How to provide secure remote access to your network with a VPN

Work is rarely confined to the four walls of an office, which adds the challenge of giving workers remote access to key business systems when they’re out and about or working from home. By far the most secure way to go is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A VPN is a connection that creates a secure ‘tunnel’ from any internet connection into your business. As all traffic is encrypted, it remains secure, so that your colleagues can access the internal network as securely as if they were physically sat at their desk.

The beauty of a VPN is that you no longer need to worry about the security of your internet connection – even when connecting via an unencrypted, open Wi-Fi hotspot, data inside the VPN ‘tunnel’ remains off-limits.

You have two options when it comes to VPN: pay for a third-party service to encrypt the connection for you, or you can host your own VPN server. It’s possible to install VPN servers on computers within your network or similar devices, but a more elegant and cost-effective solution is to source a business Wi-Fi router that offers an onboard VPN server, such as the Asus BRT-AC828 wireless router.

How it works

When you connect your device to a VPN server, the server sets up an encrypted tunnel, inside which all data is encrypted to make it virtually impenetrable to the outside world. This connection isn’t automatic: first, you need to set up the server – on an Asus router you log into the configuration page, select VPN under Advanced Settings and switch to the VPN Server tab.

You’ll see several choices: both PPTP and IPsec options are free, because your router acts as the server, but there are security concerns over PPTP. If you go down the IPsec route, simply create the server on the router, set up your security criteria (such as a group name and ‘secret’ or password) and then your clients connect through their OS – Asus provides detailed VPN instructions for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

Workers would then need to connect to the VPN when outside of the office network to access shared files and other resources.
A third option – OpenVPN – is seen as more secure than either PPTP or IPsec, but it utilises third-party VPN servers. You can connect up to two clients for free (“for testing purposes”), but additional devices cost around $15 per device per year. You’ll also need to install a third-party app (mobile and desktop are available) on each client to connect to your VPN.

Note that traffic is naturally slower on a VPN due to the additional overheads of encrypting and decrypting the network data, so if your internet connection isn’t that quick, and upgrading it isn’t practical, the OpenVPN option may be a better bet from a performance point of view too.

Whichever option you go for, adding a VPN to your business network is an essential step if you want to be able to connect securely from outside the office.

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