IN the business environment, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have remained a bit in the low-key compared to other enterprise technologies that have been growing in popularity of late. Over the past couple of years, however, VPNs have gotten quite the following in Internet privacy and peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing circles.
Recently though, Netflix started cracking down harder on VPNs, which some customers use to get around country restrictions. It’s understandable – Netflix employs geo-restrictions due to licensing concerns in some countries. One way users from other countries enjoy the entire Netflix library is by connecting through VPNs, but Netflix doesn’t want any of that.
Now, the tendency when a large company appears to be at odds with a particular technology is that it increases that technology’s (in this case, VPN’s) notoriety – so much so that many may overlook that VPNs are quite the powerful and valuable technology that even businesses should care to revisit and reconsider.
What are VPNs?
VPNs are networks that enable private connections to servers and computers through the Internet. In the case of enterprises, VPNs allow employees to access office computers and servers from outside the physical office location. VPNs can also provide security through tunneling or transmitting data to the Internet as if the data is still within the networks. Data sent through VPNs can be encrypted for added security.
Why the seedy reputation?
In the case of Netflix, VPNs can help circumvent geo-restrictions by allowing a computer in Asia that is connected to a VPN in the U.S. to access US Netflix servers. Since the connection appears to originate from the US, Netflix’s geo-restriction won’t kick in.
Some VPN services even allow subscribers to select which country they would like their connection appear to be, which enables users to access various region-exclusive content. Netflix hasn’t been exactly happy about this since they have to pay content creators licensing fees on a regional basis. Hence, their crackdown on VPNs.
Since VPNs essentially allows users to hide their origin and encrypt the traffic passing through, users can remain anonymous. Some ISPs have curbed piracy by determining the type of traffic passing through their network and users looking at copyrighted content receive alerts warning them of possible legal action. With VPNs, users are able to hide the type of traffic they were actually getting.
Use in businesses
The problem with the growing reputation of VPNs as a tool for abuse is that many of the legitimate uses and benefits are now overshadowed. Less tech-savvy decision makers in a business organization might have some reservations approving and implementing VPNs to be part of their infrastructure. Yet, if put to good use, the same features that allow Netflix moochers and P2P pirates to thrive can actually empower businesses.
One of the key uses of VPNs is remote access. This increases the viability of telecommuting options, since staff can safely access the work network. In cities like Manila, where traffic is bane to productivity, telecommuting can be a godsend.
If the business depends on sending and receiving sensitive information, it can definitely benefit from encrypted data transmission using tunnelled connections. If travel is core to the business, and staff’s connectivity is critical, VPNs can be used to remotely access the company’s systems even if they are connected through possibly unsecure Internet connections like public hotspots.
— VyprVPN (@VyprVPN) October 14, 2016
This can be particularly useful especially in many Asian countries where such hotspots are vulnerable to scraping attacks.
With the growth of geolocation, software developers – especially those with international releases or clients – can rely on VPNs to be able to test how their apps work by simulating users’ locations and connection origin.
The Bottom Line
Some critics would point out that cloud services have rendered the need for VPNs as moot.
Collaboration tools have essentially allowed remote work to be secure and accessible, even without having to use a company’s own network. While that is true, VPNs should be seen not as a substitute but as a complement – a part of the infrastructure with its own purpose.
Despite the sometimes-negative reputation VPNs get, enterprises should recognize the value of a technology and the benefits it provides. Partly because of its appeal to the media streaming crowd, VPN services have grown to be very affordable. Subscribing to one can be a very cheap yet useful investment.