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What is a VPN and why is it Important?

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what is a VPN

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a term used to describe a remote connection from a computer/laptop anywhere in the world to another location securely, usually a business or office. There are many different reasons for having a VPN, and with the latest developments in Covid-19, it is important now more than ever that users have secure remote access to their networks in order to continue working.

But what is a VPN and why do we need them?

I believe that the easiest way to describe what a VPN is, is to imagine a really long cable that connects you directly to the office from wherever you are. In essence, this is exactly what a VPN does. When you turn on a VPN, you are opening the connection and ‘Plugging In’ to the office to gain access to the files, printers, and any other resources that would normally be available if you did the same while inside the office physically.

Can’t we Use RDP (Remote Desktop) like we always have?

Sure! Except that you do not want to use it without turning on the VPN, and here is why. The RDP service is innately insecure – not because Microsoft has not tried to secure it but because it is such a public tool that it has been exploited to the point hackers have developed ways to use the service to break into your business in the same way you would connect.

In order to make RDP work without a VPN we have to expose the business network from the outside – essentially create a doorway to access the network. The problem is the doorway does not have a good lock and is easily broken. That is where the VPN comes in.

Ok, so we need a VPN but why?

The VPN secures and encrypts the connection between you and the office using a very secure crypto key which is neigh unbreakable. This means you can use your computer/laptop in the most public area and still be completely safe. It also means we do not need to create a doorway for the RDP. Instead, we’re creating a very highly secured entry point that can’t be broken into despite a hackers best efforts.

Do we still need RDP then?

Yes! If you wish to remotely control a computer in the office you will still need the RDP. Once the VPN has been established and you are connected, you can then safely use the RDP client to connect without worry of anything being exposed. This is because, as far as the network is concerned, it is an Internal connection, not an external one because remember, you are ‘plugged into’ the network now.

What other benefits are there from using a VPN?

Because using a VPN enables you to connect directly to a network, you gain access to the network shares and resources as well. This means we can install/setup printers and map network drives to give you access to those resources which would normally only be available through RDP. This can be a big benefit for many users.

What about these VPN services I see advertised? Can’t I use those?

Yes, and no. The big issue is that these VPNs are services provided to end users to secure their internet use. It does -not- connect you to the office but rather through one of their services which does essentially the same except the other end is the internet. This is good if you want to ensure you are 100% secure at all times, but it will not prevent accidently clicking a link or getting a virus from a website, nor will it prevent other methods that hackers use to break into systems. It will however make your internet anonymous which is great when you are traveling. You would not want to be on a public network in a coffee shop accessing your bank without some form of connection security, right?

Will the office VPN do the same thing?

Yes, and again no. It really depends on how it is configured. By default, yes it will because the VPN will force all traffic to the internet over the VPN rather than over the normal connection. However, this can also greatly slow down the office network and your connection as well. So, to fix this we do what is called ‘Split-Tunneling’. This allows you to use the VPN for office related traffic, and the normal connection for everything else. This also means that all other non-related traffic won’t be protected by the VPN but for the most part, this is a non-issue anyways.

Can you set up our VPN?

Absolutely – but please keep in mind that VPN’s require specialized equipment. Home grade routers do not have the same capabilities and are not designed for this use, and so you will need to have a company grade router installed before we can configure this for you. We can handle that setup as well, but unfortunately we will have to wait till after the threat of Covid-19 has passed. However, give us a call and we can remotely take a look and advise you on what your options are.

I hope this answers many questions about what a VPN is, and why it is important to have one. If however you still have questions and wish to have more information, please send an email to: info@fcnaustin.com and let us know! We will be glad to do a remote review of your office network or answer any questions you have.

Stay safe!

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