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Can a VPN improve small business cybersecurityAll busi­nesses today should recognise the importance of having an effective cyber­se­curity policy in place. Data breaches seem to be con­stantly in the news. Whilst those tend to be high-profile cases like TalkTalk and British Airways, small busi­nesses fre­quently suffer data breaches too. In recent years, Virtual Private Net­works (“VPNs”) have become quite common for home use — so can a VPN improve small business cyber­se­curity?

Well, yes — but let’s cover the basics before examining the business benefits of a VPN.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a private network (within the public internet) that enhances your online privacy by:

  • Giving you a tem­porary IP address when you go online
  • Encrypting data transfers between your com­puter and other online resources
  • Wrapping that data inside other data to keep it even more private (called “tun­neling” or “encap­su­lation”)

An IP address is the numeric address of your com­puter on the internet. It tells web­sites where to send the pages you’re asking for. Unfor­tu­nately, it can also reveal who your ISP is, and roughly where you live. That can be useful to criminal hackers.

By using VPN con­nection software, your com­puter will com­mu­nicate with online resources (e.g. web pages) through a network of encrypted channels or “tunnels”. Web­sites send pages back to the IP address provided by the VPN, which then relays them back to you. So your real IP address — the one asso­ciated with your loc­ation and identity — isn’t broadcast to every website you visit. Even if those data streams are inter­cepted, the encryption keeps the inform­ation safe from prying eyes.

So how can a VPN improve small business cybersecurity?

Using a VPN can enhance the security of your business in several ways. Remember, inform­ation is power. So the more inform­ation a criminal hacker can gather about you, the more you’re at risk of a cyber­se­curity breach. Even stuff that seems innocuous can be abused.

So first, by masking your IP address, a VPN helps to mask your com­pany’s online activity. It also means you seem to be oper­ating from a dif­ferent loc­ation, even a dif­ferent country. That can let you access inform­ation not nor­mally visible in your country. It can also help you to find ser­vices that Google demotes in your country because they aren’t local to you.

Benefits for remote workers

If you have staff that often work outside the office, or simply like to do so yourself, you need a VPN.

Public access net­works are every­where, espe­cially in bigger cities like Cardiff, Newport and Bristol — but that doesn’t make them safe to use. Cyber crim­inals lurk on insecure net­works like those in air­ports, hotels and coffee shops, ready to hijack con­nec­tions and data. It simply isn’t safe to do business through such systems without extra security — or to let your staff do so.

The secure, encrypted con­nection provided by a VPN makes sharing sens­itive company data over the web much safer. A VPN also helps to enforce con­fid­en­ti­ality by hiding inform­ation about your loc­ation, identity and the resources you access.

…and what if you or your staff need to travel to a country that blocks online resources that would nor­mally be needed to com­plete the job? A VPN can work around that, too.

Of course, some VPNs come with more security fea­tures than others, like auto­matic back-ups and DNS leak pro­tection. The latter ensures that your requests for online resources aren’t visible to your ISP. So such fea­tures are worth bearing in mind when looking for the best VPN for your small business.

Other business benefits of using a VPN

These days, tele­com­muting isn’t only for client-facing teams. When staff often do goal-focused work that could easily be com­pleted on a laptop at home, it can be cheaper to let them do so. Many now act­ively seek such flexible working con­di­tions, so providing them can help with staff retention, too. By providing a secure, con­fid­ential con­nection back to the office, a VPN removes one of the biggest prac­tical obstacles to this.

(Just make sure you follow other cyber­se­curity best prac­tices, too! “BYOD” policies are popular, but it’s far safer to provide all the kit your staff use, and vet it reg­u­larly.)

Your clients will feel more secure if they see that your remote team use a VPN, too. It shows that you are doing everything you can to safe­guard any inform­ation they share with you. That increases trust — and building trust builds sales.

Finally, a VPN service is a rel­at­ively cheap and simple way of improving cyber­se­curity for your company. So the benefits for even the smallest busi­nesses are com­pelling.

How to choose a small business VPN

As noted above, dif­ferent VPNs provide dif­ferent ser­vices, making them suited to dif­ferent busi­nesses. So the one I use may not be the best one for you — and with such a basic security service, it’s important that you get the right one. So in this case, I’d recommend checking out a spe­cialist VPN review site like VPNPro.