What is a VPN, and Why Should You Use One?

What is a VPN? This question gets asked more and more as the uncertainty of web privacy looms large. On a very basic level, a virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that lets you secure network communications from prying eyes, but you aren't looking for such a simple answer, are you? Fortunately, there's a more in-depth description to sate your curiosity.

What is a VPN? It's a virtual network that lets employees use the internet securely, wherever they are.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is technically just a rerouting and encryption of your normal network communication. In a traditional network setup, every time you browse the web, packets of information are sent and received between remote hosts, whether it's websites, file downloads, or cute cat videos.

This traffic typically takes a route from your computer through your ISP to a predetermined route across the globe to its final destination. Communication this way is completely out of your control once it leaves your network. This leaves it vulnerable to hijacking or snooping by unauthorized users. Think of it like chatting with your buddy down the street on those old walkie-talkies. By simply changing channels, you can waltz right into another person's line of communication and listen in due to its use of public bandwidths.

With a VPN, instead of communicating through public channels, you create a private, encrypted line of communication directly to your destination — primarily through secure shell (SSH) tunnels. In essence, you use the internet in an intranet setting, free from prying eyes and cybercriminals.

When are VPNs Most Frequently Used?

Though net neutrality and privacy concerns may have sent the consumer market searching for VPN solutions, the enterprise arena has been at it for some time now. Similarly, while consumers look to a VPN for anonymity, the business world is in it for other reasons — chief among them, security.

Think about it this way: You wouldn't want someone looking over your shoulder as you type your PIN into the ATM, would you? And yet that's exactly what so many organizations do with network communication, whether it's chatting over VoIP connections or leveraging instant messaging for office chatter. Because of this, enterprises most often use VPNs as a way to secure communication between data centers, remote offices, and traveling users.

Do You Need a Degree in Cryptology to Use One?

As mysterious as a VPN may have once been, the technology is surprisingly easy to deploy without cracking any codes. It's particularly easy to deploy in cloud-based environments. All that's needed is a VPN server — the brains of the operation — and clients for each device. All clients can be pointed to the server to automatically encrypt communications and keep sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

VPNs are particularly easy to deploy in cloud-based environments. All that's needed is a VPN server — the brains of the operation — and clients for each device.

VPNs can be surprisingly flexible, too. In a basic setup, all network traffic is encrypted and rerouted to the VPN server. However, other setups do exist. For example, perhaps your organization only sends sensitive communications across a very specific application or port. A VPN solution can be set up to only tackle that specific traffic, while all other network communication takes its normal path. Since the encryption, routing, and oversight of traffic through a VPN is only as good as the curator of the server or service, you'll want to choose your vendor wisely.

With a definitive answer to the question, "What is a VPN?" in mind, it's time to take the next step. Whether you're building your own VPN tunnel or spinning up a prepackaged solution, securing your organization's communication and establishing your company as a virtual enterprise has never been so important or easy to do.

Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.

Joe Hewitson
Joe Hewitson Contributor

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

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