A Virtual Private Network, shortened to VPN, is an advanced computer network that allows remote machines to be accessed and files to be shared easily. VPN can work over a private network such as the intranet of a company, or the complete private network along with all its resources can be made remotely accessible over the Internet, which is a public network. The latter is referred to as a Wide Area Network (WAN) because the private network can be accessed from any part of the world; it is called virtual because the user still sees the VPN connection as a private network link.
There are 3 main network protocols whose authentication and encryption features are responsible for network security in a VPN. These 3 differ in the way data packets are transported across the network.
- PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol): This is the default VPN protocol used by Microsoft Windows for remote access and LAN internetworking through VPN connections.
- L2TP (Layer Two Tunneling Protocol): The name stems from the fact that this protocol, like PPTP, exists at the data link layer in the 7-layer OSI model. L2TP combines the best features of PPTP and the older L2F (Layer Two Forwarding) protocol.
- IPsec (Internet Protocol Security): This exists at the network later of the OSI model and is a collection of related protocols.
Although this sounds quite complicated, anyone can set up an inexpensive yet secure VPN connection at home within a few easy steps. One computer within the office is set up to share files while another computer at a remote location (in this case, the user’s home) is configured to access the files; these computers are called the server and client respectively. Configuration is required at both the server and client sides of the network. Once the VPN has been set up and the connection is established over the Internet, the remote host or client can communicate with the computers at the other end just like a local host would.
How to Set up a VPN?
The actual steps in the process of setting up a VPN differ slightly based on the operating system used by the client and server. The most common configuration requirement for home users is Windows XP on the client side and Windows Server 2003 in the office.
- To configure the client, you need to note down the IP address of the machine. This can be found in several ways. Open the URL www.whatismyip.com in your web browser or type ipconfig on your Start menu.
- Open the Windows Control Panel on your computer and click on the Network Connections icon. You will see a list of existing dial-up and LAN connections.
- Select the Create a New Connection icon, which will bring up the Windows XP New Connection Wizard on your computer screen.
- Click Next to get the Wizard working and then select the icon labeled Connect to the Network at my Workplace.
- Once again, click Next to get to the Network Connection page of the wizard. Then select the Virtual Private Network Connection icon and click Next.
- You will see the Company Name field where you need to enter a name for your VPN connection. Bear in mind that this name is only representative; it does not need to be exactly the same as the actual name of your organization although you would normally keep it that way for ease of identification in case of multiple networks being set up.
- You are now faced with the Public Network screen. Here you first need to determine if you will be initiating your VPN connection for most of the time in the future when the computer is not yet connected to the Internet. If so, choose Automatically Dial This Initial Connection, which is also the default setting. But if your computer will already be connected to the Internet when you want to start up your VPN connection, choose Do Not Dial the Initial Connection.
- Now obtain the IP address of the server for your VPN connection; you may also use the server name if available. If you are setting up this VPN between your home and office, the network administrator at your company will be able to provide you with the required server details. This critical information determines which server you are connected to, so double-check before entering it on the screen.
- On the Connection Availability screen, you need to choose My Use Only or Anyone’s Use based on how secure you need your new VPN connection to be. The first setting will only allow access to the user who is currently logged in, while the second one makes the VPN access public. Note that My Use Only is the default setting.
- To complete your VPN setup, click on the Finish button to exit the wizard. If you refresh the list of existing network connections, you will now see your newly setup VPN with the name you had selected earlier.
Benefits of VPN
The basic use of VPN is to provide a cheaper way to access a remote computer than through dial-up remote access servers or over private leased lines. A VPN setup as a private company intranet allows the networking capabilities to be easily expanded as the company grows while reducing its costs.
VPN used as WAN helps people who need to work from home or travel a lot. They can continue to have secure access to the files stored on their office computer irrespective of the distance between the office and their current location. This virtual private network also enables high-quality secure video conferencing between remote parties.
In summary, a virtual private network is very useful in the modern world both for large organizations like offices, schools and hospitals as well as for individual home users. A basic VPN can be easily set up to gain access to remote files and other network resources. It is the smart way to get the benefit of remote access at a low cost over the Internet while maintaining a high level of data security.
References for How to Setup a VPN
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