Online Security Fundamentals – Using a VPN

Before we start…what is a VPN?

For the purposes of online security, a VPN provides a network with private, encrypted access to the internet using the internet connection of a remote server. All data that passes between devices on your network and this server is encrypted. This means it’s unreadable to both hackers who take advantage of vulnerable public WiFi networks, as well as your internet service provider (who could potentially sell this information on to third parties for the purposes of consumer profiling). Remote servers located around the world become your gateway to the internet – this can enable access to geo-restricted content while hiding your actions and the IP address from the bad guys.

You can also gain access to network resources remotely using a ‘Remote access VPN’ connection. This is a great way to give remote workers secure access to the resources they need and gives them the opportunity to work from Public WiFi safe in the knowledge sensitive data transfers are being protected with encryption.

 

Why should I use a VPN?

Let’s run through some of the most common benefits of VPN use.

Remote Access

A VPN can be used as a method for providing remote, encrypted access to a local network. Establishing such access requires setting up a Network Access Server (NAS) on the local network, and the installation of client software on remote devices wishing to access the network through the VPN.

A Site-to-Site VPN is a great way to extend a local network across multiple sites locations using the public internet. A business with several offices can use such a VPN to give all staff access to the same pool of file resources regardless of location.

Enhanced security on public WiFi networks

If you can avoid using public WiFi networks you should, but they remain a convenient way to access the internet on the go. However you have no control over the network’s security setup and there is no way of knowing who you’re sharing the network with, meaning a public Wi-Fi network is inherently less secure than your private one.

Cybercriminals often take advantage of the accessibility of public wi-fi networks and use them to intercept web traffic using attacks such as MIM (Man in the middle).

A VPN is one of the best technical solutions you can use to gain secure access to public Wifi. Because a VPN encrypts traffic sent to and from your device, your internet searches, account logins and sensitive data transfers will be concealed from hostile intermediaries like MIM hackers.

Protection against Malware and Phishing

Some VPN providers include the added protection of web filters and anti-phishing software. While never 100% effective, Web Filters are useful tools to prevent employees from accessing malware-infected sites. Additionally, while no substitute for rigorous security awareness training, anti-phishing capabilities help block malicious links, websites and email content thought to contain suspicious and potentially harmful material.

Browse with anonymity and privacy

Your Internet service provider can gather a vast amount of information relating to your online activity. They know which sites you visit, the time you spend on each, the devices you used to access them and they can even see and record your ‘Geodata.’ Accessing the internet using a VPN still requires traffic to be routed through your ISP’s server, but this time all data is encrypted meaning they won’t be able to spy on your every online move.

Get around ‘Geo-restrictions’

“The Content you are trying to access is not available in your region”

If you have ever encountered the message above while browsing then you know what a Geo-restriction is. Also known as Geo-Blocking, the practice is often applied to multimedia content for copyright and licensing reasons.

A VPN lets you bypass such restrictions by routing traffic through a server located in a country where the content is not blocked. Because the VPN server becomes your portal to the internet you essentially experience the access restrictions applicable to the location where that server is based.

 

Choosing the right VPN service – what should I consider?

There are countless VPN providers out there so choosing the right one can feel like a monumental challenge. When choosing a VPN service for your business consider the following…

  • Ensure it’s ‘Business Grade.’ In your search for a VPN, you’ll likely encounter a lot of ‘consumer’ offerings. While these are great for a domestic setting, a business-grade service will provide better security, support a greater number of users and will likely include better customer support.
  • Ensure your devices are supported. Client software is almost always compatible with Mac, PCs, Android and IOS devices, however less common operating systems like Linux aren’t always supported. It’s worth examining the small print to ensure all the devices used by your business can access the service.
  • What are your Priorities? One important consideration might be bandwidth. If your business’ online activity is data-heavy then you should look for a VPN known for generous server bandwidth. Often, more premium services offer better speeds as such services can afford greater server provision per user. Similarly, if your employees often use their devices on the go, then consider a VPN provider with a strong focus on security. This will help keep your data secure in high-risk environments such as public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Where are the servers located and how many are there? It’s important to make sure that server locations won’t inhibit access to the services your business uses. Additionally, it’s best to choose a provider with lots of servers as this reduces the chance of server congestion which could result in lower speeds.
  • Logging Policies. Many VPN providers use their ‘no logging’ policy as a selling point, but often VPN service providers will record usage data in some form or another. Avoid providers who have a history of keeping IP address and traffic logs. Such logs are sometimes kept and sold by low-cost providers as a way to generate revenue.
  • How many devices can be connected at the same time?
  • And finally…Cost. Providers use a variety of pricing models which can sometimes make for slightly tricky value comparisons. Packages may be on a per-user/per-month basis and discounts may apply when you commit for a longer period. Alternatively, you might encounter providers who offer a fixed price per month package that allows access for up to a certain number of users. It’s wise to take the time to work out which option proves most cost-effective for you.

With more of us working from home than ever before, having a range of security tools in place to protect your employees from online threats has never been so important. A VPN is one such tool; providing a secure, private tunnel to the internet, the potential for remote access to resources as well as a host of additional security features all at a relatively modest price.

Where do I begin?

The UK government is currently in the process of rolling out funding to help businesses make efficiency changes as part of its economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These grants of up to £5000 could help you embrace technological change, in order to improve efficiency, resilience and ensure your business is able to sail through these turbulent times relatively unscathed.  This funding could help you invest in productivity-boosting new tech, migrate systems to the cloud and ensure your team are adequately trained and supported in the use of any new technology.

At Netcom, we are well-versed in helping companies in various sectors navigate the often mystifying, jargon-filled worlds of IT.  With over 15 years’ experience and covering virtually all aspects of business IT, we can help guide your business through this uncertain period and help you deploy cutting edge solutions that will not only help you weather the current storm but keep your business at the top of its game beyond the pandemic.

So for guidance on Government funding, IT strategy and digital transformation why not book a free, no-obligation discovery call today by calling 0114 361 0062.