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Enhancing small business security with virtual private networks


Virtual private networks or VPN are popular solutions for business and personal privacy. For many small businesses, they should be considered essential, especially as remote and flex work becomes more common. Virtual private networks can help you to reach security goals for compliance, risk-reduction, and security.

Small businesses are increasingly targeted by hackers and cybercriminals. In fact, 36% of data-related breaches occur in small businesses. Switching to VPN for remote work and for sensitive data can help your organization to remain secure.

Why VPN For Small Business

Most of us are accustomed to seeing VPN services marketed for personal privacy, but do they offer business value? Yes! Businesses can employ VPN, private and services, to control how and where outside users access data centers, to secure access to specific data and servers, to provide site-to-site tunneling, and to ensure secure access to cloud resources. Some of the most compelling of these reasons include:

1) Secure Remote Access

Whether for work-from-home employees, freelancers, or travelling employees, secure remote access to servers is often an issue. Virtual Private Networks force users outside your organization to log in from an authorized device, over an encrypted channel, greatly reducing the chance of data breach or data loss during the access period.

2) Linking Offices

Organizations with geographically separate offices can utilize permanent VPN tunnels to connect servers and provide permanent access links between them. So, an office in Lisbon could create a VPN tunnel to an office in New York, so that the two offices could see each other’s entire network, without having to log in each time they want to access apps or servers.

3) Cloud Access

Virtual private networks allow you to secure access to cloud resources from any device, without the need to upgrade those devices to secure ones. This is ideal for organizations with cloud resources (if you use SaaS of any kind, you have cloud resources). The user can then log into the VPN to access cloud apps, central data centers, cloud servers, and other cloud tools. Essentially, the VPN takes the place of access security. Everything is accessed through a single, encrypted channel, and IT doesn’t have to process logins and access rights separately, because login cannot happen outside the VPN.

4) User Access Management

It’s important that IT be able to track who is accessing and using tools, data centers, print networks, and other resources. VPN tools make this sort of access management more seamless, because only one login has to be tracked. Who’s accessing the VPN and from where.

Most importantly, VPN allows you to assign user access tokens and access rights, restricting different users to different layers of the virtual organization. While not all VPNs include these sorts of user access management tools, most small businesses benefit from them. And, this greatly lightens the security load for IT, meaning you can redirect some efforts to more value-added rather than risk-prevention efforts.

While benefits will heavily depend on the size, type, and virtual resources used by your organization, many small businesses can benefit.

Setting up a VPN

Most businesses can choose between setting up their own VPN solution and essentially purchasing one. A VPN is essentially just a group of networked computers linked via an encrypted connection to ensure data sharing, with less risk than an open connection over the Internet.

It’s also important to keep in mind that VPNs aren’t completely secure. They are just as vulnerable to human error such as losing passwords, as any other technology. Utilize a VPN with device authorization, secure multi-factor login, and user access management for the most secure result.

1) Purchasing a VPN Service

Virtual Private Networks are sold as a SaaS service for organizations and individuals. Here, you might be able to choose a solution through your technology provider or your IT Services Provider. VPN services start from a few dollars per month per user and go up to several times that.

Your considerations should include:

  • Speed
  • Total server locations
  • Static IP capability
  • Number of servers near your physical location(s)
  • Interface
  • Privacy policy/logging
  • Service Level Agreement
  • Customer support
  • Jurisdiction

In most cases, business VPN solutions are the best option for a small business, because you can implement them at low cost, with little expertise, and no extra strain on your IT team. If you outsource IT services, this may be another question.

2) Setting up a VPN

Setting up a VPN in your organization typically means setting up servers, choosing a security protocol, and implementing it. This requires a considerable level of expertise and knowledge, so it isn’t advised unless you have an external vendor to implement or a large IT team.

  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – A Microsoft VPN protocol offering support for most operating systems including mobile and provided by several vendors.
  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) – A Cisco VPN protocol, typically issues with IPsec protocols, and offering support to most devices. L2TP is normally delivered through ISP vendors.
  • Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) – IPsec is more secure than PPTP but offers fewer compatibilities.
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) – Highly encrypted VPN, typically required for compliance in finance organizations, and therefore ideal for organizations handling sensitive data. SSL offers browser-based access.

In any case where you are setting up a VPN, you will have to rely on the solutions and services offered by the VPN vendor. Setting up a VPN on your own means having complete control over the data centers and computers linked, but more expenses and more time and investment for setup and maintenance. However, it also offers more security and more protection for servers and files, because you are creating a security network around those files, rather than simply having employees log in through a VPN separately.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to review internal needs, device compatibility, and risks before choosing a solution. You can do so with the help of a potential vendor, with the help of a third-party, or internally if your IT team knows what to look for and what is needed.

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