Ions Explains: What is a VPN?

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IP, ISP.  NIC, NFC, LAN, WAN, WiFi.  Technology and networking are coated in acronyms and it can be very easy to have a few of these shorthands become confusing.  If you have a home network, you’ve probably heard of a VPN, or Virtual Private Network.  What is it?  Why do you need it?

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What is a VPN?

The term VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is used to denote a secure and private network that has links through the Internet.  Commonly used by businesses with remote staff throughout the world, users on a VPN have access very similar to (if not exactly the same as) users in the office on the local network.

Advantages to this business of utilizing a technology of this nature and type are fairly self evident from a cost savings perspective – the simple savings required in dedicated leased point-to-point connections between branch offices by itself would number in the $thousands/year if not tens of thousands for larger more distributed offices.

In addition to the cost savings however, businesses are able to take advantage of centralized management and with the prevalence of RSA keys, security as a whole has improved.

Now VPNs are not only for businesses – check out the really cool (& new) VPN service that encrypts your entire Internet connection being offered by Giganews. One of the big pluses of this service is that it can help mask your IP address when accessing country specific information. For example utilizing an American IP address to watch American TV!

Strengths and Weaknesses

Advantages

  • Access to your work (or home) network in the same fashion as if you were sitting at your desk!
  • Secures and encrypts your connection making it almost impossible for someone to interfere or tap into.
  • Allows you to mask your location and details in everyday, day-to-day transactions and extend geographic connectivity
  • Greatly reduce operational costs when compared to traditional technologies
  • Improve productivity and provide support for home/remote working

Disadvantages

Generally a little more complicated to setup if using a hardware based VPN as you would need the appropriate equipment installed and in place with all the correct user rights etc… Software based VPNs however are not too difficult to setup as the client simply speaks to the server to initiate the connection.

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Hardware vs. Software

There are currently several types of VPN technologies available. These can be broken down into 2 main categories:

  • Site to site VPNs (Hardware based)
  • Client to site (or remote access) VPNs (Software based)

Hardware-Based VPN

Site to Site VPNs involve the use of dedicated VPN hardware at each remote site. Produced by companies like Cisco, Nortel and Alcatel these devices can cost anywhere from $50 to $50thousand so as you can imagine determining your requirements is a key 1st step!

Probably the faster of the two technologies, Hardware Based VPNs are also the more costly as they require equipment at either end of the connection.

Software-Based VPN

Software VPNs are slightly different however. They work by utilizing a central site VPN concentrator and then software VPN clients for each remote connection. The client is installed on the users desktop or laptop and enables the user to establish a secure, encrypted tunnel to the office network.

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