What Is a VPN and Why Is It Useful?

What are VPNs?

Virtual Private Network Diagram

Here’s An Easy Overview of A Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, provide a number of benefits for users, including convenience and security.  A VPN, like its name suggests, is just a virtual version of a physical, secure network.  (Networks are a set of computers linked together to share files and resources.)  The easiest way to think about a VPN is that it extends a private network over the internet.  Most VPNs are encrypted and many corporations use them to protect sensitive data and communications. VPNs allow employees to securely access their company’s network when they’re outside the office–say at a wi-fi hot spot at the airport or a Starbucks.

The Benefits of Having a VPN

As we just stated, VPNs allow you to access your network across the internet securely (see the diagram at top).  VPNs are also a great way for businesses that have multiple locations to connect multiple networks.  VPNs also provide the security of a private network when communicating over a public network like the internet.  The same network protocols used on your private network dictate your interactions over the internet.

VPN Protocols

There are four major VPN protocols.

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is the least secure option.  It’s easy to set-up thought, because unlike OpenVPN, Windows, Mac and mobile operating systems support it natively.  PPTP can face connection issues though.

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN that is free and secure  (based on SSL coding).  But it does require you to install a client since most PCs, Macs and mobile devices don’t support it automatically.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) are more secure than PPTP but are more difficult to set-up.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPNs are ‘clientless’–you connect through your browser.

In short, Virtual Private Networks provide easy, secure communication and data sharing and extend physical networks in ways that are useful for both businesses and employees.

Magnet Solutions Group is an Austin managed IT services company.