Remote Access VPNs for Enterprise Networks

published
June 24, 2024
TABLE OF CONTENTS

A remote access VPN establishes a secure, private tunnel between your device and your company's network. It bridges the gap between working on-site and working remotely, allowing your employees to securely join your company's private network from anywhere.

Essentially, a remote access VPN provides employees working remotely the same level of network access and security they would have if they were physically present within your company’s walls.

How a remote access VPN works

When you connect through a remote access VPN, your internet traffic gets encrypted. It's like sending your data through a secret code that only your network can understand. 

So, even if you're using public Wi-Fi, hackers can't easily intercept your information. This is especially handy when you are on a business trip and need to securely access sensitive documents.

For example, if you're a sales rep needing to pull up the latest client information from your internal CRM system, the VPN makes it feel like you're sitting right in your office. Or say, an engineer working remotely needs to access design files stored on your secure servers; the VPN allows this seamlessly and securely.

Why remote access VPNs are essential for enterprise networks

Enables secure communication

Remote access VPNs create a safe link between a user's device and the enterprise network. This link is an encrypted tunnel that ensures that any data passing through it remains protected from prying eyes. 

‍Encryption protocols like SSL/TLS are used to establish the VPN connection that makes the data exchanged between your device and the company network unreadable to anyone who tries to intercept it. The content you transmit over the public network remains confidential during its journey.

If you're working from your favorite coffee shop, it would normally be risky to access sensitive information because public Wi-Fi networks are notorious for being insecure. But with a VPN, your internet traffic is encrypted. 

Even if hackers manage to intercept your data, they won't be able to read it. It's like trying to listen to a conversation that's happening inside a soundproof room - you just can't hear anything.

When you connect to the company's VPN, your device gets an IP address from the enterprise network. This means you can access internal resources like file servers, printers, and intranet sites securely, even though you're miles away.

Additionally, remote access VPNs use robust authentication methods to ensure that only authorized users can connect. It's not just about entering a username and password. You might also implement multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires users to verify their identity with a second device, like their smartphone. 

So, even if someone gets hold of your login credentials, they still can't access the network without that second factor.

Enables remote work

Remote access VPNs let employees securely connect to the company's internal network from anywhere in the world. Anyone working from home, a coffee shop, or even another country, can access files, applications, and other resources just like they would in the office. Employees can perform their duties efficiently and securely, regardless of their physical location.

A project manager who needs to review documents stored on the company's internal server can log in securely and get the information they need without worrying about unauthorized access. This is possible because the VPN encrypts the data transmission, ensuring privacy and security.

Remote access VPNs also enable software developers who often require access to development servers and environments to continue their work without interruption, pushing updates and fixing bugs from anywhere.

Reduces network expansion costs

Implementing a VPN saves companies a significant amount of money on physical infrastructure. Instead of leasing additional office space or purchasing new servers, you can use your existing resources more efficiently. 

For instance, you don't need to outfit a whole new office for every new team you hire. Instead, remote workers can securely access the company's network from anywhere they have an internet connection.

Remote access VPNs also drastically reduce the need for travel. Take sales teams, for example. They can access all necessary documents and systems remotely. This removes the need to fly back to headquarters for briefings or data access, which all translates to lower travel costs and more time spent on actual work.

Software and hardware costs are also lower when you add a remote access VPN to your networking tech stack. Traditional on-premises solutions often require expensive, high-maintenance hardware and software licenses. 

With VPNs, you can often utilize existing hardware and open-source software, reducing the need for expensive upgrades. You save on both initial capital expenditures and ongoing maintenance costs.

Also, consider the savings on IT support costs. VPN solutions typically come with vendor support and regular updates, making them much more manageable. This reduces the burden on in-house IT staff. Automated updates mean less downtime and fewer resources spent on manual updates.

Boosts employee productivity

Remote access VPNs eliminate the friction of commuting and allow for more flexible work hours, which boosts employee productivity. Employees can work from a coffee shop, at home, or even while traveling. 

This flexibility can lead to increased job satisfaction and higher retention rates. Happy employees are generally more productive, which is a win-win for everyone.

