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Adding VPN to Your Small Business Security Strategy

written by: Joe Taylor Jr.•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 2/4/2011

Setting up a small business VPN not only increases your commitment to customer privacy, it helps your business comply with a growing list of laws and regulations concerning data security. With small business VPN services costing under $250 per year, your company can easily increase security.

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    For mobile professionals that work with sensitive information, virtual private networks (VPNs) have become essential. For example, health care professionals ranging from doctors to medical billing specialists use VPN connections to comply with federal patient privacy regulations. Likewise, legal professionals use VPN connections to encrypt files and other privileged information.

    Until recently, a VPN typically required a dedicated office server and a complex, point-to-point connection. The expense of a VPN usually restricted its use to enterprise-level organizations. Small businesses and independent contractors frequently settled for browser-based security and connectivity solutions. However, a new class of virtual private network services allows smaller offices and solo professionals to enjoy the same convenience as larger organizations.

    Hamachi, from LogMeIn, offers a LAN-style VPN for remote workers at a monthly cost of under five dollars per user. In a home office environment, users can connect to a Hamachi network and synchronize data, share sensitive documents, and access server resources. Because Hamachi is a software solution, it only requires two or more computers on an existing office network. All of the server tweaks necessary to enable a VPN happen within the Hamachi software, making it an easy option for small business owners without dedicated IT staff.

    Untangle offers an innovative solution for growing businesses that happen to have some extra hardware around the office. Using open source tools, Untangle allows network administrators to turn an old desktop PC into a network gateway. Companies pay a fee to enable remote access privileges, with rates as low as $10 per month for a group of under ten users. Like hardware solutions from Cisco, Untangle pushes network traffic through a single machine. However, bootstrapping businesses may prefer to recycle an older PC instead of investing in a brand new router.

    For solo professionals and overseas road warriors, secure VPN networks allow users to tunnel through questionable access points to trusted internet connections. As reports of phishing and identity theft from public "honeypot" wireless networks increase, secure VPN subscribers remain safe behind heavy encryption and firewall settings. Secure VPN services can also provide location-based proxy services that can resolve a United States address for overseas professionals. Businesses that rely on overseas support workers use services like StrongVPN to increase connection speeds and assure security from remote locations. Typical users pay $15 per month plus a one time setup fee of $25 to access a secure online connection.

    In all three examples, small and medium-sized business owners can pay less than $250 per year to get the same confidence and security that used to cost thousands of dollars. Configuring the latest small business VPN services doesn't require much time or effort, either. In most cases, end users simply install software that manages the entire process in the background. Hardware-based solutions require a little more attention, but novice users should be able to set them up within a few hours. Making the investment in a VPN increases efficiency, while allowing your business to show off its commitment to customer privacy.