What are virtual private networks?

A few weeks ago, Ranveer wrote a post about the different ways you can surf the net anonymously. In it he mentioned that you could surf using a VPN client. In this article I am going to explain what a VPN is.

A VPN (or virtual private network) is a secure network connection, which can be used to send files, browse the net and download material securely. As the transfer is protected by encryption, the data sent can’t be read if intercepted.

A padlock on an ethernet cableThere are three key parts of a VPN: a host computer which can send and receive data; the internet, which is used as a medium to transport/transmit the data; and a device which can connect to the network, in order to receive the data. The last part of the network (the receiver) isn’t essential, but without anything to view the data, what’s the point in sending it?

Put simply, a VPN allows two computers to talk, as though they were connected on a private network, when in fact they are connected via a public network – the internet.

The way VPNs work is by establishing virtual point-to-point connections, using encryption or dedicated connections. Unless you are an IT engineer, you probably don’t need to worry about how it works though, just know that it does!

VPNs are very useful for businesses, as it enables employees to access secure internal files, remotely, without a security risk, as the network connection is private.

There are many reasons why an organisation may choose to have a VPN. VNPs can reduce firms need to hire dedicated secure long-distance lines to transmit data, as they use the existing infrastructure in place which the internet uses.

VNPs also reduce the need for long-distance telephone calls, which can often be very costly, therefore reducing them could save a business a lot of money!

As a VPN is a way of privately and securely connecting, it therefore be used to access the internet anonymously. That links back to what Ranveer discussed in terms of browsing the net anonymously. The way a VPN works, the data you request from a website when browsing, would go through the VPN first, before it gets to you, therefore if you are in the UK and the VPN is in the US, the site would think you were in the US due to it being the VPN requesting the data. Make sense?

There are definitely benefits of having a VPN for businesses, and if secure data needs to be shared to remote locations, it is one of the safest. That said, if the host has an unreliable IP, then the entire network is affected. Furthermore, they can also be costly to set up, as you need expert knowledge to establish them, which is why many organisations choose to outsource them, offloading the costs onto a third party who’s core business is VPN, and can therefore offer the service cheaper.

Do you have access to a VPN as part of your work? I would be interested to know, so if you do feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Different ways of surfing anonymously

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Many of the file sharing websites like Mediafire, Megaupload, Rapidhshare and torrent websites like torrentz.eu, monova.org, fenopy.eu etc. are blocked now in India in order to stop piracy of software and movies. But music and video lovers are looking for alternate ways to access these blocked websites. There are many alternative and secure ways to access these blocked websites without using proxy.

Using VPN Client

One of the easiest options is to use free VPN (Virtual Private Networks) services which can connect your network to remote servers in other countries and you can access these blocked sites easily. VPN uses a secure VPN tunnel to connect to remote sites through private channel. There are many free VPN services like proxpn, UltraVPN, OpenVPN etc. which can be downloaded free of cost. You can download the VPN client and install it on your desktop or laptop. Once you install and connect to the internet through VPN whatever data traffic and requests come from your machine will be sent in encrypted format through a secure VPN tunnel. Also the request will be anonymous and it won’t be possible to track your source IP address as NAT (Network Address Translation) happens which converts your private IP to public IP address.

Once you have installed the VPN you can automatically access any of the blocked sites as you will be accessing through a VPN server located remotely in some other country. Hence you can enjoy downloading your favorite movies and videos from websites like MegaUpload, Rapidshare, Mediarefire and other popular torrent websites even if you use HTTPS for secure connection. VPN is secure and safe way to access blocked sites and prevents your computer from getting attacked by spyware or malware. Many of modern browsers use VPN for connecting securely over internet.

Another option is use to free DNS services like Open DNS. You can use settings as for preferred DNS and for alternate DNS server. Once you download the VPN client install in your machine and restart it. Then start the VPN client by providing the username and password which is registered while downloading the VPN software. After that select any free server in USA, UK or any other foreign country and click Connect. You will notice the message that data transfer is SSL secure and now you are connected to internet through the VPN client. Now you can access any of blocked torrent websites and file sharing sites like Rapidshare or Megaupload easily.

Using Tor Browser for Anonymous Surfing

Another easy way for accessing blocked websites is by using proxy server. There are internet filters and firewalls which monitor user traffic and block access to such illegitimate sites. But using certain advanced tools you can bypass this filter and enjoy access to such blocked websites. One such tool is the Tor browser which was designed by U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for the purpose of anonymous and secure browsing.

In order to anonymously browse through internet without relying on external proxy server, you can use the Tor browser which can be downloaded freely from Tor website https://www.torproject.org/.

Tor ProjectOnce you download and install the Tor browser, start the application and open Vidalia control panel which automatically opens the Mozilla Firefox browser. Whatever requests come from your machine will get routed through anonymous servers maintained by Tor and will bypass internet filter which block access to specific websites. Hence, you can browse through your favorite file sharing and video sites without using an external proxy server. All, the user data will be erased from cache once you close the browser and is very secure.

EDITOR NOTE: There are many different ways you can access the internet, of which most are safe and legal. That said some methods could damage your computer and may not be legal in the country you are in, so always check beforehand – note by Christopher

The benefits of remote working for SMEs over winter

In order to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) continue to operate in severe weather conditions over winter, industry experts now advise small firms to consider implementing flexible remote working systems, allowing employees to work from home.

Business man's hand writing virtual private network concept

Remote working has grown to become an important element of business productivity for SMEs.

With the current technology available, firms now needn’t suspend their business in severe weather, with a combination of remote technologies and common sense allowing SMEs to continue trading.

Remote working can maintain productivity and reduce office costs over the winter months. Studies have found in the past that employees working away from the distractions of their desk and the surrounding office environment increased their productivity by a considerable margin.

What exactly is remote working?

Put simply, remote working is when people do their work at home or outside the workplace. With the current financial climate tighter than ever, businesses are always looking to bring down their running costs and remote working is one way of achieving this goal.

In many industries Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are created to enable employees to login to a company network and access all the information they need to carry out their work, whether it is word documents, emails or project briefs. Remote working also enables businesses to employ and outsource work to people all over the world.

There are many other advantages of remote working for both small business owners and employees alike:

Advantages of remote working for SME owners

  • Fewer office costs – with staff able to use remote and cloud computing to access emails, files and any other necessary information, SMEs can cut costs such as printing, electricity and any other staff management charges.
  • Increased productivity and results – Instead of having to down tools and stop work on client projects, owners can allow staff to carry on their work from home. This is also an excellent employee incentive as staff can save money on travel to and from the office or studio.
  • Greener working – remote working can dramatically reduce a businesses’ impact on the environment by reducing the number of employees that commute to the office or studio.

Advantages of remote working for employees

  • Enhanced work-life balance – employees that are allowed to work remotely in severe weather naturally have an improved work-life balance, with the ability to spend more time with children and spouses.
  • Reduced stress levels – taking your employees away from the cut and thrust of the office environment can reduce stress levels. Remote working in more comfortable, homely surroundings can foster greater productivity.
  • Increased trust and responsibility – While SME owners must choose the right people to work remotely, those fortunate enough to be able to work from home will have their morale boosted by the extra trust and responsibility placed upon them by their employer.

The key challenge for SMEs is to ensure employees are disciplined enough to handle the freedom of remote working. Today an increasing number of small business owners appreciate the benefits working from home can bring to their company.