A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization’s network. A virtual private network can be contrasted with an expensive system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one organization. The goal of a VPN is to provide the organization with the same capabilities, but at a much lower cost. A VPN works by using the shared public infrastructure while maintaining privacy through security procedures and tunneling protocols such as the Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). In effect, the protocols, by encrypting data at the sending end and decrypting it at the receiving end, send the data through a “tunnel” that cannot be “entered” by data that is not properly encrypted. An additional level of security involves encrypting not only the data, but also the originating and receiving network addresses [ (Rouse, 2007) ].
Plainly, a VPN is just a network of computers that are all connected securely despite the fact that they’re in different geographic locations, and could potentially be using different connection methods. The largest attraction to a VPN is all of the involved computers are afforded secure connection to one another. Another great benefit to a VPN is that all of the involved computers are effectively on the same network. Users can communicate as if they were right next to one another, plugged in to the same router. Additionally, the traffic to and from these machines is encrypted.
Corporations and small businesses alike utilize VPNs to ensure safe, secure, and reliable connections for employees and anyone else requiring access to their information system. A VPN almost creates its own little universe, or even a “VIP only” party; only invited guests may enter. Each machine: computer, router, modem, filter, and server; has dedication means of transportation for information and communication. In addition to the, “VIP only” information highways provided by a VPN, information is also encrypted prior to entering the “tunnel,” and decrypted upon being accessed by another authorized party included in the VPN.
However, individuals are certainly not the only group to appreciate the importance of a good VPN. Businesses are able to secure transactions between employees at different locations, allow any authorized person to access a server from any location, and even allow for working from home through the effective use of a VPN. An excellent example of a large organization using VPN to assist in the security of daily activities is the military.
The military uses VPNs to their greatest potential. Specifically, the Air Force uses a VPN: AF-VPN (Capasso, 2008). AF-VPN allows all Air Force members to work together within the same “universe.” This system is accessed via a Common Access Card (CAC) and a personal identification number (PIN). Once logged in, everything is transmission is encrypted using a system similar to Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and the certificates (secret key) stored on the CAC, then sent through the safe tunnels known as the VPN. Upon arrival to the intended recipient, the correspondence can then be accessed by using the sender’s public key.
Virtual Private Networks are an effective tool for securing the means of transport for information. Theoretically, they’re simple; a series of machines, which are geographically separated, yet function as securely as if they were hard-wired and located right next to each other. VPNs are not just for large businesses, corporations, or organizations like the military; they’re also a great way to help secure a home network. Each publication I read concerning VPNs stated in some way, shape, or form that they’re simple, if not, idiot-proof to set up and understand. This is entirely not the case. I have spent more hours staring at my computer screen with the expression of a squirrel looking at something shiny than my son did when I tried to explain the birds and bees. While VPNs are simple in theory, putting them into effect is a different story. This is a tout to the proof that VPNs are secure. However, if I set up the VPN, it will be about as secure as a wet paper sack!
Capasso, M. G. (2008). AFI 33-200, Information (IA) Management. Air Force e-Publishing. Rouse, M. (2007, May). Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Retrieved from Search Enterprise WAN: http://searchenterprisewan.techtarget.com/definition/virtual-private-network