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The Complete Guide to Enterprise VPNs

Welcome to my ultimate guide on enterprise VPNs! As more employees work remotely, companies need secure ways to allow access to internal networks and data. That’s where enterprise VPNs come in.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about enterprise VPNs, from what they are to how to choose and set one up. I’ll share key benefits, top providers, best practices, and more. My goal is to make you an enterprise VPN expert by the end!

Let’s get started.

Key Points

  • Enterprise VPNs provide secure remote access to company networks and data.
  • Main benefits include data security, access control, and enabling remote work.
  • Considerations when choosing a VPN include protocols, platforms, pricing, and features.
  • Proper setup is crucial and requires servers, clients, encryption keys, firewall rules, etc.
  • Security best practices involve multifactor authentication, updated software, limited access, and more.
  • Troubleshooting involves checking configurations, connections, authentication, and authorization.
  • Maintenance requires monitoring usage, updating software, adjusting configurations, and testing.

What is an Enterprise VPN?

An enterprise VPN (virtual private network) provides secure remote access to a company’s internal resources and data. It creates an encrypted tunnel for data transmission over the public internet.

The “enterprise” part refers to VPN solutions built for business use. These cater to an organization’s specific security needs versus consumer VPNs meant for individual users.

Enterprise VPNs connect remote employees to the corporate network as if their devices were locally connected. This allows access to internal sites, apps, file shares, databases, tools, and more. Traffic flows through the encrypted VPN tunnel rather than over the open internet.

How Does an Enterprise VPN Work?

There are four main components that make up an enterprise VPN solution:

  • VPN server – Usually located on-premises and maintains the VPN tunnel. Encrypts and directs traffic.
  • VPN client – Software on user devices that connects to the VPN server.
  • Tunneling protocol – Defines how data is encapsulated and transmitted through the VPN tunnel. Common protocols include IPsec, SSL/TLS, IKEv2.
  • Encryption – Encrypts data to prevent interception. Uses algorithms like AES, DES, 3DES.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Remote user activates VPN client software to initiate connection. Client uses credentials to authenticate.
  2. VPN client encrypts data and encapsulates it into packets.
  3. Encrypted packets get sent through VPN tunnel over the internet to VPN server.
  4. VPN server decrypts packets, checks access rights, and sends data to internal network.
  5. Resources on internal network receive requests and send responses back through tunnel.

This creates an encrypted, secure pathway between the client device and internal network. Traffic can’t be intercepted thanks to the tunnel and encryption.

The VPN acts as an intermediary sitting between the internet and corporate network. It only allows authorized users to access approved private resources. All other traffic is blocked.

The Complete Guide to Enterprise VPNs

Benefits of an Enterprise VPN

There are many advantages to setting up a VPN for your business:

1. Secure Remote Access

The core benefit of an enterprise VPN is providing secure remote access. Employees can work outside the office while accessing apps, sites, and files as if they were local.

Sensitive data stays protected since it travels through encrypted tunnels, not over the open internet. VPN encryption secures connections from external threats.

This enables remote work initiatives, business travel, and mobility without sacrificing security.

2. Access Control

VPN servers act as gatekeepers, allowing or denying access to specific resources. Setting up user permissions provides an extra layer of access control.

For example, contract workers may get access to some apps but not confidential databases. Employees may only access work resources using company-approved devices.

Granular access policies enforce security while enabling productivity for remote workers.

3. Traffic Isolation

Routing traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel isolates it from other network activity. This adds a layer of segregation and segmentation.

Isolation protects critical resources and data flows from exploitation. It also shields networks in case of security breaches.

4. Internet Privacy & Security

Traffic going over the public internet is at risk for interception or monitoring. This exposes your connection IP, location, destination, and activity.

When connected to a VPN, devices get assigned internal IP addresses. Internet traffic gets encrypted and can’t be tied to your identity.

VPNs provide privacy and anonymity for remote workers’ internet use, securing external connections.

5. Network Extension

Enterprise VPNs enable extending internal networks across the internet. This allows access as if remotely connected devices were local.

It provides flexibility for companies to expand networks to accommodate a distributed workforce. Users can stay productive no matter where they go.

6. Compliance

Many regulations and standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR require data security including encryption.

Enterprise VPNs help meet compliance requirements by encrypting traffic and restricting access. Their layered security controls demonstrate due diligence.

7. Cost Savings

Transitioning to remote work can save on real estate costs of housing employees on-site. Enterprise VPNs enable this without sacrificing security.

VPNs also save on MPLS network buildouts. Rather than lease dedicated lines, VPNs securely tunnel traffic over the public internet.

Types of Enterprise VPNs

There are a few common types of enterprise VPN architectures:

Remote Access VPN

Remote access VPNs allow individual devices to connect to the corporate network from any location. This applies for employees working from home or mobile workers.

