Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A 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 organisation's network. A VPN can be contrasted with an expensive system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one organisation. The idea of a VPN is to provide an organisation 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.

What makes a VPN so great?

The main benefit of a VPN is the lower cost needed to support this technology, compared to alternatives like traditional leased lines or remote access servers. VPN users typically interact with simple graphical client programs. These applications support creating tunnels, setting configuration parameters, and connecting to, and disconnecting from, the VPN server. VPN servers can also connect directly to other VPN servers. A VPN server-to-server connection extends the intranet or extranet to span multiple networks.

VPN clients and VPN servers are typically used in three scenarios:

  • To support remote access to an intranet
  • To support connections between multiple intranets within the same organisation
  • To join networks between two organisations, forming an extranet.

A VPN saves costs in the following ways:

  • By eliminating the need for expensive, long-distance leased lines
  • By reducing long-distance telephone charges
  • By offloading support costs.

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