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What is a VPN (Virtual Private Network)?

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VPN Definition: What Does VPN Stand For?

A VPN, meaning a virtual private network masks your Internet protocol (IP) address, creating a private connection from a public wi-fi connection. A VPN is one of the best tools for privacy and anonymity for a user connected to any public internet service because it establishes secure and encrypted connections.

Using a Wi-Fi network, especially one that is unsecured, means potential exposure of personal information to third parties, some of which may have malicious intentions. What is a VPN capable of? A VPN hides a lot of information, including your browsing history, your IP address, your location, your endpoint devices (whether you're on a Windows computer or an an Android smartphone), and your overall web activity. Cyber criminals often use unsecured connections to gain access to information that enables identity theft and other malicious activities. A VPN solution helps to protect against these activities by creating an encrypted tunnel for all data you send and receive, unobserved by others.

In the context of this VPN meaning, a VPN solution helps to protect against nefarious activities by creating an encrypted tunnel for all data you send and receive, unobserved by others. Data security can also be enhanced through VPN split tunneling, which enables users to route some traffic through their VPN and enable other traffic to retain direct access to the internet. 

But in some cases, organizations may choose to install a VPN blocker to prevent employees from accessing sites that may hinder their productivity, such as social networking or shopping sites.

What Does a VPN Do and How Does It Work?

VPNs use virtual connections to create a private network, keeping any device you connect to a public wi-fi safe from hackers and malware, and protecting sensitive information from unauthorized viewing or interception. A VPN routes your device’s connection through a private server rather than the ISP, so that when your data reaches the Internet, it’s not viewable as coming from your device.

A virtual network keeps your data private using encryption, which turns your information into unreadable gibberish only decipherable using a key, which is known to your device. Different VPNs use somewhat different encryption processes, but the general process includes tunneling and your data is encoded as it travels between your device and the server, which then decrypts the data and sends it on to your destination, such as a website. The encryption process prevents anyone who may intercept the data between you and the server, such as a government agency or hacker, from being able to decipher its contents.

Now that you know the answer to "What is VPN protection?" you might be curious about where it is most frequently used.  Two of the best-known and most popular secure network protocols used in VPN technology are Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) and secure sockets layer (SSL). IPSec connections use pre-shared keys on clients and servers in order to encrypt and send traffic back and forth. SSL VPNs use public key cryptography to securely exchange encryption keys.

Why Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

Use of the Internet is now essential to global business, from shopping to banking to medicine to entertainment. Using Internet services involves transmitting very important information online, including credit card and social security numbers, and personal information, such as medical histories or home addresses. VPNs keep your Internet use safe from prying eyes, and, when used in a corporate setting, help keep business information from getting into the wrong hands.

For businesses who wonder "what is a VPN going to do for my company?" these provide improved security overall, improved remote access, independence from countries with strict Internet access laws, and a better total-cost-of-ownership when it comes to the aggregate costs of security and networking technologies used by corporate teams. VPNs can also provide safe and secure data sharing between employees and with individuals and groups outside of the business when necessary.

It is important to note that these do not make users completely anonymous on the Internet. Internet services requiring a login, such as Google or Facebook, know when you sign in, and websites can still leave cookies on your machine that identify your visits from particular Internet browsers. Anyone with direct access to the devices you use might also be able to view your activity. And law enforcement officials, depending on local legal authority, may be able to monitor your devices directly or require your virtual network service to give up records of your actions.

Types of Virtual Private Networks (VPN)

There are two main types of VPN that people can use to securely connect to corporate networks. 

1. Remote Access VPN

A remote access VPN enables the user to connect their device to a network from outside their organization’s office. This device-to-network approach typically involves a user connecting their laptop, smartphone, or tablet to a network through their VPN. 

Increasingly, advances in VPN technology enable security checks to be carried out to ensure the device is secure before it is granted permission to connect. Remote access VPNs include cloud VPNs, which enable users to securely access applications and data via their web browser.

2. Site-to-site VPN

site-to-site VPN enables connections between multiple networks. This network-to-network approach is typically used to connect multiple offices or branch locations to a central office. Site-to-site VPN encryption is useful for organizations with several offices based in various geographical locations. It enables them to share resources from a primary network, such as email servers or data storage facilities, across multiple locations. It also allows access to all users as if servers were located in the physical office. 

two types of VPN

Types of VPN Protection

There are several different types intended for different use cases. The three main categories are remote access, intranet-based site-to-site, and extranet-based site-to-site. Practically speaking, most users encounter VPNs depending on their use as individual, personal, or corporate.

1. Individual VPN

Individual VPNs refer to services meant for the personal use of individuals. Basic remote access networks, for example, allow users to connect to a secure remote server to access a private network. Reputable services include encryption to ensure the individual’s security isn’t compromised.

2. Business VPN

Business VPNs are intended for use by businesses in protecting their users and devices. Robust business networks deliver secure web connections to company devices, regardless of where employees connect to the Internet. Remote access business VPN creates a temporary VPN connection that encrypts data transmissions. After the data transmission stops, the business VPN disbands.

