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What Is A VPN?
Before you can create a virtual private networking (VPN) connection, you need to understand what it is and when it should be used. A VPN connection is basically a direct connection between two computers from two different networks. The name itself indicates how this connection is different. It's a virtual connection because the networks do not have to be directly connected using actual physical network cables. You usually connect over the Internet, but it acts like a regular network connection, with a virtual firewall for security.
It's called private because the connection occurs through a tunnel. There are specific data packets that encapsulate traffic traveling over this connection so that the connection as a whole is secure. Data packets are added at the beginning of the transmission and taken away at the end, verifying that the data has not been tampered with. While it isn't completely secure, it is better than just transmitting data across the Internet plainly. There are different types of VPN tunnels you can create depending on your needs. In this article we'll just deal with a basic Windows Vista VPN firewall connection.
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Creating The VPN Connection
There are some basic assumptions that need to be made before you start these steps. For instance, it's assumed that you have an active Internet connection. It is also assumed that your Windows Vista interface is set to the normal defaults. If you've customized your Start Menu, you may need to take further steps to get through the process. You'll also want to have information regarding the network you're going to be connecting to.
To start out, right click on Network listed on the Start Menu and choose Properties. You can also get there by clicking on Control Panel and choosing Network and Sharing Center. Then click on Set up a connection or network, located on the left side under Tasks. You're given four choices, but for a VPN connection you want to choose Connect to a workplace.
You have the option here to create a new connection or to use an existing one. In most situations, you'll want to create a new connection. After you click next, you'll see the prompt to connect a VPN connection over the Internet. Click on this. At the next page, you'll need to type in the IP address or hostname of the system you'll be connecting to. If you're connecting to your workplace, they will most likely provide this information for you. The blank labeled Destination Name is really just a label for this connection, a way for you to identify the VPN connection. There are some other options available here as well, like using a Smart Card, allowing other users of the computer to utilize this connection, and choosing whether you want to connect immediately when you finish the setup.
After clicking next, you can input a username and password for the connection. If you're connecting to an Active Directory domain, you can put that in as well. By default, the password is hidden. There is a checkbox you can select to show what you're typing, and there's another one that sets it so you don't have to re-enter the password later. Once you click Connect, the computer will attempt to connect using the VPN connection you just created. If you're looking for fireworks and celebrations, you'll be disappointed. At most, you'll just see another network connection icon appear in the bottom right corner. If it does not connect successfully, you will get an error and you'll have to doublecheck the settings you specified.
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A Few Considerations
A VPN connection can be a great tool, and as you can see, it's fairly easy to set one up through Windows Vista. Be aware that the network you are connecting into may have certain policies for VPN connections. They may not allow you to browse the Internet using your local PC, for example. This is a common security practice. If you are VPN'ing into to work, you may not get the same drive mappings you are used to when you sit at your office PC, due to different logon policies. While this won't necessarily hamper what you're using the Windows Vista VPN firewall connection for, it is important to understand what you can and can't do while you're connected to the remote network.