Virtual Private Networks
In the past, I've written about anonymizer services that effectively act as a buffer between your computer and the rest of the Internet, concealing your IP address so that Web sites, email servers, and other things with which you interact cannot identify you. That is one way to protect your privacy online, but it is incomplete. With a virtual private network, your online security is greatly enhanced...
What is a VPN?
The information you send and receive is still vulnerable if only your location is concealed. It's possible to "eavesdrop" on the unencrypted data that flows through major Internet pipelines, identifying small packets of data that belong to a larger stream and assembling them into something coherent - such as your bank account login data and transactions. Most financial websites today use the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to encrypt traffic between them and their customers so it cannot be read if it's intercepted. But you may want such protection for all of your online destinations and interactions.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a privacy solution long used by businesses, government agencies, and other large entities. A VPN is a group of computers joined in a network by encrypted Internet connections called "tunnels". To become a member of a VPN, you must use specialized software to connect to the Internet and receive credentials from the VPN's administrator.
A VPN is called "virtual" to distinguish it from a hardwired network in which only computers physically connected to each other by cables can communicate. The tunnels that connect VPN clients are streams of data traveling on the Internet right alongside other people's data. All that makes the VPN data private is the encryption of it.
Windows 7 has VPN client software built into it. If your organization has a VPN gateway server, you can establish a secure VPN connection to it with these steps:
- Open Control Panel-> All Control Panel Items->Network and Sharing Center. Click on "Set up a New Connection or network link."
- Click on "Connect to a workplace."
- Type in the IP address of the device to which you want to connect, and a name for it. This would be the VPN gateway server whose IP address you were given by the VPN administrator.
- Enter the username and password you were given.
You can now access other resources on the VPN. The catch, of course, is that you need a VPN gateway. These are sold by network gear providers such as Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, etc.
VPN Software and Services
A VPN is useful for accessing your workplace from home, as discussed above, but you can also use a VPN to securely access your home computer while travelling or using public wifi in a coffeeshop. Here are some free and low-cost offerings to create your own VPN gateway:
Monthly rental of a VPN connection is offered by Invisible Browsing VPN. After installing the company's client software, you can create a private VPN connection to its Internet proxy server. Then your Internet activity is anonymized and encrypted. This service starts at $4.95 per month.
Astaro Essential Firewall is free security software that includes VPN gateway functionality. It comes in a business version and a home use version. The home version is limited to 50 users while the business version supports unlimited users.
You might also consider using the free version of Hamachi, or a remote desktop application like Logmein or CrossLoop. Get the scoop on these and others in my companion article Free Alternatives to GoToMyPC.
Got something to say about virtual private networks? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Jun 2010
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- Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Article information: AskBobRankin -- Virtual Private Networks (Posted: 17 Jun 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved