A VPN is basically a secure way for remote computers to share data. It is not the first kind of technology to do this; previously, companies used leased lines. A leased line was secure and allowed computers to connect remotely. All a company had to do was set up a LAN and then using a leased line, allow the LAN to communicate remotely but securely.
This was expensive though; the companies that were leasing the lines put a high premium on them such that small businesses that did not have the funds but that required to communicate remotely and safely were left out. Then came the VPN, or Virtual Private Network.
It is basically a secure connection that encrypts data between two computers so that the communication is safe. To make it easy to understand how a VPN works, an analogy that is commonly used to explain it is one of islands.
Imagine a central island that is surrounded by lots of other small islands. The only way to go from the main island to the others is by ferry. But a ferry leaves you open to attacks from pirates during your attempts to cross. The most secure way would be for you to build a secure bridge, with some guards at each end of it so that only people who you can trust are allowed to get across.
A VPN is the same. The central island is your server. The surrounding islands are your computers. The ferry crossing is basically trying to communicate on open internet connections – you are susceptible to unauthorized access. The pirates are any people who may attempt to access your data without authorization. The bridges are the secure connections that you get with a VPN. The guards are the authentication for every data that is communicated across the VPN.
When data is transmitted from a central computer, an authentication header is added to it. The data is encrypted and then an Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) is added to it. This has unique instructions on how the data will be decrypted at the other end. Once data is received, it is decrypted and can be accessed on the networked computer.
There are different kinds of VPN software. There are some that you can download off the net for free but these will not handle many functionalities well especially if you are sharing a lot of data between many computers. You can buy VPN software that is specific to your needs. It is the job of your IT department to look at your needs and then decide which software is best.
The IT department is also charged with setting up all the computers that will access the VPN. Each computer is assessed to make sure that it has an operating system that can handle the software that will be installed. If the OS is not right, it can be replaced or a new computer may be needed.
After installation, they train all users on how to access the VPN when they are away from the office. It is quite simple; so long as you an internet connection that is fast and stable, you can be able to see data back in the office by clicking on the VPN software icon and then putting in your username and password. It is important that after you are through with using the VPN you log out; if you don’t, someone may use your connection to illegally access data.
If you are looking for a VPN service, make sure you read my review of HideMyAss VPN.