VPN: What It Is and Why Your Organization Must Have It as Part of Its Cybersecurity Infrastructure

On average there is a hacking attempt every 39 seconds.

While strong passwords and multi-factor authentication can help reduce the risk of third-party interference, it is wise to put multiple layers of cybersecurity in place to protect organizational assets. VPNs are just that – an additional line of defense.

While VPNs have become popular among consumers due to, in large, the ability it gives to access streaming services from around the world, there are much more important reasons to use a VPN for organizations. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a piece of software that protects users’ privacy by masking their location and computer network identity. It prevents third-party hosts from gaining access to data from VPN-protected devices. Accessing a public WiFi network, for example, poses several risks, including malware distribution, rouge networks, and spying. Many of these risks can be mitigated by a VPN.

VPN services usually offer a variety of tools, or protocols, that can be used to encrypt and secure data. These protocols all have different uses. For example, Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is one of the oldest and most commonly used protocols. It creates a tunnel where data can be encrypted between the connections. Other protocol examples include Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), which assures secured IP networks during any internet communications, and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), which is usually coupled with IPSec, and provides an extra layer of protection in your VPN connection.

How effective is a VPN?

The effectiveness of any given VPN service comes down to its usage. Like with most services, a VPN is not bullet-proof. It comes with its share of strengths and weaknesses. Understanding this begins with knowing the three basic categories of VPN service:

  • A remote-access VPN is what most of the commercial services seen today are built on. It involves the user being connected to a private network via a secure remote server. This model is appealing since it hides the user’s activity from local networks and still lets them continue to browse on their personal network. While this type of VPN is usually easy to set up and use, and effective for personal use, it is not necessarily as fitting for businesses since some services simply are not cut out for business use.
  • An intranet-based site-to-site VPN allows data to be shared securely within a closed circuit of networks by connecting predetermined local networks on the same wide area network. A good use for this type of VPN would be for inter-departmental or inter-office collaboration within the same organization.
  • In instances when two unrelated entities work together, the best way to ensure a secure network for collaboration would be through the use of an extranet-based site-to-site VPN. This type of VPN allows the two groups to work together without directly accessing each other’s networks.

Why does your organization need a VPN?

While implementing a VPN alone will not cover all your organizational cybersecurity needs, it is an important layer of your network infrastructure.

This is especially important in today’s world, where 71% of employees have claimed remote work has been successful in 2020, meaning organizations must rethink the way they operate. 55% of employees want to continue working remotely for at least 3 days a week. A VPN is a must-have for organizations that have remote employees as it expands the security parameter past the physical office space.

How do you choose the right VPN service?

There are several factors that go into choosing the right VPN service for your business and the list of available options is ever-growing. Here are some essential factors to consider:

  • No-logging VPN: Make sure to check your provider’s Privacy Policy. Logging user information can mean that the service may be forced to hand over your data if asked by authorities, but more than that, it means your VPN isn’t doing its job in keeping your activities encrypted and secret.
  • Centralized account management: As with other aspects of your cybersecurity infrastructure, it is important to pick a service that allows your IT team to have centralized control and overview of all accounts covered by the service.
  • Customer support: While keeping your cybersecurity costs within a certain budget is important, do not be guided by price considerations alone. It is better to opt for a slightly pricier service that offers immediate support than to find yourself scrambling when your access to data gets compromised.
  • Coverage of mobile devices: 61% of organizations expect employees to be available remotely, irrespective of whether they provide these employees with a company mobile device or not. With the rise of BYOD, cybersecurity infrastructure has to actively incorporate their management.
  • Multiple server locations: To ensure operational efficiency, make sure your VPN provider has servers in multiple locations as this will significantly improve speed.  

While a VPN is a relatively simple first step to ensure the security of your data, it is not an all-encompassing solution for cybersecurity. A VPN does not protect your network against malware or viruses. Take the time to find the right one for your organization, and then take extra steps to ensure that your data is protected.