The coronavirus pandemic saw companies across the USA embracing remote work. However, cybercriminals took advantage, targeting small businesses that lack the knowledge to protect their digital assets. If you remain unprotected, a VPN could be part of the solution. This blog explains how VPNs work and how businesses can use them to enhance their security.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are tools that securely route traffic through third-party private servers before sending that traffic onward to its final destination.
Data passed from clients to VPNs is encrypted at the source. A VPN server then transmits that data via “tunnels,” which use cutting-edge protocols to ensure that unwrapping data packets during transmission is difficult, if not impossible.
At the same time, VPN servers anonymize the source of the data they process. They do this by assigning a completely new IP address to each packet – usually, an IP address from a different global location.
The anonymized data is then re-routed to the original destination with the content included. But there’s no way to tell where the data originated.
The combination of anonymization, tunneling, and encryption presents a significant barrier for hackers, competitors, and states. Malicious actors will find it harder to intercept and identify sensitive data, while legitimate users can work securely and smoothly.
Why does your small business need a VPN?
VPNs offer flexible cybersecurity in a dangerous world, which should concern every business larger than a lemonade stand.
How do VPNs bolster your protection against data theft and malware? Firstly, they are valuable tools in locking down central network resources and connections between a small business network and the wider web. A well-designed VPN solution will place an encrypted tunnel between internal resources and external threats, blocking access to any corporate data.
VPNs are also a vital part of secure remote working. According to Gallup, around 45% of American employees work remotely on a full or part-time basis. These workers require secure connections between their laptops or tablets and centralized business servers. Without encryption and anonymization, it’s much easier for attackers to mount credential theft or man-in-the-middle attacks.
Business VPNs provide a mixture of central and remote-work solutions. They allow network managers to monitor user activity and ensure that everyone is connecting securely. They can assist with load balancing and filtering social media usage during working hours. And they can even be helpful when carrying out anonymous marketing or competitor research.
VPNs also have a crucial role in ensuring businesses are compliant with relevant data security regulations. Recent years have seen governments take action to enforce stricter rules in response to an epidemic of data thefts. Virtual Private Networks can be part of compliance strategies from credit card processing to managing health care portfolios.
These are strong reasons to set up a VPN for your business. But it’s also important to note that not all VPNs are equal. Some offer exceptional security for businesses. Others make unjustified claims. So let’s run through the core factors to consider when setting up a VPN that won’t let you down.
Which features to consider when choosing a VPN
There are three main varieties of VPN configuration, and each one has its role to play in business security:
Fixed VPNs – Fixed IP addresses tend to cover connections that remain constant. ISPs often provide them as part of off-the-shelf corporate internet connections. They are the least flexible type but are simple to use when installed.
Router VPNs – Integrated VPNs within router infrastructure or servers - a more flexible solution and one that works well when technicians need to maintain a changing network layout.
VPN services – VPNs are provided as a cloud-based service completely separate from your business infrastructure. Services create tunnels, encrypt traffic, and randomize IP addresses.
Third-party VPN providers are becoming viable options for small businesses that want to keep costs low. They often provide affordable deals, but relatively few offer services tailored to businesses. So what should you look for when picking a VPN to lock down your data?
Key factors to consider when choosing a business VPN
Specialization – Check the VPN provider to see whether they have bespoke business packages. Many VPNs claim to serve businesses while making few changes to their consumer VPN products.
Centralized billing – Good business VPNs make billing easy. You may need to manage multiple user connections, and your needs may change over time. Choose a provider with transparent, centralized payment systems and in-depth account management features.
Control – Business VPNs should put managers in control of how network users interact with resources. Look for filters to limit social media use and streaming alongside time management tools to help colleagues work smarter.
Flexibility – Pick a VPN that allows network managers to add new users to groups, toggle user privileges, and scale up protection. You can instantly cover contractors or freelancers without time-consuming onboarding or relying on independent security solutions.
Malware protection – This is crucial. All high-quality VPNs for business should include features to detect, report, and neutralize malware threats. The multiple defenses offered by VPN combine with anti-malware tools to provide formidable network security.
Zero logs – Rogue VPNs are notorious for logging customer data, but the best providers keep logging to the absolute legal minimum. However, businesses may desire the ability to log network activity. Choose a provider that mixes zero external logs and the ability to monitor your systems.
Encryption keys – Some business VPNs allow companies to manage encryption keys, giving them peace of mind and control over how data is protected—essential when setting up a VPN.
Customer support – A strong VPN knows that help is essential and will assist at every stage. Expect attentive customer service teams, multi-lingual support, 24/7 access, and rapid responses. Be sure to test customer service quality before buying any products.
Speed and location – VPN server location can determine your connection speed. Check out VPN speed benchmarks and browse server locations to find partners with plenty of capacity in your region. If your workforce travels worldwide, it may be helpful to pick a VPN with servers on every continent. That way, you can minimize latency and ensure solid cybersecurity while benefiting from remote work.
Track record – VPNs come and go, just like any other digital company. However, the best providers tend to have staying power. Check the history of potential VPNs and find a provider with a proven track record.
That may seem like many variables, but VPN websites cover most of these issues. If any information is lacking or providers are unclear about privacy and the identity of their owners, put them on the discard pile. A simple tick box exercise will quickly isolate providers who offer your business the best fit.
