Remote Access VPNs
A remote access VPN lets you use the internet to connect to a private network, such as your company’s office network.
The internet is an untrusted link in the communication. VPN encryption is used to keep the data private and secure as it travels to and from the private network.
NOTE: Remote access VPNs are also sometimes called client-based VPNs or client-to-server VPNs.
When to Use a Remote Access VPN
There are different ways a remote access VPN can be used, for example:
A business traveler could use a remote access VPN to connect to their company’s network from the WiFi in the hotel lobby. They can access all the same files and software they would have in the office. The VPN also protects the data from anyone snooping on the public WiFi.
Somebody working from home could use a remote access VPN to access the company’s network from home. Their computer works as if it was connected to the company network in the office, and data is protected as it goes through the public internet.
EXPERT TIP: While remote access VPNs remain useful, cloud storage is a popular alternative if you just want people to be able to access files remotely. Cloud storage (such as Dropbox) uses an encrypted browser connection to protect your data, and is much easier to set up than a VPN is.
How Remote Access VPNs Work
To use a remote access VPN on your device you typically need to install client software or configure your device’s operating system to connect to the VPN. There also needs to be a VPN server on the network end of the connection.
There can be many client devices, as many different users can connect to the VPN server. Between them, the client software and VPN server manage the VPN connection.
Here’s how a remote access VPN works:
First, the VPN server checks that the user is allowed to access the network.
This might require the user to enter a password, or use biometrics such as a fingerprint to identify themselves. In some solutions, security certificates can be used to automatically authenticate the user in the background, enabling a faster connection. This is particularly helpful where the user needs to connect to multiple VPN servers – to access different site networks, for example.
Once the user is authenticated, the client and server establish an encrypted tunnel between them.
This is a wrapper of encryption that protects the traffic going over the internet. There are lots of different VPN protocols that can be used to set up the encryption tunnel: IPsec and SSL are two that are often used.
The user can now access resources through the VPN server.
This gives them access to a company’s internal network to access files or software.
Examples of Remote Access VPNs
Examples of remote access VPNs for business include:
- Access Server by OpenVPN, which is free for up to two simultaneous VPN connections.
- Cisco AnyConnect, which integrates with Cisco’s enterprise security solutions.
- Perimeter 81 Next-Gen Secure VPN Solutions.
NOTE: This type of VPN is typically licensed according to how many simultaneous users need to access the VPN.