While virtual private networks (VPNs) all have at their core the ability to connect remote workers to the corporate network, not all of them are created equal.
“VPNs differ vastly in terms of security capabilities, customisability, scalability and robustness. Companies should be aware that they are not comparing apples with apples when evaluating the VPN offerings of different providers.
“Often, companies are forced to work around what their chosen VPN technology can do for them when the VPN should be made to work around their needs. Customisability is perhaps one of the most prominent areas in which VPNs differ,” says Dries Morris, operations director at Securicom, a specialist provider of managed IT security services.
“A VPN should not force people to change the way in which they work. Remotely-based employees and contractors should be able to access files and resources in the same way that they would if they were directly connected to the network.
"If the experience is degraded or complicated, chances are they won’t use it and it will be difficult for companies to achieve their ambitions for worker mobility and remote access. The system should therefore have the ability to be moulded around a business’s specific needs,” continues Morris.
There are inherent risks associated with allowing remote users to access internal company networks and e-mail via the Internet. And so, with cyber crime an ever-present and ever-growing threat, Morris says security should be the top VPN priority. This is another area where some VPNs don’t hit the spot.
“Obviously, it is important from a security standpoint to control who is able to access the VPN. The VPN should therefore allow for the enforcement of strict authentication protocols. At the same time, it needs to be flexible because companies typically want to allow various levels of users to access the network remotely, and because users might use more than one device to connect to the VPN.
“So, the solution should allow the company to control user access based on their profiles, as well as ensure security compliance on an array of unmanaged endpoints. Once again, this links back to a need for a high degree of customisability and flexibility.
“With our VPN solution for instance, companies are able to create user groups and profiles to control the level of access users have to company files and data via the VPN in the same way that they would be able to manage their access if they were actually on the network.
“The solution also allows users to use any Internet-enabled device to access the VPN, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone or iPad.
"They also have the freedom to use more than one device. To ensure that every connected device is fully patched and protected before entering the corporate network, our system scrutinises every single device, checking for installed software, enforcing system scans when necessary and updating anti-virus protection if it’s outdated.”
While security is an aspect that can be effectively ensured and controlled with the right technology, speed is one that no VPN provider can promise.
“Companies should view providers which promise speed with some degree of scepticism. There are too many external factors, bandwidth constraints being just one of them, which can cause VPNs to slow-up. No provider can guarantee speed,” cautions Morris.
According to Morris, Securicom has recently rebuilt and repackaged its VPN service, Securicom SSL VPN, to provide greater customisability and advanced security capabilities for managing the risks associated with granting remote access to company resources via the Internet.
The solution, which is offered as a fully-managed service, uses best-of-breed VPN technology at the back-end and includes expert consultancy upfront to ensure that it meets individual business’s access and security requirements.
It is a standalone solution that enables companies to give mobile workers and remote offices direct access to business applications, files and e-mails at any time, using any Internet-enabled device.
They simply logon to the network via a highly-secure, easy-to-use online interface using a standard Web browser. The Web interface (homepage) can be customised to suit the company’s individual requirements in terms of look-and-feel and functionality. From there, users can work on files in the same way they would if they were on the network.