How to setup VPN for small business environments
There are several vital things to think about when configuring VPNs for business. The process varies from company to company, but these factors tend to apply whatever the situation:
Think about your security requirements
When you set up a VPN, start sketching out your security needs. How many devices need to be covered by VPN encryption? Is remote working a significant consideration? What kind of connection speeds are tolerable? All VPNs will entail some loss of speed, and you may want to compromise here if they include other useful features.
Bring time into the picture here as well. Do you intend to expand your operations in the future? Will you need a secure connection for different workplaces, armies of remote workers, or partners located worldwide? All of this feeds into the procurement process.
Choose the right VPN
As we’ve seen, there’s a lot of variability between Virtual Private Network providers, and not all business VPNs will suit your business. Find a third-party provider with a strong reputation, good support, products that fit your workforce, and prices that match your budget.
Operating systems are also an important consideration. Most popular business VPNs offer Windows clients, but fewer are capable of serving Linux users. Apple OS is widely covered, but a few providers are Windows only. Don’t get caught out.
Choose a payment package when you find a provider that satisfies your requirements. Many VPNs offer free trials with full functionality (although sometimes core features are limited). So you may be able to try various options before making any financial commitments.
Prepare your networks
Before adding VPN protection to any business environment, creating conditions that avoid device or software conflicts is essential. A first step is to remove any legacy VPNs from office and remote working systems. Older VPNs can continue to operate in the background, so carry out a deep clean to root them out.
Check router compatibility as well. Most business routers can handle third-party VPN usage. Still, it may be necessary to opt for router-installed VPNs in some cases - especially in contexts where remote working is relatively rare. A router VPN could be ideal if multiple employees share the same physical workspace.
Install VPN software
The next stage is installing the VPN software when you have prepped your network in the form of a central VPN management tool and independent clients for every connected device.
Head to the website of your preferred VPN and pick the right operating system. Click the download link, and the process should unfold automatically. There may also be VPN software for mobile devices. Inform remote workers that they must install these clients if they intend to connect to central resources via their tablets or phones.
Choose security parameters that suit your network infrastructure when installing the client and management tools. Now, fire up the VPN client and create a test connection. Choose a server, connect, and access business resources as usual.
Establishing the connection should take seconds, and connection speeds should almost match performance without a VPN. If you don’t have access to centralized network monitoring tools, you can test speeds reliably via apps like Speedtest.
Additionally, check that the VPN server is anonymizing your IP address successfully. Again, tools like NordVPN’s IP Address Checker are available to help. Your address should reflect the VPN server, not your work address. If you see your original location, it’s time to contact support.
Don’t be afraid to contact your VPN’s support team. If they specialize in business users, they should be ready to onboard companies quickly. Most providers also maintain extensive documentation centers with FAQs for new users.
Toggle VPN protocols
At this stage, you will also have the ability to fine-tune your connection via specific VPN protocols. Protocols apply encryption standards to data transmitted via VPN tunnels, and they come in varying forms.
Avoid older VPN protocols like PPTP or L2TP/IPSec on speed and security grounds. However, OpenVPN, SSTP, IKEv2/IPSec, and WireGuard all have their uses.
OpenVPN is a reliable and fast tunneling protocol, offering maximum flexibility thanks to its open-source architecture.
SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) works by protecting networks based on Windows operating systems.
IKEv2/IPSec is the preferred tunneling protocol for mobile device users. It’s a solid option when switching between cellphone networks and business Wi-Fi and will be helpful for remote working.
WireGuard is one of the newest VPN protocols, and cutting-edge providers like NordLayer use it to secure their services. It’s fast, secure, and simple – meaning that it’s rapidly becoming the new standard.
Try various VPN protocols before expanding coverage across your entire network. You may find that some protocols boost speed reliably, while others are fast but intermittent. If connections regularly drop, change protocol or contact your VPN provider to find a stable configuration.
After that, the setup should be complete. Start sharing download links with employees, setting up workgroups, and monitoring VPN traffic.
When to use VPN?
Business VPNs have concrete real-world uses that make them more than an optional add-on. If you confront any of these challenges, adding a VPN makes perfect sense:
Data theft prevention
VPN encryption can conceal sensitive client and corporate data as it passes over your network and into the wider internet. It’s the first line of defense when denying hackers access to customer records and an intelligent move when data thefts are rising.
Many businesses also provide public Wi-Fi network connectivity to customers. Those customers don’t want to find that their connection is compromised. A VPN can shield customers while they work and play.
Much of the work we do online is private. Whether planning new projects, discussing HR issues, or carrying out market research, a VPN will ensure anonymity and prevent corporate espionage or snooping from criminals.
While VPN technology can’t do much about phishing, it can prevent man-in-the-middle attacks which often lead to network infiltration.
Secure remote access
Business VPNs are essential to facilitating safe remote work. Give employees the freedom to work from home, meet compliance goals, and essential lockdown data at every stage.
Work with NordLayer to implement a business VPN
If any of the above situations applies to your business, it’s time to set up a VPN for business. When doing so, it’s vital to work with experts who can provide tailored advice and supply the tools required to implement a watertight VPN.
NordLayer can do that and more. Our suite of business security services includes WireGuard-based internet protocol security. Combine this with identity and access management portals, multi-factor authentication, and network segmentation systems to create fully-secured networks that are virtually impregnable.
Get in touch with our team and discuss your options. Whether you sell real estate, manage healthcare, or manage logistics, we can devise solutions to make your business safer.