A virtual private network (VPN) is something that’s usually considered important for anything other than business. Such as the ability to connect to your favorite country-specific online streaming services like Netflix or Hulu Plus when traveling to different countries where those services are blocked. However, due to the added level of security offered by VPNs, they are also important for small businesses – especially in today’s scary scale of cyber attacks on small businesses.
What is a VPN?
When you connect your computers or smart devices to a VPN, it masks your true whereabouts using a secure encrypted SSL connection. Your computer appears to the powers-that-be, whomever they may be, to be accessing data from whichever server your VPN provider has you connected to at any given time.
Say you’re in Canada on business and want access to your Netflix UK account during your downtime; a VPN will allow you to access that geo-blocked content by telling Netflix’s built in security sniffers that your computer or device is right there in the UK accessing the network from home.
On a data-protection level for your business, the increased encryption levels offered by a VPN make it much harder for hackers to zero in on your cloud and server-based data. It also makes your content searches untraceable, so you don’t have to worry about trouble from your service provider due to what employees may be searching for or accessing from your line on their personal time.
1. Data Security
Most of the top VPN providers use double SSL encryption to protect your data from being accessed by hackers online. While it might seem like your data is secure, consider what happens when you access a public WiFi hotspot.
Whoever is using the WiFi at the same time can see exactly what you or your employees are doing at any given time – there are professional hackers that spend their days at Starbucks and the like just waiting for some juicy data they can use for their betterment.
Then there are still other issues, such as your employee’s using another company’s WiFi and potentially having that data stolen or otherwise tainted by that organization.
2. Bypassing Certain Firewalls
This might sound sketchy, but I’m not referring to hacking into your competitor’s network here. Say you’re in a country with Internet censorship, such as China and their world-renowned Great Wall of Internet Censorship. If you’ve ever been, you know that citizens are only able to access government sanctioned content. If you’re traveling there and want to access data back home, this is very unlikely without a VPN.
There are other countries and circumstances where this need may arise too. A VPN will “usually” enable you to bypass whatever country-specific blockers might be in place – depending on the VPN options that you choose.
3. Cost Savings
To start, and in the long run, as you need to grow the network.
Servers cost money to buy. At least hundreds for a small business. And then you have to know about processor requirements, RAM, hot-swapping drives, and the difference between Windows and Linux servers (if you want a secure SSH over your network, you’ll have to understand Linux server language).
They cost even more in the long run to maintain. Since most small business owners don’t know how to maintain their own servers, you’ll have to pay somebody who knows more to do it for you. These professionals don’t just give their services away, they can charge lots because they know you can’t put a price on data security.
4. Employee Browsing Activity
Say your employees are accessing… anything that might be considered inappropriate and/or illegal during work or their downtime. Well, that might not be something you’re terribly concerned about until you get a formal notice from your ISP, or worse, have the Feds show up at your door asking uncomfortable questions. Then all heck can break loose.
It’s your business and what employees search for, watch, and read reflects on your business when your name’s on the ISP account. A VPN protects not just your data, but the URLs that are being accessed.
Don’t mistake this for implying they won’t know you’re accessing a VPN, they will. What it does mean is that the only non-NSA way to find out your browsing history is through your VPN provider; ie., the person you’re paying to protect your network and browsing activity. Some even offer specialized packages where your browsing data is never logged and therefore virtually untraceable.
You Can’t Put a Price on Security
Security is obviously the biggest benefit to any business using a VPN. Data security. Browsing security. The security of knowing that you and your in-house and remote employees are the only ones that can see the documents, emails and proprietary information that’s being sent back and forth on your private network.
Ask any business owner that’s ever had their company data compromised while they or their employees were accessing it over an unsecured network. Ask those who’ve spent countless money and time building up their own server network only to still have someone hack, then exploit them.
When you consider the all the potential for problems, and the extreme cost to build and maintain your own private network, VPNs are the only smart choice for protecting what’s yours.