VPN Importance

The Importance Of VPN When Working From Home

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The effects of the Covid pandemic around the world extend well beyond general health. The need to practice social distancing has made working from home a necessity.

While many companies have started to move back into the office, many are embracing a hybrid work model that requires a secure and convenient way to access the company network. This is where a virtual private network or VPN comes into play.

Recent studies have shown that VPN usage has now become a norm rather than something for just the tech-savvy – 31% of worldwide Internet users connect to VPNs daily. VPNs are very much becoming a mainstream utility when working from home, and it’s for this reason that it’s important to understand what it is, and how it works.

The ins and outs of VPN

No doubt you’ve heard the word VPN, it stands for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, VPN is a security tool that allows you to securely connect to remote servers. It serves as additional security when connecting to the internet, especially when using a public internet connection.

What is VPN?

When connecting to the internet or remotely to another computer, data is transferred back and forth without any form of encryption. This makes it open to being intercepted and viewed by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or any hackers. VPN helps to overcome this.

How does VPN work?

VPN requires the VPN client and the VPN server to work. The end user will typically install VPN software on their machine, which in turn connects to the VPN server. All data between client and server is encrypted.

There are different types of VPN protocols. These protocols are the rules used that determine how the VPN client connects to the server, how the client can verify the server, how the data is transferred between client and server, as well as the type of data encryption that is used.

What are the different types of VPNs for remote work

Remote access VPN

A remote access VPN gives an organization the peace of mind that all traffic between employees and corporate networks is secured and that the data transmitted is encrypted.

With remote access VPN, a tunnel is created between the corporate network and the remote user. Even when connecting on a public internet connection, the tunnel creates a private connection with data encryption keeping it safe from prying eyes.

The downside of using remote access VPN is that it is not optimized for the ever increasingly popular cloud-based environment. Remote access VPN is typically aimed at an environment where remote users are sitting around the internal data center.

With the current work from a home model, employees are scattered far and wide. Distance hampers performance and latency becomes an issue.

Site-to-site VPN

Site-to-site VPN differs from remote access VPN in that it connects networks to each other rather than individual devices to a network. Site-to-site is especially useful for various branches of a company to connect to the head office. This can apply to branches in different geographical locations as well.

Site-to-site VPN  

Site-to-site VPN allows organizations to create a secure means to share resources across the corporate network instead of relying on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) circuits that rely on linking routers across networks.

VPN and its role in remote work

A VPN allows your workforce to connect to the company network from any location as long as they have an internet connection. Companies have to make the option available for employees that may not be sick but need to be isolated, or if they have family members they need to care for. Without the ability to work from home, the lost productivity is an added burden on all organizations.

  VPN role

In May 2020, the Survey of Business Uncertainty (SBU) found that the number of people working from home was at 5.5% and it was expected to increase to over 16% even after the pandemic.

It is forecast that by 2025, 22% of the American workforce will be working remotely. With such ever-increasing numbers, it’s imperative for all companies to be prepared to handle the increasing demand for remote access to the company networks.

Access your company’s resources from anywhere

On any given day, an employee will be required to access the company network to perform their mandated task. Whether it is to access customer details and order information, access HR systems to clock in or out, process staff payments, or developing proprietary software. By using a VPN, you enable your employees to continue their work securely from anywhere.

Control and manage access

To prevent unauthorized access to your VPN, always ensure you use the strongest authentication methods available. If you make use of Microsoft servers, you can use smart cards with Extensible Authentication Protocol-Transport Level Security (EAP-TLS).

Microsoft’s Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol (MS-CHAP v2) coupled with Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) gives you the utmost level of authentication security. This method however incurs the costs and maintenance of encoding and distributing smart cards to your workforce, which may not be viable for very large organizations.

Enhance security

Ensure that you use the highest encryption available for your VPN. When using a VPN, only the end-user computer and the VPN have the required key to decrypt the transmitted data. This ensures that any data that is intercepted is useless since IP addresses are masked by your VPN. VPN allows your employees to access and share confidential resources anonymously.

VPN issues when working from home

While a VPN gives you a private tunnel to access your business network, it can never be guaranteed to be 100% safe or anonymous. If your employees access third-party websites like Google and Facebook, their activities can and will most likely still be tracked. A VPN can not stop web trackers and cookies.

✦ It’s important to choose the correct VPN. Always consider their logging policy. Your online security is only as good as the service they provide.

✦ When working for global organizations, there are geographical restrictions to using VPNs. In some countries, VPN usage is limited or even outright illegal.

✦ The employee experience when connected to a VPN is dependent on bandwidth. Overall connection speeds can drop, and data usage will increase although not astronomically.

It’s also important for end-users to remember that a VPN does not replace traditional online security and anti-virus software. A VPN does not prevent phishing or malware attacks. Caution must always be exercised.

How organizations can improve VPN experience for remote workers

There are a number of things the organization can do to improve the user experience when connecting via a VPN:

Increase network bandwidth

By increasing the available bandwidth between the VPN server and the internet, the overall latency experienced is much less.

Run additional VPN servers

It makes sense that having additional VPN servers increases capacity, but implementing load balancing across the servers will result in a more robust and reliable experience for your employees, where they can be routed to the server that can serve them best at any given time based on load and capacity.

Be proactive with server management

Server maintenance must be an integral part of your organization’s network strategy. All upgrades and patches must be applied timeously to ensure your servers are protected against ever-changing security threats.

Separate traffic flows

Split tunneling allows you to route some data through the VPN while other data is routed through normal public unsecured lines. The benefit of this is a reduction in bandwidth usage and connectivity speed.

Actions that would normally not need to be secured, like simple internet browsing, do not require encryption, whereas confidential business emails and documents will require a secure tunnel.

Change work patterns for remote employees

Another simple way to make a VPN work more efficiently is to change how your employees work. It’s not always necessary to edit a document or view a resource online on the remote server. Rather download the required resource, make the required changes, and then upload it. This uses a lot fewer VPN resources.

Companies can also introduce staggered working hours or shifts to reduce the number of concurrent connections to the VPN, thereby reducing the load and improving the performance.


FAQ

Should I use a VPN if I work from home?
Yes. If you would never leave corporate information lying around and accessible to anyone, then you should never try to access your corporate network without a VPN.
How does a VPN protect you when working remotely?
By providing a secure tunnel between your computer and the internet, all data that is transmitted between you and your remote server is encrypted. This means that even if the data is intercepted, it can not easily be decrypted as only your authorized computer and the VPN server have the key to decrypt the data.