Allows businesses to scale more efficiently

In a growing enterprise, it's vital to ensure that your VPN solution scales efficiently. Remote access VPNs can handle an increasing number of users without a hitch. Modern VPNs can keep up with the demands of a growing network without compromising performance or security.

One of the key factors in scalability is the VPN server capacity. Your VPN servers should be robust enough to handle multiple simultaneous connections. 

For instance, if you currently have a server that supports 100 users, and your user base is projected to grow to 500, you need a server setup that can scale accordingly. This might mean investing in more powerful servers or using cloud-based VPN services that can dynamically adjust resources based on real-time demand.

What to consider when choosing a remote access VPN solution

Cost

It's essential to compare the total cost of ownership, including licenses and operational costs, to ensure the remote access VPN solution fits within your budget. For example, you might prefer a solution with a lower upfront cost but higher operational expenses if it offers better scalability.

Vendor track record

Research potential vendors thoroughly, examining their track record, level of support, and reputation within the industry. Consider vendors with strong customer reviews and robust support services.

Check for compliance with industry regulations and requirements

It's crucial to avoid legal issues that could arise from non-compliance. If you work in finance, you will need a VPN solution that aligns with regulatory standards like GDPR or CCPA.

Prioritise user experience

You want a solution that guarantees seamless, user-friendly remote access. A solution that offers a smooth and intuitive interface can significantly improve your team's productivity.

Assess the implementation process

The remote access VPN solution you choose must integrate well with your existing infrastructure to minimize disruptions during deployment. If your organization uses a mix of cloud and on-premises systems, look for a VPN that supports hybrid environments seamlessly.

Bandwidth

As more users connect to the VPN, the bandwidth requirements will increase. Ensure that your VPN and network infrastructure can support the higher data throughput. 

Software and hardware upgrades

Technology is constantly evolving. Therefore, your VPN infrastructure should be adaptable. Choosing VPN software that supports new security protocols and hardware improvements is essential. 

Considering all these factors will help you find a secure remote access solution that meets your current needs and prepares you for future growth and security challenges.

Evolution of remote access VPN technologies and WireGuard

Initially, we all relied heavily on PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol). It was popular in the late '90s and early 2000s due to its simplicity and integration with Windows. But it didn't take long for security vulnerabilities to emerge, making it less favorable.

Then came L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol), often used with IPSec (Internet Protocol Security). This combination provided better security, encrypting data, and ensuring integrity. However, it was sometimes sluggish and challenging to configure and troubleshoot

OpenVPN entered the scene as a versatile and more secure option. Unlike its predecessors, OpenVPN is open-source, which means anyone can review and improve its code. This transparency has built a strong community around it. However, it requires client software and can be complex to set up for those new to VPNs.

More recently, SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) became a go-to for many Windows environments. SSTP uses SSL/TLS to establish a secure connection, making it a strong choice when dealing with restrictive firewalls. But like PPTP and L2TP, it’s more tightly coupled with Windows, which limits its cross-platform appeal.

WireGuard solves many of the challenges network administrators faced with the older VPN protocols. It is a modern VPN protocol that's designed to be simple, fast, and secure. 

Created by Jason A. Donenfeld, Wire Guard is relatively new but has quickly gained recognition and adoption. Unlike its predecessors, WireGuard boasts a lean codebase of around 4,000 lines. For comparison, OpenVPN’s codebase is tens of thousands of lines long. This compactness makes WireGuard easier to audit and reduces the attack surface.

WireGuard's performance is another big win. It leverages state-of-the-art cryptography and operates at the kernel level, ensuring low latency and high throughput. For example, users often experience noticeably faster connection speeds with WireGuard, even when connecting to distant servers.

Another appealing aspect is its simplicity and ease of configuration. Unlike the complex setup we had with IPSec, WireGuard configurations are straightforward. You define the peers (clients and servers) and their respective public keys, and you’re pretty much set. This ease of setup means fewer headaches and faster deployments.

In a relatively short span, WireGuard has been integrated into major operating systems like Linux, where it’s now part of the kernel, and is available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. 

Enterprises are increasingly adopting WireGuard for these reasons. It’s reshaping how we think about remote access VPNs, offering a blend of security, speed, and simplicity that’s tough to beat.

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