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How to set up a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) helps keep your business more secure and protects critical data from prying eyes. With a VPN, workers can access, send, and receive data within a private network that uses the infrastructure of a public network like the Internet.

Key Q&A

How does a VPN work?

A VPN creates a "tunnel" where you can send data securely using encryption and authentication tools. Businesses often use VPN connections because they're a more secure way to help employees remotely access private company networks, even when they're working outside the office.

The VPN lets remote devices, like laptops, operate as though they're on the same local network. Many VPN router devices can support dozens of tunnels at the same time, using easy configuration tools—ensuring all workers have access to company data, no matter where they are.

Protect your VPN with MFA

Why does your business need a VPN?

At their most basic, VPNs protect businesses and users and their confidential data. Here are other reasons why your business could benefit from a VPN:

Convenience

VPNs are a convenient way to give employees, including remote workers, easy access to your business network without having to be physically present—while maintaining the security of private networks and business resources.

Better security

Communication with a VPN connection provides a higher level of security compared to other methods of remote communication, keeping private networks closed to people who don’t have authorised access. The actual geographic locations of users are protected and not exposed to public or shared networks like the Internet.

Easier administration

It’s easy to add new users or groups of users to networks using flexible VPN software tools. That's good for businesses that are growing faster than their budgets since it means you can often expand network footprints without adding new components or building complicated network configurations.

Are there downsides to using VPNs?

A VPN's success depends on other parts of your network infrastructure. Here are factors that could cause performance issues for your VPN:

Configuration security risks

Design and implementation of a VPN can be complicated. If you’re not sure how to keep it up and running safely, consider bringing in an experienced network security professional to make sure VPN security hasn’t been compromised.

Reliability

Since VPN connections run off the Internet, you need to choose an Internet service provider (ISP) that consistently delivers excellent service with minimal to no downtime.

Scalability

If you need to add new infrastructure or create new configurations, you may run into technical problems due to incompatibility—especially if you're adding new products from different vendors.

Slow connection speeds

If you're using a VPN client that provides free VPN service, your connection speed may be slow, as these providers do not usually offer high-speed connections. