The What, How, and Why of Business VPNs
One of the side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is the alarming rise in the number of cyber attacks. According to an Interpol report, hackers are now setting their sights on businesses rather than individuals. 2020 has seen huge disruptions across many sectors, affecting both SMBs and major enterprises alike. A worrying number of companies were caught unprepared, without even basic measures (such as business VPNs) to see their employees safely shift towards remote work.
Of course, it’s simply good practice to secure your sensitive data with a VPN, no matter where your employees are located. Click here to see more in-depth analyses of four different providers and the specific benefits they can bring to your company.
Below you’ll find a more general picture on:
- What VPNs are
- How they work
- Why you should consider them for your organization’s cybersecurity strategy
Let’s start with the basics.
What Are Business VPNs?
Commercial Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used by more than 1.12 billion people worldwide. As such, it’s quite likely that you or someone you know has used one, or at least heard of the term. In any case, VPNs have many purposes for personal use, but security-wise they serve two primary purposes:
- Masking your IP address, which can reveal sensitive details (such as your city and ZIP code) to outsiders
- Encrypting any data that passes through your network. Garbling it to make it unreadable to anybody snooping in on your connection, essentially.
What about business VPNs? Well, as mentioned in the analysis above, there are two types of technology that are referred to as such:
- Corporate VPN intranets – usually reserved for large enterprises that can afford them. These allow access to company resources from outside the premises and require a dedicated, in-house team to set up and maintain.
- Hybrid VPNs that combine the ease of use of commercially available options with the granular control of true corporate VPNs. Team management dashboards, private VPN instances that can be linked to your company network, and others. Click the link in the beginning for more details.
In the following sections, we’ll be focusing on the latter category of business VPNs.
How Can Business VPNs Protect Your Company?
As of 2019, cyber attacks cost companies an average of $200,000. Unsurprisingly, hackers prefer to target small businesses (43% of the time, in fact), since they are less likely to prioritize cyber security.
Now, business VPNs aren’t a catch-all solution against hackers, and should instead complement a more in-depth cybersecurity plan. However, they make for a great start while you develop that plan, train employees to spot phishing attacks, and so on.
Your Employees Can Share Files Securely
As mentioned, VPNs encrypt all network traffic. Whether your employees work remotely or not, it’s a good idea for them to share sensitive company data exclusively through encrypted channels. This prevents eavesdropping and other man-in-the-middle type attacks, which account for over one third of attacks on organizations, according to an IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence report.
Public Wi-Fi Is No Longer a Threat
Hackers snooping in on your company’s network traffic are not the only concern. This is especially true if any of your employees still have to travel for work. Cyber attackers may also create fake public Wi-Fi networks (called “Evil Twins”) that perfectly mimic Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, airports, and so on. Once you connect to an Evil Twin network, the hacker can freely record whatever you do online.
Unless you use a VPN, that is. The VPN encrypts your data before it even leaves your device, so all the attacker would be able to see is an encrypted data stream. Gibberish, essentially.
ISPs Can’t Snoop On Your Data
This is more of a US-centric problem, but it may interest you if you’re partnered with US-based companies as well. Back in 2017, the US Congress voted to repeal a set of FCC rules that prevented ISPs from selling user data. The consequences? You guessed it; they are free to sell user browsing and location data to advertisers.
In fact, several companies argued that the practice falls within their First Amendment rights, and sued the state of Maine for imposing laws against it. Fortunately, business VPNs ensure ISPs can’t see any sensitive company data passing through their servers.
Why Else Should Your Business Use a VPN?
Security uses aside, VPNs are highly flexible pieces of software. Here’s how your company can take advantage of their IP spoofing capabilities:
- Bypass geo-blocks – for example, hundreds of US news sites are unavailable in Europe thanks to GDPR regulations. By switching to a US-based IP address through the VPN, you can freely access them just as any other US resident.
- Avoid censorship – live in an area with a high rate of Internet censorship? Connecting through a VPN server in another country will allow you to access any resources without a hitch.
- Location-based testing – want to see how your ads, website, or other online services are displayed for international audiences? Now you can.
- Safe torrenting – tech companies (even Facebook and Twitter) have been using torrenting clients to easily share large files with their teams. Of course, you may find that hotels and other public Wi-Fi hosts actively ban torrent use on their networks. This can be avoided by encrypting your online activity with a VPN. After all, you can’t block what you can’t see.
Finally, your employees may appreciate the convenience of unblocking streaming platforms and local websites while they’re away on business. Travelling for work may have taken a bit of halt for the moment, but it’s good to plan ahead for when things return to normal.
This article has been published in accordance with Socialnomics’ disclosure policy.