It provides direct VPN access to internal resources which may be unavailable over the public internet. Remote desktops, intranets, apps, and file shares are accessible through the encrypted VPN tunnel.

Site-to-Site VPN

Site-to-site VPNs connect entire remote office networks to the central headquarters. This could apply for retail branches, satellite offices, or datacenters.

Rather than tunneling individual device connections, the VPN extends the central LAN to remote sites. Traffic between sites travels across the VPN.

Extranet VPN

Extranet VPNs extend network access to third parties like partners, vendors, or suppliers. Selected external users can access limited resources through a dedicated VPN.

For example, contractors may require access to certain servers and databases to do their jobs. An extranet VPN grants restricted access without exposing the entire network.

The Complete Guide to Enterprise VPNs

Considerations for Choosing an Enterprise VPN

Selecting the right enterprise VPN solution means comparing alternatives to match technical needs and business requirements. Here are key criteria to consider:

VPN Protocols

The VPN protocol determines how data gets encapsulated and routed through the encrypted tunnel. Common options include:

  • IPsec – Creates encrypted tunnels routing IP traffic. Used for site-to-site VPNs.
  • SSL/TLS – Runs VPN traffic over SSL/TLS ports. Used for remote access VPNs.
  • IKEv2 – Updated IPsec version. Faster connections on mobile devices.

Evaluate protocols against performance, security, and device support needs.

Client Platform Support

Determine what OS platforms need VPN client support like Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux.

Evaluate if VPN provider has native apps for each platform or offers a cross-platform client.

Cloud Deployment Options

VPNs can be deployed on-premises, hosted in the cloud, or as a hybrid. Cloud options include SaaS, IaaS, virtual appliances.

Consider flexibility, scalability, availability, and management requirements.

Pricing Model

Pricing models include per user, bandwidth tiers, or unlimited plans. Factor in any network design, hardware, implementation, and support costs too.

Make sure the model aligns with business needs like number of locations, users, and data usage.

Management Interface & Controls

Evaluate the VPN provider’s management console and how much configuration control it provides.

Prioritize capabilities to enforce remote access policies, configure networks/apps, restrict logins, set user permissions, etc.

Reporting & Monitoring

Robust reporting tools provide insights into VPN performance, usage patterns, controls, and security events.

Monitoring capabilities can detect potential issues like failed logins or abnormal traffic spikes.

Reliability & Uptime

Confirm VPN vendors offer guaranteed service levels with maximum uptimes. This ensures 24/7 availability for remote workers.

Inquire about redundancy, failover capabilities, and disaster recovery protections.

Customer Support

Determine what support options are available like online help, phone, ticketing, live chat.

Prioritize vendors with strong customer support to help with setup, troubleshooting, and ongoing maintenance.

Setting Up an Enterprise VPN

Once you select the ideal enterprise VPN solution, it’s time for deployment. Proper setup is crucial for security, performance, and reliability.

Follow these key steps to get your business VPN running:

Step 1: Install VPN Server

First, install and configure the VPN server software. For on-premises options, this requires a Windows Server or Linux machine with adequate specs.

For cloud-based options, create and configure your VPN gateway within the provider’s infrastructure per their instructions.

Step 2: Configure Internal Access

Determine which internal resources remote users require access to like apps, file servers, intranet sites, etc.

Configure firewall rules to allow the VPN server to forward traffic to and from these internal IPs and ports.

Step 3: Choose Encryption & Keys

Select the right encryption algorithms and VPN protocols to use like AES 256-bit and IKEv2.

Generate digital certificates or pre-shared keys for authentication. Install keys on the VPN server and in the VPN client profiles.

Strong encryption and keys are essential for data security and compliance.

Step 4: Create VPN Client Profiles

Set up VPN client connection profiles that endpoints will use to connect to the VPN server.

Configure authentication method, encryption keys, VPN IP settings, tunnel type, split tunnel rules, and any access controls.

Step 5: Deploy Client Software

Distribute VPN client software to all employee devices that require access. Use native apps or cross-platform clients as needed.

For mobile BYOD, publish apps on Google Play and Apple App Stores for users to download.

Step 6: Test Connectivity

Validate that clients can connect successfully and access approved resources through the VPN.

Troubleshoot any issues with servers, routing, firewalls, service disruptions, or clients.

Step 7: Train End Users

Inform employees how to activate the VPN client when remote. Provide user guides and support docs.

Encourage VPN use anytime accessing company data or networks outside the office.

Following best practices during setup prevents issues down the road.

How Do VPNs Work

Best Practices for Enterprise VPN Security

VPN technology provides the foundation of secure remote access. However, the protection is only as strong as the policies and controls around it.

Follow these best practices to maximize enterprise VPN security:

Enforce Multifactor Authentication

Require a second form of identity verification beyond usernames and passwords. Options include biometrics, security keys, one-time codes via SMS/email/app. Multifactor authentication prevents unauthorized logins.

