What is a VPN and why should you care?

So your employer had to close the office and now you need to work from home. Easy enough, you always wanted to get paid to sit on your couch anyway right? But how do you access your company e-mail? Your company files, intranet (yes that’s different than the internet) and your numerous work applications?
Most companies have a network, and in many cases that network consists of a variation of an inside network, and a DMZ. You may not care much about what these terms mean, and we won’t go too in depth on that except to say that, in order to protect company and customer information, companies dedicate countless hours and countless dollars to ensure that these “zones” cannot be accessed from outside, ensuring that would-be-criminals cannot exploit said information. But what happens when an employee needs to access this information, from outside. Enter the VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is the weapon of choice for many employers who need to permit employees access to company files from outside of the company office. There are a number of different types of VPNs in use, but the most common for at home employees is the remote access VPN, and it is this type that we will discuss.

Now, there are 2 main flavors of remote access VPN. There is the standard client based VPN, and there is SSL – or clientless VPN. With the client based VPN, a piece of software is installed. Using this software, you establish a connection with a device that resides in your employers network. Through this connection, the client creates a “tunnel” between your computer and your employer’s network, providing you with secure access to all of your company resources (“all” is relative as your employer will likely have restrictions in place to ensure you don’t have access to things you shouldn’t). Through what we’ll call technological wizardry, all communication between your computer and your company’s network is virtually invisible to prying eyes, and you have the access you need to do your job, even if from your couch.

An SSL VPN operates in much the same way, except the way that the connection is achieved is different. With an SSL VPN, you utilize a web browser rather than an installed piece of software. While this solution eliminates the need to download and install a client, it does create some limitations. When using an SSL VPN, you will access a website provided by your employer. Your computer will build a “tunnel” similar to that of a client based VPN, except that it is between your web browser and the company device. Through this tunnel you can access most web based resources; however, this type of tunnel makes it difficult for native applications (programs that are installed on your computer) to communicate with company resources, if they can do so at all.

Stay tuned for information on how to connect to various VPN types.

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