What to Look for in a VPN for Your Business
The combination of a growing remote workforce and a large pool of savvy hackers has left many small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) vulnerable to costly cyber attacks. In fact, Juniper Research projected that cybercrime cost businesses over $2 trillion in 2019. As a result, more SMBs are turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) to safeguard their company’s information. If you’ve been toying with the idea of using a VPN at your company, keep reading to learn what to look for in a VPN for your business.
In general, business VPNs should protect every employee who’s accessing your network from surveillance and data breaches. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that there’s no one-size-fits-all VPN for business. VPN solutions can differ in terms of their deployment options, price points, and additional functionality. So in order to find the right VPN for your business, it’s important to do your homework and weigh your options carefully.
Do I Need a VPN for My Business?
Everyone on the internet can benefit from using a VPN, but this technology is especially valuable for businesses. In fact, there are three common reasons why businesses adopt VPNs:
- Data Security: In the short term, a data breach can cost you a fortune in legal settlements, attorney fees, and regulatory fines. In the long term, the damage to your reputation may be enough to put you out of business for good. VPNs use privacy techniques such as encryption and tunneling to ensure that your data is kept secure, so you’ll be able to avoid the serious consequences of a data breach.
- Remote Access: A VPN even allows you to establish secure connections over public Wi-Fi. Employees can work on their assignments in a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or wherever else they can find an open network without any risk of compromising sensitive information.
- Geographical Restrictions: Some regions have internet restrictions that can make it difficult for traveling employees or employees based in another country to access the resources they need to do their jobs. With a VPN, it’s easy to bypass such restrictions.
Considering these benefits, it’s no surprise that VPNs have become quite popular in recent years. The global VPN market was worth $16 billion in 2016, and it’s expected to reach $36 billion by 2022.
Personal VPN vs. Business VPN: What’s the Difference?
Some VPNs are designed for personal use, while others are built for the more demanding needs of businesses. The most significant differences between these two types of VPNs include:
- Security features: You can expect business VPNs to offer stronger encryption, more advanced equipment, and better security in general than personal VPNs.
- Number of users supported: Many personal VPNs will limit your account to a certain number of active users. While this might not be an issue for solo entrepreneurs or particularly small businesses, any organization with more than a handful of employees may have no choice but to upgrade to a business VPN.
- Administrative capabilities: Most business VPNs have a feature for controlling the connections of all your users from a single dashboard, which saves you from the inconvenience of needing to adjust these settings on each individual device.
- Server reliability: Personal VPNs usually connect thousands of their customers to each of their servers, and all this traffic concentrated on the same piece of hardware can result in slow speeds and outages. But with most business VPNs, a server will be reserved exclusively for your users, which leads to faster and more reliable performance.
- Pricing: Given that business VPNs offer stronger security, better performance, and extra features, it’s no surprise that they tend to cost more than personal VPNs.
3 Types of VPNs for Business
Suppliers package their services in different ways. Three popular options are fixed VPNs, specialized VPNs, and VPN services.
A fixed VPN establishes a connection directly through your internet service provider (ISP). One common use for this type of VPN is linking branch offices to a main office in order to create a secure corporate network.
Specialized VPNs involve a server or router that has VPN equipment built into it. This equipment must be configured and maintained by the customer, so it’s usually only an option for companies that have their own IT departments.
Instead of going through your ISP or using your own equipment, VPN services allow you to connect your devices to another provider’s cloud-based VPN servers. This saves you from the trouble of maintaining VPN equipment yourself, and this option is more affordable than specialized VPNs as well. One drawback, though, is that they often don’t have all the advanced security features that you can get with an in-house solution.
Business VPN Features to Consider
VPNs are complex solutions that offer a wide range of features, including logging, tracking, security, server coverage, central management, and customer service.
Each business is unique, so you need to decide which functions are most important for your organization. Then you must complete your due diligence and determine whether each vendor you’re considering offers these features..
A log is a record of the incoming and outgoing connections to a VPN server, which may include the user’s IP address, the VPN server’s IP address, and timestamps for when the user connects and disconnects from the server.
For privacy reasons, most users don’t want their VPN provider to keep a log of this activity. On the other hand, some users may need this information to satisfy compliance or auditing requirements.
Some VPN providers are able to offer low prices because they also generate revenue by tracking user activity and selling this information. Unless you don’t mind your company data being shared with unknown third parties, you may need to ignore your cheapest options to find a provider with stronger privacy protections.
If you don’t set up your own VPN equipment, then you should choose a VPN provider that has servers located near all the places where you regularly do business. Physical distance plays a big role in service speed — the farther you are from one of your provider’s servers, the slower your connection will be.
Depending on the size of your business, there may be hundreds or even thousands of devices connected to your VPN. And as your business scales up and down over time, you will likely find yourself adding new devices and removing old ones often.
With a centralized control panel that allows you to manage your connections from a single point of administration, you’ll be able to operate your network much more efficiently and securely.
When it comes to security, not all VPN providers are equal. Look for features such as military-grade encryption, two-factor authentication, and a kill switch that automatically cuts off internet access whenever the VPN connection is lost.
In addition to controlling who has access to your network, you can also use your VPN to control what users have access to on your network. For example, you may want to block employees from going to productivity-wasting sites or sites that are known to contain malware. Also, many VPN services offer activity alerts and reports that will provide you with more insight into employee behavior.
Customer support is an especially important factor to consider when choosing a VPN service. Whenever there’s a serious issue with your connection, your business’s productivity will take a hit until it’s fixed.
Ideally, your provider will offer 24/7 phone support, or at least 24/7 live chat support. This may require you to upgrade to a more expensive plan, though — if your team rarely works at night or on weekends, it might make sense for you to sacrifice some support availability in order to save money.
How to Choose the Best VPN for Your Business
Finally, in addition to the features listed above, you should consider the other clients that a VPN provider has and how long they’ve been in business.
All providers claim to have exceptionally strong security and powerful performance, but you can’t trust providers to give you an unbiased assessment of their service. Instead of taking them at their word, see if they’ve been able to attract big-name clients or stay in business for longer than most of their competitors — these signs indicate that they just might be as good as they say in their advertising copy.
There are many VPN guides available that will help you compare the top providers against each other. Just remember, the right VPN is not necessarily the most popular or least expensive option, but rather the one that best matches up to your particular business needs.