Running a small company does not make you any less of a target to the malicious online activity that plagues the internet nowadays.
Providing secure connectivity is not just a luxury exclusive to large corporations. Small businesses are frequently the target of devious attackers looking for their next victim. Don’t make it easier for them, make sure your business is using a VPN.
What is a VPN?
Virtual private networks are used to protect internet traffic via encryption protocols that keep your data obscured from point A to point B.
This is accomplished via a secure “tunnel” that is established between your device and the server running the VPN service.
That means that hackers, government agencies, and even your internet service provider will be unable to see what you’re transmitting over the internet. Whether you’re shopping or working with sensitive client information, your data is much more difficult to intercept.
More than 55% of small businesses have been subject to some form of malware attack. When the malware hits your network, it can do many things: lock users out of network resources, denial of services to your customers, and damages that can amount to millions of dollars. Reducing the attack surface and adding on layers of security can help mitigate and prevent these attacks from occurring from your network, and this is where VPNs come into play.
VPN services come in three different forms: one given by your ISP (also known as fixed VPNs), specialized VPNs through a custom-configured router or server with a VPN server built-in, and a cloud-based VPN solution.
VPNs have been in use for many years as a way for government organizations and corporate entities to keep data protected and provide secure access for their workforce to access network resources.
They aren’t just for businesses alone but can be utilized for personal use. Having trouble trying to watch a streaming service like Netflix while overseas? VPNs can help solve that problem in a heartbeat.
How are VPNs used in small businesses?
Cyber-attacks have increased in frequency, attacking small businesses because they typically have minimal security mechanisms in place to protect themselves from malicious actors.
Small businesses often lack the resources to have dedicated IT experts to help keep them on track when it comes to defending their networks. Cyber threats become an afterthought only after the attack has occurred, and by that point, the damage is already done.
On any given day, employees will need access to commonly used resources such as shared drives, servers, remote applications, printers, and VOIP phones to execute their daily tasks.
Because business transactions occur on the internet daily, access to a VPN server can help provide you with an extra level of protection to ensure that these tasks are done more securely. .
VPNs obfuscate data through encryption protocols such as OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption that prevent outside parties from being able to see data coming from your device.
If your employees are traveling abroad on your behalf, they will need to be able to connect back to your headquarters through a secure link. A VPN is the most ideal way of doing this, as it will still enable them to connect to HQ regardless of wherever they are in the world.
Protecting Remote Workers
Travelling employees or employees working remotely will often rely on public WiFi. The thing to understand about public Wifi is that it is dangerous. There are numerous ways attackers can take advantage of these untrusted access points to compromise your machines or information.
While it’s great that it provides the convenience of being able to connect to the internet, it comes with its perils. Public Wifi connections are unencrypted and can be used to intercept unsecured data. Passwords, user names, file transfers, and online history are all at risk of exposure.
Equipping your employees with access to a VPN allows them the freedom to use public access points while ensuring that sensitive information and credentials remain secure.
What are the benefits of VPN?
Everyone benefits from using VPNs within their homes and offices. Here are several benefits to think about when it comes to equipping your small business with the protection of a VPN.
Anonymity: Browsing the internet through IP addresses via a VPN connection will make you anonymous on the internet. Hackers and other malicious parties won’t be able to read or steal sensitive data that belongs to your or your company.
Easy Operation: VPNs have come a long way and are now quite user friendly. Most will come with graphical user interfaces that make them easy to use.
Geoblock Bypass: Some countries like China have geoblock mechanisms that prevent certain databases or websites from interfacing with your business. A VPN solution can help bypass those blocks so that your business will be able to connect with clients seamlessly.
Network Performance: Internet service providers sometimes throttle or cap your data rates to control the network speeds of your business. Having a large enough bandwidth is important so that you will be able to conduct your business unimpeded. VPNs offer multiple speed options to accommodate different functions such as P2P sharing, streaming, etc.
P2P/Secure File Sharing: By using a VPN, employees can securely share files between themselves without the risk of exposing your data to the outside world.
Multiple Servers/IP Address Origin: VPN vendors have fleets of servers that they use to service their clients. When you are connected to a VPN, the outside party will see the IP address originating from the VPN server you are connected to instead of the IP address from your device. This also makes it possible to bypass some security blocks and grant you access to content that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Key Features to look for in VPNs
When shopping for a VPN service, price is just one factor you need to consider before fully committing. Here are some key things to look for so that you will be able to figure out which one to buy:
– Kill switches: If you’re disconnected from the internet for whatever reason, data exchanges are immediately blocked.
– Multi-location service/remote access: You get worldwide VPN coverage no matter which part of the planet you’re on (provided the service has a VPN server in that area). Your employees will also be able to access business resources from remote locations. It should also be able to support multiple connections to different devices on the fly.
– P2P support: Peers connected in peer-to-peer networks operate as server and client simultaneously, and can share files among themselves.
– Encryption: Data is encrypted via IPsec, 256-bit encryption and OpenVPN. These protocols obfuscate your data so it can only be translated between the VPN server and its connected clients.
– Anonymity: You can navigate the web without giving away your location through a VPN service. Your online identity will also be protected via built-in encryption.
– Multi-device support: VPNs aren’t just exclusive to personal computers; they can be used on other internet-capable devices such as smartphones and tablets. You need to find out if your prospective vendor provides support for Android, iOS and Mac devices. They can also be used at the router level to protect all devices that connect through them.
– Log retention policies: When choosing VPNs, you need to make sure that your provider doesn’t log your business’ online history to maintain confidentiality and privacy. Log retention is based on the country where the VPN vendor’s HQ resides and differs globally.
As a small business owner, among many, you would normally be concerned about the price and speed of the services provided by a VPN vendor, with compatibility and server distribution secondary considerations.
What are the risks of not using VPNs?
Not using VPNs is not that different from not having an antivirus installed on your networks, but instead of viruses, you get people snooping their noses in your own personal or corporate data. Non-VPN users risk having their data exposed, especially if you’re connected to non-HTTPS websites.
Not only is it an invitation for a data breach, hackers like to take advantage of this to be able to backtrack to your home or your office’s IP address. They can also exploit vulnerabilities and install malware that can infect your network. The amount of damage that malware can do inside the network can be catastrophic if you don’t have any preventative measures in place.
You could get around this by turning off VPN, but that is something that is not recommended, especially if you’re transmitting sensitive information over a public Wifi connection.
News of cyberattacks continues to circulate outlets regularly. On top of firewalls (if you already have them), a VPN solution is another vital component of cybersecurity to not only keep your internet communications secure but to keep your business protected in today’s world.
Once you have it on your network, you should make it standard practice among your employees to use it as part of online communication and business transactions. You should reinforce to them to keep it on at all times to keep any information transmitted from their devices secure.