Keeping the VPN Up and Running for a Remote Workforce
According to a recent Gallup poll, 37 percent of America’s workforce has telecommuted, with members of the remote workforce logging in from outside of the office an average of two days per month. About 9 percent of all workers telecommute at least 10 workdays per month, which means they’re spending at least half of their work time off-site.
For data security, many organizations require remote workers to use a virtual private network (VPN), which routes all employee traffic through a dedicated server and then creates a protected tunnel between employee devices and the company network. Data packets are encapsulated and encrypted, making them unreadable to attackers as they travel through the network.
In response to laws like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and HIPAA, organizations responsible for sensitive data are most likely to implement VPNs.
Although VPNs add an important layer of security to the network, they can also slow data speeds for many files. If employees are trying to connect during a time when IT is understaffed — for example, over Thanksgiving weekend — or if the business relies primarily on telework, VPNs can seem like an unnecessary hassle to employees who just want to get their work done. Nonetheless, it’s important to educate employees about why VPNs are worth the slightly slower connection. And because employees will find workarounds whenever they can, it’s up to you to keep VPN running as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Why VPNs Are No Longer Optional
Some in the remote workforce don’t want to be cooped up in their home offices. They may prefer to work in public spaces, or create a more rigid work-life balance by never working from the space in which they sleep and enjoy their downtime. They may just connect to Wi-Fi quickly to check email away from the office. Most public areas offer public Wi-Fi hotspots, which make it easy for attackers to hijack sessions and review all the traffic. Although the public Wi-Fi offered by cable companies is convenient, however, it isn’t always secure.
By encapsulating and encrypting traffic, VPNs reduce the chance that attackers can launch man-in-the middle (MitM) attacks, although as Ars Technica points out, there is still some VPN vulnerability at the point when a device connects to the public access point before it connects to the VPN. In addition to protecting data in transit, VPNs prevent certain types of malware from installing themselves on network devices. As John C. Dvorak explains in PCWorld, some advanced worms can self-install over open ports. By identifying devices by another IP address and making them appear to be in an alternate location, the VPN usually shields employee devices from these worms.
Keep Things Moving
The primary drag on VPN speeds are the encryption and tunneling processes. Data packets are encrypted and encapsulated with certain metadata to pass through the tunnel into your network, which increases packet size. Once the data hits the CPU server, the metadata gets unpacked and the file gets decrypted. This process happens in reverse when internal data is sent back to a remote location, causing delays at both junctures.
Latency caused by the distance between the company and the VPN server, depending on how traffic is routed, can also slow down data in transit. Security tools, applications and scanners can do the same, as can congestion on the side of the VPN provider or carrier networks. To boost connection speeds for a remote workforce, SecureVPN recommends experimenting with different port and protocol combinations. Ask the VPN provider which port and protocol will offer the best connection speed.
To find points of congestion, consider running a trace route to identify potential slowdown points. You can also talk to the VPN provider about identifying the ideal maximum transmission unit (MTU) for the network, which optimizes packet size for faster transmission. Finally, to upload files urgently, temporarily disable DNS for faster connection speeds — although it’s not recommended as a long-term solution.
Security and Speed for the Remote Workforce
No matter what, most VPNs slow down traffic to some degree. Despite the latency, VPNs as part of a comprehensive managed infrastructure plan can enable the remote workforce to work in their pajamas without endangering sensitive data.