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Saturday, August 8, 2009

VPN (virtual private network)

A VPN (virtual private network) allows a host (your computer) to communicate over an untrusted network (the Internet) in a secure environment (the VPN). Consider a tunnel that runs through a mountain. The tunnel is pretty safe, but anyone can use it. However, we want a private road that no one else can use. So, we build another tunnel inside the existing tunnel, taking up one of the lanes on the existing tunnel highway (a tunnel inside of a tunnel). The extra tunnel can be likened to a VPN.

Of course, VPNs are done using math and electricity, not cement and roads. For example, Microsoft provides a free VPN client for all of its Windows operating systems. Your network admin could install it on your computer. Then, that same administrator enables VPN capability on the network she manages so that when you remotely connect to the network, you must use a VPN client to connect to the network.

Cisco, and other vendors, sell VPN clients. Cisco’s is not free. They charge over $5,000 for each VPN client you want to install! Yikes. Many people pay the fee though, because Cisco’s product offers robust security.

You use the VPN client your network admin installed on your system by first clicking its icon to start it. After that, you get on the Internet and connect to your company’s IP address (the IP address you have to use to connect to the network). Next, log in to the network while you are safely tucked inside your VPN connection. No one on the Internet can touch your traffic when you’re working inside a VPN. A hacker might see your traffic, but it can’t be understood.

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