Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Article (PSA-0009)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Owner
Company: PSA Computer Services
Titled: Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Original release date: July 17, 2018

Introduction to Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN provides a secure way of connecting to a remote network over a public network (the Internet). This remote network is typically a private network, such as your workplace or home network. A “tunnel” is created through the public network to your private network at the other end. All network traffic through this tunnel is encrypted to ensure it is kept secure and private.

What can you do with VPN?

With a VPN you are able to do a number of things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with a standard network connection. For example:

  • Network Security & Privacy: All network traffic through your VPN connection is encrypted and therefore secure. This allows you to use public networks (motels, coffee shops, etc.) knowing your network traffic is safe and secure. Without VPN it is relatively easy for other people to view your network traffic, see what you are doing online, and possibly steal your information and login details.
  • Access Your Workplace/Home Remotely: You can connect to your workplace/home VPN and have access as if you were physically in the office/house. You can then do things like access file servers, computers, databases, email, internal webpages, and other services you might not have access to outside of your work network.
  • Access Restricted Content: By connecting to a VPN server in another location you can make it appear to websites, using geolocation, that you are physically in the correct location for access. So when you’re travelling overseas you can still view websites you would normally use at home, such as television, movie and music streaming websites.
  • Avoid Censorship: VPN allows you to bypass censorship and access websites and services which may otherwise be blocked. Some countries impose censorship on Internet access while in that country, and a VPN provides a way to still maintain access to the services you would normally use.
    How does VPN work?

    A typical VPN consists of two components: a VPN client and a VPN server.

    A VPN client is software that allows you to connect your computer to a VPN server and establish a VPN connection. It is installed on your computer and communicates with the VPN server to create a secure link for your network traffic. The VPN Client is what you use to control the VPN connection. A VPN server is setup at the location you want to connect to, such as at a workplace or at home. A VPN server performs authentication to ensure only registered users can connect to the VPN.

    All network traffic through the tunnel created between the VPN client and the VPN server is encrypted to keep it private and secure.

    Should you use VPN?

    Even if you have no need to be able to access a private network remotely, a VPN is vital to ensure the security and privacy of your network traffic.

    Public networks, and in particular public wireless networks, provide an easy way for hackers and malicious users to listen in (“sniff”) on your network usage. This may allow them to see what web pages you are viewing, steal username and passwords, steal session information to be able to log into sites as you, and extract other private data. In addition, skilled hackers may perform a “man in the middle” attack. This allows them to not only monitor in depth your network traffic, but also alter your traffic or inject their own traffic in an attempt to fool a user into revealing important data.

    Using a VPN protects you from such attacks.

    If you are thinking about utilizing VPN services, I would encourage you to contact your IT guy (or gal) for their input. “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors”.

    What Is A Firewall?

    Article (PSA-0006)
    Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Member/Manager
    Company: Problem Solving Applications, LLC
    Titled: What Is A Firewall?
    Original release date: October 15, 2017

    What Is A Firewall?

    The word firewall was borrowed from firefighting and fire prevention, where the word was used to indicate a barrier used to prevent the spread of fire. In network and computer security the “firewall” serves a similar purpose by providing a barrier between “trusted” and “untrusted” networks. A “trusted” network can be described as a controlled internal network, such as your home or business network. An “untrusted” network is an outside network which you do not control, such as the Internet.

    A firewall can be hardware, software, or both.

    How Does A Firewall Work?

    A firewall monitors incoming and outgoing traffic and allows or blocks specific traffic based on a defined set of security rules. A firewall is used to help screen out hackers, viruses, and worms that try to reach your computer over the Internet.

    At their most basic, firewalls work as a filter between your network and the Internet. You can configure your firewall so it knows what you want to allow in and what you want to allow out. Everything else is blocked.

    There are several different methods firewalls use to filter out information, and some are used in combination. These methods work at different layers of a network, which determines how specific the filtering options can be.

    Firewalls use one or more of three methods to control traffic flowing in and out of a network:

    1. Packet filtering – Packets (small chunks of data) are analyzed against a set of filters. Packets that make it through the filters are sent to the requesting system and all others are discarded.
    2. Proxy service – Information from the Internet is retrieved by the firewall and then sent to the requesting system and vice versa.
    3. Stateful inspection – A newer method that doesn’t examine the contents of each packet but instead compares certain key parts of the packet to a database of trusted information. Information traveling from inside the firewall to the outside is monitored for specific defining characteristics, then incoming information is compared to these characteristics. If the comparison yields a reasonable match, the information is allowed through. Otherwise it is discarded.

    Do I Need A Firewall?

    Yes. If you are using a computer and connecting to the internet with it, then you should have an active, up-to-date, firewall. If you are using a Microsoft Operating System you have a firewall already. It is called “Windows Firewall”, and can be configured to protect your computer. In most instances, the modem/gateway/router provided by your Internet Service Provider also functions as a hardware firewall, and can be configured by utilizing the provided web access interface.

    If you are unsure if you have a firewall, or whether it is configured correctly – give us a call to set up an appointment to have a technician come out and make sure you do!