In today's highly-remote business world, online privacy and security have become more important than ever. Since private browsing history is often open to third parties, users can lose their online privacy by simply logging onto the internet. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a go-to solution for many businesses whose employees access company files away from company servers, especially now that the coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses to go fully remote.
Using a VPN ensures your browsing is secure from hackers or cyberattacks. However, VPNs aren't perfect, and it's important to consider whether an alternative solution might be better for your business.
What is a VPN?
A VPN facilitates a private network connection by creating an encrypted tunnel between your network and a remote server, masking your identity and location while browsing the internet.
If you are connected to Wi-Fi in a public location like a coffee shop, third parties might gain access to your passwords, banking information, credit card numbers, work files and more. Even on a private, secured network (such as your home internet), it's still possible for advertisers, internet service providers, and hackers to view and store your browsing activity. By encrypting your web traffic, a VPN, in theory, ensures that no one else on that network can access your private browser information. [Read related article: VPN and Online Privacy]
Drawbacks of VPNs
Businesses use VPNs to protect their private data, as they often have employees accessing files while connected to an unsecured network. It's impossible to monitor your employees' every move to ensure they're only using secure connections. However, one wrong move can seriously cost your business.
While VPNs can help protect your business's private data, they aren't perfect. Here are some drawbacks to VPNs you'll want to consider.
Depending on the amount of data your business uses daily, a standard VPN service might not meet your needs. Some providers put a limit on data used during VPN browsing. With insufficient data allowances, you'll risk a slower connection and potential vulnerability to attacks while using a VPN.
Slower internet connection
Because of its encryption, VPNs might slow your internet connection, making it difficult to get work done or attend virtual meetings. If you're located far away from your VPN provider's servers, it can impact your browsing speed. Additionally, a VPN service provider with a limited number of servers may choke browsing speeds if too many users are logged on simultaneously.
The more people who have access to your VPN, the more security risks your company faces, especially if those workers are remote or are connecting to public Wi-Fi. It's important to choose a service that protects your data.
Consumer-focused VPN services typically prioritize getting around location restrictions on certain web content, rather than secure browsing, so you may not get the level of secure access you need as a business with some VPNs. Additionally, some VPNs are not verified and are run by governments or scammers. Do your due diligence to ensure the VPN you are using is trusted and verified by other users.
A common issue with VPNs is their inflexibility. Once your VPN network is established (which takes time), it's difficult to change it, especially if you have workers who travel or new employees. Additionally, some services discourage the use of VPNs, blocking users from accessing their site or platform.
Effective VPNs can cost a lot of money. Depending on your data volume, some VPNs might be too expensive for your budget. While there are some free options, experts do not recommend them for security purposes.
"Although there are many free VPNs available, few of them offer the security and speed of paid VPN software," said Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd. "Many VPNs put their users at risk. It's crucial that you look for reliable software that ensures you have a safe and anonymous connection."
Stagnant technology development
VPNs have not evolved in recent years, even during the pandemic. With remote work becoming the new normal, it's important to consider the most progressive options that don't have limited capabilities, like VPNs.
Because of the limitations of VPNs, many businesses use different security solutions. With more companies going remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners are recognizing the need to look into VPN alternatives to keep their data safe.
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To ensure the best protection, especially throughout the pandemic and amid the work-from-home culture, consider switching from a VPN to an alternative security solution. Here are some VPN alternatives for your business:
- Remote desktop connections. There are many remote PC access software programs available that allow businesses to provide secure off-site device access to their employees. Additional benefits include remote technical support, online courses and collaboration.
- Identity and access management (IAM). An IAM platform establishes and authorizes the identity of individual users. IAM implements a comprehensive verification process through multifactor authentication. You can use this as a VPN alternative or a solution to pair with your VPN.
- Privileged access management (PAM). While IAM allows for individual access, PAM focuses on privileged credentials, or those who access critical systems and applications. Because of the security risks involved, high-level accounts require more protection and close monitoring.
- Software-defined perimeter (SDP). Also called the "black cloud," this VPN alternative is based on the "need-to-know access" government model. Any critical files are stored in the black cloud and are inaccessible to regular users, while other aspects of the network are only accessed on a permission basis.
I still want a VPN. What do I look for?
Patrick Ward, founder of NanoGlobals, noted that speed and security are the most important, differing factors VPNs advertise.
"For a business owner, security is primary given that your VPN will be used to protect you while potentially handling sensitive company information," Ward said. "Security protocols, a "kill switch" and DNS leak protection are the three most important security features to evaluate your desired VPN."
In addition to these factors, Candace Helton, operations director at Ringspo, advised considering the following elements when choosing a VPN for business:
- Logging policies. Helton noted that some governments require access to a VPN company's logs, so you may wish to choose a VPN provider that's not legally bound to make this data accessible to the government. On the other hand, if you want to use your data to audit employee activity, Helton recommended choosing a VPN provider that comes with an optional data logging feature.
- Encryption. Because security is the main priority of VPN services, encryption protocols must be strong to prevent hackers and outsiders from gaining access to your info, said Helton. She recommended choosing VPN providers that offer at least 256-bit AES encryption and ensuring IPSec protocols are not outdated.
- Versatility. When you're using a VPN for business purposes, you want something that can adapt to your needs, said Helton. “You might want to make certain adjustments to the service in the future, so the VPN provider you choose should be capable of that,” she noted. “Before making the final buying decision, make sure to ask expansion-related questions to see if the service can adapt.”