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VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A virtual private network (VPN) is a system commonly used by corporations who require communication between and among remote users, headquarters and other long distant offices. One of the primary reasons for the use of a VPN is the low costs involved when compared to other options. A VPN is less costly than alternatives as all it requires is an active Internet connection. Prior to VPNs, companies had to create Wide-Area Networks or WANs. This was extremely costly because it required the companies to make use of leased lines. These leased lines consisted of various types of fiber cables spanning large areas. Since cables had to be laid in the ground for this to work, the further out the network needed to go, the more expensive it became. But with the advent of VPN, companies no longer had to establish these leased lines to create WANs; they simply used the Internet to allow their mobile users to connect and access the network via VPN. Since the Internet is readily available pretty much anywhere most associates would go, they can access the companies network easily without any fiber cables or WANs.
Once correctly set up by an administrator, a VPN will provide a secure means of communication with relatively little maintenance. Server administrators are needed to maintain and secure the network, ensuring constant and reliable connectivity at all times. Some VPN clients are simple enough however, that they do not require training or an IT specialist to maintain the network.
  • Greatly extends remote connectivity without fiber cables or establishing WANs.
  • Cheaper than WANs or other options.
  • More secure than other options.
  • Increase in mobile productivity.
Three types of VPNs:
When discussing VPNs, you have to look at the three types of VPNs that are commonly seen. There is the remote-access VPN, then there are two site-to-site VPNs called extranet VPNs and intranet VPNs. The remote-access VPN is a client-to-LAN setup where the remote user will connect to a network access server or a NAS. Once the NAS is established the remote user can access the network by using software installed on their device, whether it be a laptop, PDA, or other electronic device. The user dials a toll-free number that grants the user access to the NAS and from there the client's VPN installed on their device allows them access to networks and it's resources.
The two site-to-site VPNs are generally more common mainly because they use the Internet to connect to the VPN rather than toll-free number like the remote-access method. The intranet VPN is the one that is generally used by most corporations. With an intranet VPN there is a LAN-to-LAN setup where the user, simply using a public network we know as the Internet, can access the VPN from anywhere. Intranet VPNs allow the company to connect as many locations as they need to one network allowing the user not only to connect the main office, but other offices as needed. Finally, there is the extranet VPN, which is similar to the intranet except that an extranet VPN allows other corporations to be apart of the network. If a particular company has a relationship with another company, they may need to merge their networks together and this extranet VPN allows just that. A user can now not only connect to their offices, but the other companies office and vice-versa.
Obviously with any network, especially in the corporate sector, security is of the the up-most importance and VPNs are no different. VPNs use a variety of methods to keep the network, files, and resources secure. These methods include firewalls, encryption, AAA server, and IPsec. Firewalls are the most common security measures in networks and in VPNs that is no different. The firewall allows you to restrict the number open ports, which protocols are allowed through the network, and can block access to those who are not supposed to be on the network. Encryption is also a common security feature seen in most networks. With encryption, the files and resources going across the network are encoded and can only be decoded by a computer that has been given access to the network via the firewall. Other security options include the AAA server which is generally seen more often in remote-access VPN. When the user dials the toll-free number to access the NAS, they would first have to go through the AAA server which would check for authentication, authorization, and accounting; hence AAA. Once those tests are passed, the user is given access to the NAS. Finally, the IPsec is a protocol that enhances encryption and increases authentication for the VPN.
Usually secured VPNs run through cryptographic tunneling protocols which increases security by providing the network with confidentiality, authentication, and message integrity. With proper implementation, these tunneling protocols can be accessed through generally unsecured networks such as the Internet, but allows for solid security for the VPN. A VPN is not required to use these tunneling protocols and there are many VPNs out there that do not use them and still function. There are also trusted VPNs which do not use any of the tunneling protocols and they rely on the incoming source to be secure and protected. So, with trusted VPNs the user may have to find a network, which still maybe the Internet, That is already secured in some way.
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