There are a lot of terms that get thrown around in the IT business world. One of them that you have probably heard, especially if you have any employees in your company that work from outside the office, is the Virtual Private Network, or VPN.
What is VPN?
A VPN connection is actually pretty simple. It is a secure way for a person to be able to access a network when they are outside of the physical network connection (i.e. when their computer is not connected by network cables).
When someone connects to a network by VPN, there are two main levels of connection. The first is just known as “regular” VPN, and that just uses an IP address. The second is known as “SSL” VPN, which typically involves assigning a name instead of just using an IP address. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer, and what this means is that it is a more secure form of a VPN connection.
Have you ever noticed how some website URLs will have “https://” in front of them instead of just the standard “http://”? This extra “s” means that it is an SSL secure website connection. What that means is that the owners of the website have bought a certificate from a registrar, such as GoDaddy, and that registrar has provided validation for that website. This validation just lets security systems, such as firewalls, know that the website is an okay website to visit and does not contain anything that could potentially be harmful to someone else’s computer.
What about using Remote Connection?
There are other programs out there that let you do what is known as “remoting in” to your machine from another location. At their most basic level, remote connection to your machine and VPN connection provide the same principle functions- they allow you to access your network from outside a physical network connection.
However, there are differences. One of the differences is the amount of access you have to the different parts of your network depending on the connection you are using. For example, when you use a VPN connection, you are probably not going to be able to access the office printers, and you will not be able to see all of the different items on your desktop. You will be able to access network drives, shared files, etc. but nothing that is specific to your computer. However, when you use a Remote connection, depending on the program, you are usually going to be able to bring up your desktop computer on the other computer you are using. In a sense, you are able to work as if you were sitting at your desk.
So, why do some people have both?
It is actually a very good idea to have a VPN connection if you are using a remote connection program. The reason for this is security. A VPN connection is going to add a layer of security that is very important for your business network, especially if you are going to have people accessing it from many different public networks outside of the office. You have to protect your company’s network and data, and making sure everyone who is remoting in is using a VPN connection will help provide an extra (and necessary) layer of security.
Is that what IT support companies use?
No. Most IT support companies will not use a VPN connection when they connect to your system. Instead, they are using specialized programs that are designed for IT support companies specifically for the purpose of managing networks. Because these programs were designed for that specific purpose, they have their own security levels that make those connections just as secure (if not more so) than using a VPN connection.
Using a VPN connection is more of a mainstream way to allow people to connect to networks. But, it is more secure than using a standard or free program, and it will require set up by your IT support professional to use.
What about Cloud programs?
Cloud-based file sharing and storage programs are another way to access your company data outside of the office, and they are becoming increasingly popular. When you use a cloud-based system, there is no need for a VPN connection, because these programs have their own security measures. Also, since everything is replicated in the Cloud, it is unlikely that someone will be able to cause harm to your network if they are going through the Cloud program.
However, using a Cloud program to access your data is not going to provide you the same level of access as using a VPN connection or a Remote connection. You are only going to be able to see those files and programs specifically saved to the Cloud, so if you are in the habit of saving things on your desktop instead of the shared drives, you are going to be out of luck when you try to access it through the Cloud.
We recommend that if you and your employees are going to need a high level of access to your network from outside of the office, you want to be using a VPN connection. It provides a layer of security that is really important for a business to have, especially when it comes to their network and their data.