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Why VPNs Are Essential for Small Businesses

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockThe odds are very good that most, if not all, of your employees are working remotely, either due to travel, formal work-at-home policies, or staff who check email or want to finish tasks outside of the normal work hours. In fact, a GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com study found that 50 percent of workers have a job that supports at least partial telecommuting and a quarter of workers do so with some frequency.

Traditionally, businesses use private networks that are primarily intended for internal use. These are often protected with firewalls meant to block unauthorized access from outside the company. To better protect the network and the data transmitted and stored on it, security professionals recommend small business use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when accessing the network remotely.

MORE: 10 VPN Myths Debunked

What is a VPN?

A VPN creates a secure encrypted connection and tunnels traffic to a proxy server. "The encrypted connection protects the data on the device, thus preventing hackers from accessing files and other sensitive information," Gagan Singh, president of mobile at Avast Software, explained. A VPN also anonymizes the user and virtually changes the user's location, an added plus if the user is traveling for business and wants to access content from home that may otherwise be blocked.

By using a VPN for remote connections, small businesses build in a layer of security they otherwise may not have. As Vadim Vladimirskiy, founder and CEO of cloud-based streaming IT company Nerdio, pointed out, small businesses typically have limited resources that they can't dedicate to managing security issues. The VPN for remote business networking keeps sensitive information private. This is especially important for those who depend on hotel or other public Wi-Fi hotspots for their work connections.

Beyond Data Protection

It's not only about security Vladimirskiy added. "Using a VPN makes it easier to scale a business," he said. "A pre-configured VPN allows new systems to connect with minimal configuration. When a small business is looking to scale to a new location, a VPN lowers the initial investment of time and equipment to add new systems to the corporate network."

However, like any internet technology, VPN doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all model. VPN options are varied and range from the type of connections to the amount of encryption needed. There may be industry compliances that have to be followed that could dictate the type of VPN connection required. Also, different companies will have different product offerings — sometimes a stand-alone VPN or it may be included as part of an overall technology package.

User Error

And while VPN connections tend to be secure, they aren't foolproof. Any network can be penetrated, so it is vital to use extra layers of protection, like encryption. User behavior also comes into play. By not using best security practices, like fully logging out of the VPN connection when finished, leaves the network vulnerable to outsiders.

Kevin Du, IEEE Senior Member and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University, compared the network connection to a network of doors: To support access from outside, we need to open a lot of "doors" on the private network. This means we need to loosen up firewall rules to allow outside access and expose internal computers. If we do this, the attacking surface will be significantly broadening, and the risk will be significantly increased.

"When it comes to VPNs, we are opening a single door, which is the door to access the VPN server. To access the internal network, you would have to go through the VPN server first," he said. "Because of this, remote users can access a company's private networks just as securely as if they were physically inside the company.  That is why it is called a 'virtual' private network."

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