Small businesses are turning to virtual private networks (VPN), in order to securely send and receive data while using a web browser. If you’re interested in using a VPN, here’s what you need to know.

What Is a VPN?

For many small businesses the cost of owning and maintaining a completely private cloud and network is limiting. But security concerns come with public connections. VPN services help fill this gap and provide a cost-effective way for small businesses to secure traffic flowing to and from their network.

A VPN sends data through a process called tunneling. Tunneling is a lot like when you used to pass notes to your best friend during class. If she sat across the classroom, the other kids might try to read what you wrote or maybe the teacher would intercept the note and read it out loud to the class. To prevent others from reading your notes, you write notes in a secret code — you encrypt them, your best friend decrypts them. Only you two have the key, which you’ve decided on beforehand.

This same type of “code” acts as a VPN shield, which not only prevents third parties from discovering or manipulating data in transit, but also obscures the geographic origin and destination of your data.

How VPNs Are Used

There are two common types of VPNs used by businesses: remote access and site to site.

Remote access
Remote access uses a public network setup to provide corporate network access anytime, anywhere.

If an employee is working in a coffee shop, for example, and connects to a public wireless hotspot, they’re able to launch a VPN application on their device, which connects to a VPN gateway on company servers.

A tunnel is created and allows the employee to access tools and services as if they were on their office computer.

Site to site
Site-to-site VPNs, meanwhile, are designed to connect one network to another. For example, a satellite office connected to the main branch network. In this case, a gateway device at each end handles the VPN connection. This means users don’t need a client (or application) on their devices for access.


What to Look For in a VPN Provider
While it’s possible to build out your own VPN, most companies prefer to find a reputable provider instead. Knowing the right questions to ask is key. Look for security and service, and ask potential providers these questions:

Where are servers located?
Physical location determines data laws — servers in the U.S. are subject to U.S. policies, in the U.K. to U.K. policies, etc.

What kind of encryption is used?
Skip over providers using PPTP protocol. Opt for private browsing services with L2TP/IPsec or OpenVPN.

Who’s keeping track?
Are they keeping a log of your activity. If so, what does it contain? Is it deleted regularly or permanently kept?

Are there limits?
Can you connect to the service whenever, wherever and transfer as much data as you want? If not, what do overages cost?

What’s the price?
Most providers charge a monthly fee. Typically, you get what you pay for, so it’s worth knowing exactly what’s included.

VPNs are popular because they provide privacy. The secure connection means outsiders cannot see what you’re doing. With security a top priority for small businesses, private web access provided by VPNs is quickly becoming a standard within the business world.

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