Conversations about VPN servers for business applications usually come down to on-premises solutions for large corporations with several international offices and thousands of employees who require access to shared intranet. On the other hand, cloud-based VPN services often cater to private customers looking to stream their favourite TV shows while travelling, or to circumvent the Great Firewall.
So, what about startups and small companies? The range of solutions for this customer category is not as wide, and the public opinion is seemingly that small businesses don’t really need a dedicated VPN subscription to work.
However, a closer look reveals several use cases where a dedicated cloud VPN server and team account would be a no-brainer choice.
Namely, VPN is an efficient solution against the man-in-the-middle (MITM) type of attacks, where the traffic of the victim’s device is rerouted via an extra node set up by the malicious actor.
In some situations, it could lead to the information being fully exposed to the hacker. With a VPN connection, however, all data is fully encrypted and can’t be accessed by unauthorised parties.
Team subscription or a dedicated server
Although a number of VPN service providers offer business accounts and dedicated servers separately, it makes a lot of sense to combine the two. Simply speaking, a team account is not much more than a convenient and cost-effective way to manage billing and permissions for several people through one dashboard.
Having one VPN server to which the team will always connect brings a few extra benefits, however, allowing for better security and higher convenience.
Most of them stem from the fact that the people connected to the company’s VPN server would appear to have the same IP address.
Let’s take a look at the possible reasons why a startup or a small business may need a company-wide VPN policy.
Data Security Anywhere
First of all, using a VPN connection at all times means better security for the data of both the company and its partners and customers.
Making VPN mandatory when working with data online could help protect sensitive information from malicious actors, as well as add a security layer in a country where the Internet is monitored by the government.
For security purposes, a company-wide cloud VPN subscription is also a much more cost-efficient solution than a similar hardware setup in the office.
It is also often the case that small teams rent offices in coworking spaces and similar locations where installing a separate set of networking hardware is either difficult or impossible.
Using a VPN server can also protect the team from exposing sensitive data following attacks like Wi-Fi spoofing, in which the malicious actor would create a wireless network with the same name as the one in the office and try to get the employees’ devices to connect to it.
Although it won’t prevent the connection itself from happening, a VPN makes it impossible to decode the data and figure out which domains have been accessed by a user.
Clean Online Environment
Thanks to the fact that a personal VPN server gets its own IP address, the team can be certain that it’s “clean” — that is, not banned by any services, — and doesn’t have a search history on Google.
What often happens on public VPNs is that search engines and other global services start changing the default language and other settings to those of the country where the server is most popular.
With a separate server for the whole team, it’s possible to ensure that the personalisation features will be working properly — however, it has to be said that it’s not a great solution for those seeking anonymity online.
Office Resources and BYOD
Many, if not most, startups and small organisations employ a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) office policy, meaning that the employees do their work on their own laptops, smartphones, and other appliances.
Such a zoo of hardware and operating systems would normally be a nightmare for a corporate IT administrator — so it’s probably a good thing that small teams usually don’t have one.
On a more serious note, there’s no good way to make sure all devices used by the employees are set up and secured properly. A centralised VPN policy, however, at least ensures that the company’s intranet resources are only accessible from the IP address of the VPN server.
This way, it’s possible to easily monitor and control access to important data or even office printers and IoT appliances.
Travelling Salesman Problem
The main cybersecurity threat in the life of a small team where members often have to work remotely occurs when an employee connects to the public Wi-Fi network of a hotel or airport.
Since any non-password protected Wi-Fi network is inherently vulnerable, it doesn’t require a hacker to intercept the data sent through such a connection.
Thankfully, most of the websites people visit these days employ the HTTPS encryption, meaning that the intercepted data can’t be easily decoded. However, even with an HTTPS connection, certain metadata and things like DNS requests are not encoded, which can become a significant security threat. Since all VPN traffic goes through one server, there’s no way even the metadata like that can be recovered from network traffic on unsecured Wi-Fi.
For this particular use case, many VPN apps offer the killswitch feature, which basically won’t allow any traffic to be sent or received by the customer’s device when the VPN connection isn’t on. This way, anyone can prevent information from being intercepted, even on public Wi-Fi.
All in all, a team VPN account in conjunction with a dedicated server can be a good idea for a security-minded small team that doesn’t have an huge IT budget. With new security threats coming up every day, having a trustworthy VPN subscription handy becomes a question of online hygiene, and introducing it as a policy adds an important safety net for any business.