The limitations of remote access business VPN connections include increased lag time depending on the user's distance from the central network. A user may experience severe latency issues causing signal-quality degradation and disruptions for intensive data transmissions, such as video conference calls. 

Business use cases often include site-to-site Virtual networks, which provide multiple users in various locations with the ability to securely access each other’s resources. Secure communication among business departments, including those in different countries, is critical for corporate security, business continuity, and employee productivity.

Site-to-site enterprise VPN may improve transmission speeds and reduce latency with higher bandwidth connection speeds and faster encryption.

The greater use of cloud services and applications increases the cybersecurity risk of relying solely on perimeter-based security protections. When using cloud services, enterprises using a corporate VPN also rely on cloud network security. Any unencrypted transmission or storage may cause a data breach.

Future of Enterprise VPN

Corporate VPN security came under more scrutiny with the increased use by remote workers because cybercriminals take advantage of remote access vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to many corporate networks.

Here are some future insights into enterprise VPNs.

Enterprises need to know that VPN use continues to grow. The global VPN marketplace will reach $76.6 billion by 2030 with a 15.4% CAGR. A research study by Statista found that 41% of American and UK users use a VPN at least once per week. Another study found that 24% of VPN users use business VPNs. An additional 14% use business VPNs and personal VPNs.

ZTNA, the evolution of VPN Access

Zero trust network access (ZTNA) Vs VPN: Which Is Better?

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What Should a Good VPN Do?

Good VPNs provide secure connections to corporate networks and are easy for people to use, all while maintaining fast, reliable browsing sessions. The key benefits of a good VPN include:

1. Encryption of IP Address

A VPN service encrypts a user’s data and their IP address by bouncing network activity through secure chains connected to servers in another location. This ensures that the user’s IP address is hidden from cyber criminals even when they connect to public Wi-Fi networks. This VPN Wi-Fi feature allows the user to access the internet anonymously, safely, and securely.

2. Two-factor Authentication

Relying on a VPN alone may not be enough to protect user data as it may still be vulnerable to phishing attacks. It is best to use two-factor authentication (2FA) to validate user identities whenever they log in to applications and networks. When a user logs in to an online service, they are requested to authenticate their identity through various options, such as confirming a one-time password (OTP), entering a code from an authentication app, or using their fingerprint. 

2FA and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are critical to preventing unauthorized access. They add an extra layer of security and ensure that a hacker cannot access accounts even if they manage to obtain users’ login credentials.

3. Security When Working Remotely

The use of VPNs is particularly important as people continue to work remotely across distributed workforces. The encryption features that VPNs offer are vital to maintaining the confidentiality of data and keeping browsing activity private, no matter where users access corporate networks from. Remote workers can connect to office networks and access sensitive materials from their own devices. 

Home-based workers can also enhance their security by using a VPN router, which manages connections to the VPN from various devices.

Choosing Your VPN Service

The following considerations should help guide selection of a VPN service.

Free vs. Paid: Free services are readily available, but often come with significantly limited functionality or a “catch” that makes up for the revenue the VPN provider isn’t making from you directly—such as tracking you online and selling your personal or browsing data to advertisers.

Secure communications protocols: The robustness of security in VPN tunnels depends on which security protocols are used. Be sure to review these protocols with your provider to ensure appropriate levels of security.

Data privacy protection: Provider privacy agreements can vary widely. Does your VPN provider keep traffic logs? Do its servers operate in countries with strict Internet governance laws and/or oppressive governments?

Capacity and scale: Some providers significantly throttle data, or impose limits on servers and other connecting devices. Consult your provider’s terms of service to ensure the right capacity for your business and that your VPN won’t be unduly limited.

Kill switch availability: A kill switch monitors your connection to the VPN’s server, so if the connection drops or fails, your device is automatically blocked from accidental exposure. Consider kill switch functionality a “last line of defense” that keeps your Internet connection blocked until the tunnel can be restored.

How Fortinet Can Help

Organizations adopting multi-cloud strategies need security-driven networking solutions to deliver a consistent security policy and appropriate access control for all corporate users, applications, and devices regardless of their location, especially at a time of increasing telework and remote network access. FortiGate IPsec and SSL VPN solutions accelerate productivity using high-performance crypto VPNs.

For remote access, the VPN-only version of FortiClient offers SSL VPN and IPSecVPN. 

Explore FortiGate VPN

FAQs

What is a VPN and what does VPN stand for?

VPN, meaning a virtual private network masks your Internet protocol (IP) address, creating a private connection from a public wi-fi connection.

What does a VPN do and how does it work?

VPNs use virtual connections to create a private network, keeping any device you connect to a public wi-fi safe from hackers and malware, and protecting sensitive information from unauthorized viewing or interception.

Why use a VPN?

VPNs keep your Internet use safe from prying eyes, and, when used in a corporate setting, help keep business information from getting into the wrong hands.