What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and provides security and privacy when connecting to the internet.
Normally, when you connect to the internet, you go through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your ISP can see what you’re doing. Most internet activity is innocuous, like looking up directions or reading the news, and ISPs generally monitor for things like malware and hacking attempts. When it comes to your business, however, you want what you access to remain confidential. This includes client and internal communications, financial statements, customer information, proprietary data, and anything else related to your business.
A VPN helps keep your business secure by creating a tunnel, like a tunnel into a mountain, that runs between your devices and your company servers. VPNs use end-to-end encryption so all your internet traffic is wrapped in a secure environment. In other words, using a VPN means you can respond to a client email from the hotel lobby or other public Wi-Fi, and your employees can work remotely without worrying about prying eyes.
Another benefit of using a VPN is the ability to grant and revoke access. As a medium-sized business, you may hire 20-plus contractors—like freelance graphic designers and web developers—but be hesitant in providing access to all your data. With a VPN, you can grant access to what they need and then revoke access when they’re finished, keeping you and your business data safe.
VPNs can also let customers or clients securely access information. You can share data with patients for better care, or share proprietary drawings with a client and get feedback without sending unencrypted email attachments. With a VPN, there is no more worrying about someone else gaining access or stealing information.
What types of mid-sized businesses use VPN?
Mid-size businesses with less than 500 employees often use VPN to protect corporate data. Some examples include hospitals, doctors offices, law firms, accountants, companies with remote or distributed workforces, and companies with multiple offices. A VPN makes it possible for employees to securely access information from any location, be it a hotel, another office, or coffee shop—so even a small business with a remote workforce is able to minimize the risk of data theft.
How much does a business VPN service cost?
There are a number of VPN options available for businesses. Some charge a monthly fee per user, or a monthly fee for a set number of devices, while others charge an annual fee. Prices range from as little as $10 a month per user or device, to more than $400 a year. It’s important to note that many business VPN providers offer a free trial period.
Can I afford to go with an unfamiliar provider?
If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, $10 a month per user is tempting. But with the explosion of VPN providers on the market in recent years, you’ll find that not all VPN providers are the same so it’s important to do your research.
Here are some questions to keep in mind while researching VPN providers:
- Has the provider been around long enough to establish a good reputation?
- What level of encryption is offered?
- How is the customer support? Is it all online, or can you reach a person when you need to?
- Is it easy to set up and use every day, or is the experience cumbersome and confusing?
Other things to think about:
- Are there any additional features you need, and does the VPN provider offer them?
- Can the VPN provider grow with you?
- Can it handle additional traffic?
At the end of the day, a business VPN takes the worry out of accessing and sharing data, and you want the best VPN available for your business.
Isn’t VPN for enterprises?
VPNs used to be strictly for enterprises because installing and maintaining a VPN was expensive. You needed an IT department and technical know-how for proper configuration, setup, and training.
Today, you can sign up for VPN service like you sign up for Netflix or Amazon Prime, and be up and running quickly. Your subscription fee covers support as if you have your own IT department, making VPN available and accessible for small and mid-sized business, entrepreneurs, and anyone who wants to protect their internet activity and online communications. Depending on the VPN service you select, some configuration may be necessary, and can be done following instructions. For example, setting up a VPN on your laptop can be as simple as changing the IP address under Settings.
What you need to set up business VPN
Three things are generally needed to set up a business VPN:
- VPN Client
- VPN Server
- VPN Router
When you sign up for a VPN service, you also download its VPN Client, which connects to the VPN Server, or servers. Most business VPNs operate many servers across continents, so even if you’re in Europe, you can still connect to your corporate network in the US.
You use the VPN Client on a device, like your smartphone or laptop. Logging into the VPN Client connects you to its network of servers so you can remotely and securely access your corporate network. This is especially important when using public Wi-Fi.
As a business, though, you want to secure and encrypt all your network traffic, not just traffic from specific devices. A VPN Router secures and encrypts all network traffic, and while many routers today come with built-in VPN clients, you can also install a piece of software—called firmware—to add support for VPN and additional VPN security protocols at the network level.
The three components work together to create an infrastructure that protects your company data by keeping out unwanted visitors and preventing cyber attacks.
The VPN security difference
Antivirus software and strong passwords are good security measures, and using a VPN only strengthens your company’s network security. Business VPNs employ a variety of enhanced security protocols, like Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), that keeps your data safe as it travels from company server to device and back.
Other security protocols used by VPNs include:
- Internet Protocol Security or IPSec
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)
- Point – to – Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
- Secure Shell (SSH)
VPNs often use more than one protocol so your corporate network remains safe from malicious third parties.