viruses, it is critical that all remote users use strong antivirus software, anti-spam software, and firewalls.

7) Secure all remote wireless networks
As more employees work from home, the use of laptops and personal devices has grown, potentially increasing threats. Companies should encourage employees to configure their wireless routers and computers for wi-fi protected access (WPA) with a pre-shared key, as well as their firewalls, because wireless routers are not very secure.

8) Specify devices to be connected through a VPN
Companies and their IT departments can impose rules requiring only company-issued hardware to connect to internal corporate networks, with or without a VPN. Additionally, employees should not be able to install any organizational software on their devices without admin permission.

Such rules aid in the prevention of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which a single user can infect an entire network. The secure use and maintenance of VPN networks requires a collaborative effort. While businesses do their part, employees must also follow best practises to ensure security.

9) Use bandwidth wisely
Employees must be informed that VPN comes with a set amount of bandwidth based on the company’s usage. They should not use it for personal purposes, such as watching a live streaming site or engaging in a personal online video chat.

10) Restrict download of the VPN profile
Employees should only use VPNs on work devices and keep their usage to a minimum. Companies should remind employees that, while a VPN may shield personal use from public scrutiny, it is still visible to employers.

11) Understand that not all VPN providers are great
Dissuade employees from getting their own VPN connection if they decide to get one. Free VPN services do not have as many features as enterprise VPN services. These service providers may end up causing more harm than good.

A company’s IT team must deal with a slew of technical issues, VPN security being just one of them. Nonetheless, its significance cannot be overstated. Here are a few practises that they should be aware of.

12) Identify stolen credentials
Account credential risk is a real possibility. VPNs employ a standard username and password combination that can be guessed and stolen. Strict deadlines should be established for IT teams to re-evaluate and upgrade the organization’s authentication tools.

13) Ensure VPN capacity
When entire organizations, or even a large percentage of them, work remotely, the VPN must be upgraded to accommodate them all. Because of the additional licenses that must be obtained, this can be an expensive affair, so it must be done with caution.

14) Look for unusual user access
IT teams will have to be on the lookout at all times to ensure that no unusual user access to the key is being used. If more security controls for authorized user access are required, they should be implemented.

15) Maintain employee machine patches
It is common in larger organizations for employees to connect to the LAN or VPN to patch their computers. The IT department must keep a close eye on computers that require patching, especially if they are not used frequently. It is vulnerable to attacks if it is used infrequently.

Businesses today operate in a dynamic environment, and their security and business continuity requirements must be constantly upgraded to keep up. When used correctly, VPNs provide excellent levels of security for businesses.