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What does Virtual Private Network mean?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a secure network that uses primarily public telecommunication infrastructures, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or traveling users an access to a central organizational network.

VPNs typically require remote users of the network to be authenticated, and often secure data with firewall and encryption technologies to prevent disclosure of private information to unauthorized parties.

There are two types of VPNs; remote access VPNs and site to site VPNs. Remote access VPNs are for individual users who are not in a fixed location - remote or roaming users like salespeople. Site to site VPNs are for multiple users in a fixed location - like regional offices.

VPNs may serve any network functionality that is found on any network, such as sharing of data and access to network resources, printers, databases, websites, etc. A VPN user typically experiences the central network in a manner that is identical to being connected directly to the central network. VPN technology via the public Internet has replaced the need to requisition and maintain expensive dedicated leased-line telecommunication circuits once typical in wide-area network installations.

Virtual private network technology reduces costs because it does not need physical leased lines to connect remote users to an Intranet.

History and status

Virtual private networks have existed for many years in the form of frame relay based private networks. IP-VPNs have become more prevalent in the communications industry due to significant cost reductions, increased bandwidth, and security. These IP based VPNs will ultimately find their way into almost every network based communications activity that occurs whether it be via cellular to cellular, satellite, site-to-site, or inside corporate local area networks.

Types of VPN

VPN systems can be classified by:

The following sections discuss some classification schemes.

Security mechanisms

Secure VPNs use cryptographic tunneling protocols to provide:

Secure VPN protocols include the following:

Authentication

Tunnel endpoints must authenticate before secure VPN tunnels can be established.

User-created remote access VPNs may use passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication or other cryptographic methods.

Network-to-network tunnels often use passwords or digital certificates, as they permanently store the key to allow the tunnel to establish automatically and without intervention from the user.

Trusted delivery networks

Trusted VPNs do not use cryptographic tunneling, and instead rely on the security of a single provider's network to protect the traffic.

From the security standpoint, VPNs either trust the underlying delivery network, or must enforce security with mechanisms in the VPN itself. Unless the trusted delivery network runs among physically secure sites only, both trusted and secure models need an authentication mechanism for users to gain access to the VPN.

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