What is a virtual private network and why would you want that instead of an actual private network?
The answer revolves around our desire for universal connectivity. Most companies started connecting to other locations using private line services, such as T1, DS3 and OC3. These are point to point connections that are reserved for your private use. Only you and the network operators have access to those wires and the data they are transporting. It’s fairly difficult for third parties to tap a private line and examine the packets moving back and forth.
Private lines are defined as private, but that’s not really good enough for high risk companies such as banks and brokerages. To thwart even the most dedicated line “tapper,” they encrypted their data to ensure it stayed private. Encryption is a process that takes plain text and jumbles it in such a way that it appears to be indecipherable nonsense to anyone looking. At the far end of the link, the text is decrypted and returns to its original form.
Private lines are great for communicating within organizations or with a select few suppliers, vendors, consultants and so on. But what if you want to interact with the public at large? For that you need a public, not a private, network. That’s exactly what the Internet was created to do.
The advantage of the Internet is that it connects to nearly every place and every person on Earth. That’s also its weakness. The same universal connectivity that makes it easy for billions of potential customers to reach your website makes it equally easy to do mischief or outright crime. If there was only a way to make the connection between you and your customer secure while still using the public Internet.
That solution is called the VPN or Virtual Private Network. A public network connection can be made virtually private by encrypting the packets that travel between two locations. Your particular stream of traffic is scrambled while the rest of the traffic flowing through the same network connections could be transmitted in the clear.
SSL or Secure Socket Layer is a popular technique to provide the encryption between source and destination. What makes it so popular is that SSL is supported by all modern Web browsers and many other programs, such as Email clients. There is no need to buy or configure separate encryption software used in other VPN approaches.
Anyone with an Internet connection and browser can connect securely to any site that supports SSL. The resulting connection can be called a SSL VPN. It only persists for the length of the session, but can be established at any time. You know that you are on a secure link because the address starts with https: rather than http: The “s” means secure.
Adding SSL to a site involves buying a digital certificate from a trusted certificate authority. That certificate attests to the fact that the site in question is who it says it is and not some impostor. The secure site presents the certificate to the client to prove legitimacy. It may also ask the user for authentication, such as user ID and password, to prove that the user is also legitimate.
What sites use SSL? Most any site handling financial transactions, such as banks, online stores that accept credit cards, webmail providers, cloud storage providers, remote access services, most sites that store personal data and require user logins, and businesses using the Internet to connect remote locations and home workers.
Do you need to provide secure connections for your business? If so, look into the costs and features of Affordable Virtual Private Network solutions. One or more may be just right for your particular needs.