Posted on August 3, 2020 in Cyber Security

Online Security 101 – VPNs

Using a VPN – Virtual Private Network

The term ‘VPN’ sounds familiar, right?  You’ve probably come across the ads for consumer-grade VPNs designed to give users unbridled access ‘geo-blocked’ content and keep internet traffic encrypted in insecure public Wi-fi locations.  While they’re great for personal use they are also a great tool for businesses to hold in their Cyber-defences toolbox.


How does a VPN work?

A virtual private network acts as an intermediary through which you can access the internet from a device.  This has various benefits most of which concern security.  Instead of accessing the internet directly, users can browse the internet through a remote server located in a data center which could potentially be located anywhere in the world.  Data traffic between your device and this remote server is encrypted, making it unreadable to cybercriminals.  This encryption gives you increased anonymity and privacy by hiding your device’s IP address – keeping it hidden from potential hackers and the prying eyes of your internet service provider.

A VPN can also function as a local network.  If multiple computers are connected to the same VPN you can gain secure, remote access to files stored on your office desktop from almost any location. Because traffic between user devices and the VPN server is encrypted, file access using a VPN means your data is never exposed to the dangers of the internet.


Added benefits and protection:


Gain access to restricted content

A common issue we’ve all experienced at one time or another – you might be on vacation and you want to catch up with your favorite shows but then you see this:

“We’re sorry, this content is not available in your region.”

VPNs often have multiple server locations around the world meaning you can bypass geographic restrictions by using the internet connection of a server in another country.  In the example above you’d just switch to the ‘US server’ in order to enjoy the same content, you can view at home.


Additional protection – Web filtering and anti-Phishing

Many (but not all) VPN services include the added safeguard of web-filtering and anti-phishing software.  This blocks access to rogue websites and keeps phishing scammers out of your email inbox for additional peace of mind.


A VPN makes public Wi-Fi networks safer.

At home or in the office you can control who has access to your Wi-Fi network.  You can also implement security measures like firewalls to keep your network secure.

When you access a public Wi-Fi network, however, you have none of these controls.  You don’t know who’s accessing the network, what their intentions are and you have no idea what security is in place.  You could just use mobile data and bypass public WiFi altogether but this can be expensive.

Thanks to encryption, using public WiFi through a VPN is much safer.  Hackers use techniques such as ‘Man-in-the-middle’ attacks to intercept traffic on public networks – this gives them access to browsing data and sensitive information like account logins.  VPN encryption makes such information unreadable.


Choosing a VPN – Factors to consider

First, you should consider the type of VPN that is best for you.  There are a few options:


Standalone services

An ideal solution for small businesses or domestic users where only a few devices require the use of the VPN.  It involves endpoint to server encryption and requires the installation of an application on each endpoint device in order to use.

Router VPN

This is a convenient way to provide secure, encrypted VPN internet access to multiple devices without having to set up the VPN client on every single device.  Your VPN router provides encrypted internet access to any device that connects to it.

Corporate VPN

Ideal for businesses that have remote workforces.  A corporate VPN (often called a remote access VPN) Is designed so that employees can securely access either cloud-based or locally-stored resources from any location.  This option may require a more tailored approach involving more complex setup than the other options.


Once you’ve identified the type of VPN that is right for you, consider the following:


  • Where are the servers located? IF you travel frequently on business, consider where the VPN servers are located so you can maintain access to the sites you need, no matter where you are in the world.
  • What devices are supported? Most VPNs are pretty good in terms of device compatibility. However, It’s always worth reading into the finer details just to be sure that your devices will work with the VPN.
  • Is there bandwidth restriction? If you’ll be using the VPN for data-heavy activities you’ll need one that doesn’t impose bandwidth restrictions.
  • What about added security? Look for VPNs that take security seriously!  Try to find features such as DNS leak protection, web filtering, and anti-phishing protection.
  • Will my activity be logged? VPN providers are often quick to claim that they don’t keep online activity records.  You should look into such claims in further detail though, as it’s common for VPN providers to log activity in some form.
  • How many devices can connect at the same time? Many standalone VPN services allow between 5 and 10 devices to connect at any one time.  Something to bear in mind if you have a larger number of IT users.
  • How much will it cost? VPN services are typically billed on a ‘per user per month basis.’  Many fall into the $5-$15 per month range meaning they’re an affordable way to improve your business’ online security.


More and more businesses are waking up to the enhanced security afforded by VPNs.  VPNs are cheap and providers often offer plans that can be canceled at any time, so why not give one a try today – you have nothing to lose!


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