Are VPNs Still Relevant in 2020?

Virtual Private Networks, VPNs, were introduced in the late 1990s as a way for large corporations to provide access to internal intranets for their staff. The technology is still in use today by individuals and small to medium sized businesses all over the world. Among other things, VPNs provide remote access to networks and devices via the internet, a solution for flexible working. Now that flexible working has become common in society, people need the ability to access their work environment from anywhere, their home, a hotel room or anywhere on the road.

Solutions for flexible working

A new breed of technology has entered the marketplace. LogMeIn and TeamViewer serve a similar purpose to VPNs. These are known as remote desktop software (RDP). LogMeIn and TeamViewer are used by millions, and they serve a useful purpose. They allow you can log in to another computer, and view what someone else, team member, prospect or client is doing.

If you're not particularly tech oriented, a VPN can sound quite off-putting. What is a "Virtual Private Network" anyway? To answer that question we need to delve into what VPNs and RDPs both are. Importantly, although they sound similar, they actually serve different purposes.

The distinction

Remote Desktop works as if you are there.

You use your keyboard and mouse like you would with the computer you're virtually controlling. You only control one device.

VPNs work as if your computer is there.

A VPN allows you to securely connect to a network via the internet and use its resources such as computers and mail servers. It's not unlike your home network but your business network has more people, devices and systems connected to it.

It is this distinction that matters and ultimately reflects what you want from the service. With remote desktop you can only control one single computer. With a VPN you can remote desktop to any on the network. It is impractical to run a remote desktop program like LogMeIn on multiple computers, but far more practical to set up a VPN which provides access to them. With remote desktop you are restricted to the resources of the host computer. With a VPN you can use the resources of the home computer the computer you’re using as well.

Security Considerations

With remote access solutions such as LMI and TV you will end up utilizing a third-party intermediary server, you have to decide if you trust that third party to remain secure. There have been plenty of security researchers which have shown that security for the communication protocols in these products may be suspect. This could leave your network open to intrustion through the RDP programs if they become compromised!

Further reading: https://www.optiv.com/blog/teamviewer-authentication-protocol-part-1-of-3 and https://awakesecurity.com/blog/analyzing-teamviewer/ and https://awakesecurity.com/blog/analyzing-logmein/

Utilizing VPN tunnels over firewalls with updated software and up-to-date VPN clients remains the favoured remote access approach by security experts when connecting to remote resources as there is no intermediate server from an uncontrolled third party involved in your connection. You are connecting directly to a trusted party and they can limit your VPN tunnels access to only certain areas or devices on the network.

Which should you use?

It depends on your use case. If you are trying to access your home computer and don’t have any sensitive data stored on it, or perhaps trying to assist a relative with their computer needs, a remote desktop solution would likely be the best option. TeamViewer even allows people to use their software for free if it is for personal use. However, if you are looking for a business connectivity solution, you really need to be using a VPN to ensure your internal data and clients information remains secure.

With a VPN you cut out the middle-man, you don't need to put the access of your network in the hands of a third party. With the help of an experienced IT technician you can set up a tailored VPN that meets your needs and allows you to remain in full control. VPNs have also evolved to have much simpler setup processes and easy to use applications. In many cases, the application installers from your IT group can include most of the configuration for connecting to your company’s network, with the exception of your authentication credentials (of course). VPN capability can even be setup on your mobile devices.

Are VPNs here to stay?

Very much so. Despite the popularity of services like LogMeIn, they are not adequate solutions for security conscious companies and highly regulated industries such as banking, healthcare and the like.

If you would like more help and support setting up a VPN for your Connecticut business, don't hesitate to get in touch with Robinson Technology Solutions.

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