Most corporate IT networks have various security products on the network providing some level of security – a firewall, Antivirus software, backup, etc. Even with these protections in place, without a VPN, employees are only protected while they are on the corporate network. With a VPN installed, employees can enjoy those same protections at all times, from anywhere in the world.
So, what exactly is a VPN? Good question.
VPN stands for the Virtual Private Network, which is a service that enables you to securely and remotely connect back to a private network (like your corporate network) from a public network. While connected through the VPN, all of the network traffic is encrypted between your computer and the private network. This keeps your data safe from anyone in between you and your destination. Whether it’s your home internet service provider (ISP) trying to track you, or someone on a public WiFi network trying to steal information, your data remains secure.
Typically, an employee will use a VPN when they need to access a resource on the private corporate network, such as an application, files, or connect to an email server. This would be the case if an employee is traveling or simply working from home. With a VPN, remote employees are effectively connecting to your network from within. You expose a single service on the Internet, your VPN, and keep everything else within your private network. Employees can authenticate with the VPN from anywhere in the world, and then seamlessly access your company’s network as if they were actually there.
VPNs are standardized, secure, easy to adopt, and surprisingly affordable. All modern operating systems, desktop or mobile, have built-in support for connecting to a remote private network through a VPN. This means they are accessible even for less technically-skilled users. And it doesn’t impact performance or user experience. Once you configure the VPN settings on a device, employees can forget it’s there.
Why can’t I just connect to my computer via the Internet?
The Internet is a wonderland, full of useful information and powerful services. It can also be a dangerous and unpredictable place. Any company resources that are accessible via the public internet are subject to a wide variety of attacks. Whether your organization is being specifically targeted by attackers, or it gets caught up in a broad scan for vulnerabilities, the question is not will we be attacked, but when (and how often?).
The best practice here is to avoid having resources exposed on the public Internet whenever possible. If any of your services are intended for internal use only, then they should only be accessible via an internal network. This is what VPNs do.
Additionally, many security products are better at preventing compromise than they are at remediating an existing malware infection. If an employee’s device becomes compromised by an infection while off-network, and then they bring it back inside, it may be difficult for you to eradicate it. So it’s better to have employees always use a VPN. Then they can benefit from your network’s protections from anywhere in the world.
In addition to protecting your company’s internal services, VPNs ensure that the security measures in place on your network are used at all times, even by remote employees. You probably pay good money for various security products on your network—firewalls, IDS, and the like. Without a VPN, these security products can only protect your employees while they’re on your network. But with a VPN, your employees can enjoy those same protections at all times, from anywhere in the world. With a VPN, even free public WiFi can be safe to use.