Is your company using a VPN -- or just letting it all hang out?
A VPN, or a virtual private network, is a technology that lets you create a secure network connection while using a public network. Using one might seem like something as obvious as "the internet" as a tool that businesses should have in the bag.
And with security issues like Wi-Fi spoofing, Firesheep and more, it's more important than ever to keep your online activity safeguarded. Plus, with telecommuting and virtual offices becoming more and more mainstream, employees are taking care of business from just about every corner of the world, and often relying on unsecured public networks in the process.
How often are you or one of your employees working from a coffee shop, taking advantage of the airport's free Wi-Fi, or otherwise using an unsecured connection to upload files? Working from a cafe has become synonymous with the modern-day grind, but it can come at a big cost.
VPNs work similarly to firewalls, protecting your computer data when you're online. Technically speaking, a VPN is really a WAN (wide area network). On the front end, your workspace has the same security, functionality and look as it does on a private network. All the benefits are happening behind the scenes.
VPNs are becoming popular with businesses as well as private individuals in the know. VPNs tap a variety of dedicated connections, using encryption protocols to create virtual P2P connections. If a cybercriminal is trying to access data that's being transmitted, encryption ensures they won't be able to do anything with it.
The VPN Treatment
Still not sure a VPN is for you and your business? Consider these benefits.
- VPNs greatly reduce the risk of security breaches and cyberattacks. Getting targeted by a hacker might sound like something that happens to other people and other companies. However, only the biggest breaches make headlines. There are more cyberattacks than ever before, and Symantec reports that from 2014 to 2015, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities increased 125%. By using a VPN and keeping your employees off public networks, you are taking a big step in decreasing the likelihood your company will be targeted.
- VPNs encourage productivity. If you have employees who are aware of internet vulnerabilities, they're probably wary of logging in on public networks. And if they travel a lot? You can bet they feel like they can't work during long stretches on the road. Peace of mind is critical for productivity.
- VPNs make your clients feel secure. If you collect data from clients, customers or patients, you can help soothe their worries by utilizing a VPN. True, many of them might not understand what a VPN entails, but a little education can go a long way. Wouldn't you want to rely on a company that took the extra step to keep your data secure?
- VPNs let you "stay in the U.S." while traveling abroad. If you or your employees travel a lot for work, replacing your real IP address with your VPN's (which is based in the U.S.) can be a necessity. Some countries restrict what you can access while there (for instance, Facebook isn't accessible to Chinese-based IP addresses), so in order to stay connected to the office and to complete your work, you'll need a VPN. Plus, some clients and customers are wary of trusting an email that appears to be sent from overseas. With a VPN, you can make sure your company emails, posts and more represent your genuine home base.
- VPNs are surprisingly affordable. A VPN is an upgrade well worth the cost. Prices vary, but start at around $10 per month, making VPNs affordable for every business. It’s a choice that's budget-friendly, instantly effective and truly worthwhile. You won't get that kind of security for less.
Implementing a VPN for employees working offsite is a fast, easy and effective security solution. However, it only works if everyone is on board. Make sure employees are informed of why you're starting a VPN protocol, and that everyone knows the benefits and how to access the network. It can and should be part of onboarding, included in the SOP, and regularly reiterated so that it "sticks."
VPNs are also easy to use. First, you connect to whatever public internet best suits your business needs via an internet service provider. It's what you already do by searching for free and open networks when working remotely. Next, you initiate a VPN connection with your company's VPN server using special software. The software makes sure the connection is secure, then gives you, the user, access to the internal, safe network.
(Aside: While companies set up their own VPNs using special network appliances, consumers have a wide selection of commercial and free VPN services to choose from. Computerworld's Lucian Constantin writes, "Free VPN offerings usually display ads, have a more limited selection of servers, and the connection speeds are slower because those servers are overcrowded." These solutions, he argues, are likely enough for the occasional user.)
Increasing your company's security doesn't have to be timely or expensive -- with a VPN, you get an instant boost that's easy to use.
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