A VPN is simply a network to which devices can connect securely in much the same way as they would to their local network. This is extremely useful for companies and organizations whose employees need to connect to their main server from abroad.
VPNs also have other uses for individuals who want to protect their privacy, as using a properly configured VPN provides an encrypted connection, making it extremely difficult for your ISP or anyone else to monitor your web content or know your true location.
Still, while you have plenty of options when choosing between the best VPNs, not all are made equal. If you’re running older VPN hardware or software, it may be time to upgrade and replace.
1. Too much trust
Traditional VPN’s work by authenticating users with a central server. They are then free to use whatever network resources they wish and run any applications. This level of trust means that anyone who connects to your VPN can usually access any files or programs on your network.
Bad actors could easily do this simply by compromising any one of the devices used to connect to your VPN server. This has become easier for hackers to do as more employees have started working from home and more offices have “BYOD” (bring your own device”) policies. Buying and distributing company devices for every person usually isn’t cost-effective.
Legacy VPNs have little support for “zero trust” network access models where a virtual ‘perimeter’ is set up around users who connect to a network, meaning they only have limited access to exactly what they need.
2. Slow speeds
Legacy VPNs can be slow. This isn’t surprising given that all internet traffic is being routed through a handful of servers - or even just one in some cases. This is particularly noticeable if you or your colleagues are using older hardware or network devices.
There’s no easy solution to this, given that it’s likely most VPN users will be accessing the network at certain times of day. Older VPN’s also may not support the latest network protocols. VPNs making use of IPSec tunnels, for instance, encrypt and authenticate each packet of data between the device and server which adds a huge CPU load.
Most business cloud services not only encrypt traffic but allow devices to access their servers directly rather than being routed through a virtual private network. This makes for much faster connection speeds. Many of these even offer a free VPN tier.
3. Setup woes
We’ve already discussed the huge post-covid surge in work from home employees. If each person needs to connect to a corporate VPN, especially using their home devices this means that they’ll need to download and set up specialist software.
Being outside the office also means that IT staff can’t simply sit at their desk and enter the VPN configuration for them. If set up incorrectly, the connection may fail or be compromised.
Compare and contrast this with the ease of simply providing someone with a web address and password to log in to a cloud-based service, it’s easy to see why a VPN may not be the best way forward.
4. Bandwidth overload
Most devices using VPNs are connected at all times, even though VPN’s were never originally designed for continuous use. If everyone connects to the VPN server each time they use their device, this will consume bandwidth. If employees are connecting from home they’re likely to use their device for personal reasons such as streaming online videos, which will place greater strain on your network.
You can reduce the chance of bandwidth overload by adding more VPN servers closer to where various users are located. Companies and organizations with multiple offices around the world sometimes set up additional gateways to create a site to site VPN to share resources (and network load) throughout the entire infrastructure.
The recent upsurge in VPN use has since many organizations struggling to catch up. While it’s possible to add more servers, set up site-to-site VPNs, switch to more efficient VPN protocols and enforce device policies to reduce network load, this is extremely costly and time consuming.
Most VPN server software also isn’t specifically designed for enterprise-grade security, meaning network admins will have to manually add specific network monitoring and security tools every time they add a new device to the network.
It’s not surprising therefore why many small- and medium-sized businesses are switching to using cloud-based apps, most of which offer different tiers depending on the size of their organization. Many cloud storage providers such as Dropbox offer a low-cost or free tier for basic use.
The legacy of VPNs
VPNs are almost as old as the internet themselves and definitely have their uses. However, they have been superseded by better solutions if you want to find ways to allow people to connect securely and collaborate on projects.
Choosing to continue to use a legacy VPN places your data at risk and could cause performance issues further down the line. Consider instead moving to cloud-based storage and applications, which are faster and handle authentication and security for you.
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Nate Drake is a tech journalist specializing in cybersecurity and retro tech. He broke out from his cubicle at Apple 6 years ago and now spends his days sipping Earl Grey tea & writing elegant copy.