Virtual Private Network

A Virtual private network, provides a point-to-point encrypted connection between two or more sites using the internet connection at those individual sites, with the following benefits:

  • All data that is transmitted or received between the connections is encrypted preventing any third-party access to your data
  • Allows access to network resources that exist at an alternate location e.g. An office in Leeds can access files or printers in an office based in Manchester.
  • VPN's can (and should) also be used when, for example, an employee is using their device in an insecure / untrusted network e.g. a coffee shop (using the coffee shop wireless).
  • Provides an additional layer of protection, above and beyond the standard username/password, when accessing corporate data.

VPN Protocols

Like all security measures, they are constantly needing to evolve to evade the hackers and virus authors.  Some of the protocols, simply due to their age, are now less secure than they were originally.

This is a summary of the current VPN protocols available:

  • PPTP - is now quite an old protocol, being implemented originally within Windows 95.  It's age does provide it the benefit of being compatible with all of the major operating systems.  Due to it's age and the number of years the hackers have been able to work around security, PPTP whilst widely used, isn't the most secure method of VPN encryption.
  • L2TP/IPSEC - this is more correctly described as L2TP over IPSEC.  By combining two protocols together, you are effectively gaining twice the security.  This is a reasonably mainstream methodology, though some older devices may not support this mechanism.
  • OpenVPN - this is actually based on SSL (Secure Socket Layer) and is freely available open source software.  As SSL is an extremely mature protocol, it makes OpenVPN very flexible.


Other things to consider

Clearly providing a direct connection between a computer (or site) to another site, typically will provide access to anything that is running on that machine.  Consequently, it is inherently important to ensure that computers and devices that can access either specific sites or inter-site through a VPN, are running up to date anti-virus software.

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