Use Client Certificates

Issue digital certificates to authenticate VPN users instead of shared secrets. Unique certificates are harder to compromise than reused passwords.

Restrict VPN Access

Limit VPN usage to managed company devices only. Block unmanaged BYOD devices. Set strict device requirements like passwords, encryption, and antimalware.

Apply Access Controls

Set user permissions within the VPN to restrict access to only necessary resources. Limit access by user group, IP, network zone, application, etc.

Update VPN Software Regularly

Keep VPN server and client software updated with the latest security patches and firmware. Sign up for notifications from vendors regarding upgrades.

Use Activity Logging

Enable logging to capture VPN usage activity like connection details, accessed resources, user activity timestamps, network traffic, etc.

Configure Remote Wipe

For mobile VPN clients, enable remote wipe capabilities to erase saved VPN credentials if the device is lost or stolen.

Disable Split Tunneling

Block internet traffic outside the VPN tunnel that doesn’t route through the VPN. This forces all activity through the encrypted tunnel.

Enforce Security on Internal Network

Once users connect via VPN, they become an extension of your internal trusted network. Enforce strong security controls on internal systems like antivirus, firewalls, access controls, and data encryption.

Provide User Security Training

Educate employees on secure VPN usage like avoiding public Wi-Fi, reporting breaches, and following remote work policies.

Troubleshooting Enterprise VPN Issues

Despite best efforts, VPN problems inevitably arise disrupting remote access. Use these troubleshooting steps to resolve common enterprise VPN issues:

Verify User Authentication

Confirm users are entering the correct VPN usernames, passwords, client certificates, or OTP codes. Reset credentials if configurations changed.

Check VPN Client Connectivity

Ensure the VPN client can communicate with the VPN server. This may require opening ports or resolving DNS, routing, ISP, or firewall problems.

Confirm User Authorization

Users may authenticate successfully but get access denied. Verify their permissions, group policies, access controls, and resources they are trying to connect to.

Review Server Status

Check for server problems like overloaded resources, service crashes, or misconfigurations. Monitor performance metrics and logs. Restart services if needed.

Inspect Network Traffic

Analyze traffic between VPN server and clients with packet capture tools. Look for bottlenecks, latency, congestion, or dropped connections.

Update Configurations

Fix mismatched settings between server and client such as encryption protocols or shared secrets. Keep firmware and VPN software up-to-date.

Test from Different Networks

Determine if the VPN problem stems from the user’s local network. Test connectivity from alternate ISP locations to isolate the issue.

Open Support Ticket

For persistent unresolved issues, open a support ticket with the VPN vendor. Provide troubleshooting details, logs, and examples.

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Enterprise VPN Maintenance

Like any mission-critical technology, enterprise VPNs require ongoing management and maintenance:

  • Monitor usage – Track usage, adoption, client analysis, and user trends. Set performance alerts.
  • Tune configurations – Adjust protocols, permissions, controls, routing, servers, and settings to optimize VPN.
  • Upgrade software – Keep VPN server and clients updated with the latest versions, patches, and security fixes.
  • Review access logs – Audit logs regularly for anomalous activity that may indicate misuse or breach attempts.
  • Test connectivity – Validate VPN connectivity and performance monthly from different networks mimicking remote users.
  • Evaluate usage policies – Assess that policies like multifactor requirements, blocked services, and user authorizations make sense.
  • Renew SSL certificates – Refresh expiring certificates used for server or client authentication.
  • Validate compliance – Periodically audit VPN against regulatory requirements, company security standards, and industry frameworks.

Proactive maintenance ensures your VPN remains secure, available, and optimized over time.

Alternatives to Enterprise VPNs

While VPNs are the standard for secure remote access, other solutions are emerging:

Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

CASBs sit between users and cloud apps to monitor activity and enforce policies. They provide visibility, data security, threat protection, and access control.

Zero Trust Network Access

The zero trust model authenticates users then authorizes access per session. It assumes breach and validates all connections instead of trusting anyone on a VPN.

Remote Browser Isolation

This separates browsing sessions from endpoint devices and executes them remotely. It protects assets if browsers get compromised during risky web activity.

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)

SASE converges networking and network security. It enforces unified policy and compliance across users, data centers, and cloud.

While these options can bolster VPN security, most organizations still use VPNs as the primary remote access tool. The technology is tried and tested.

Closing Thoughts

That wraps up my complete guide to enterprise virtual private networks!

VPNs play a crucial role in securing remote workers. As part of a holistic strategy, they provide private access that supports productivity anywhere without compromising security.

If deploying a business VPN, follow my tips on choosing the right solution, proper setup, best practices, troubleshooting, and maintenance. This will help your deployment go smoothly while avoiding pitfalls.

Here’s to happy, secure remote workforces! Let me know if you have any other VPN questions. I’m always happy to help fellow IT professionals.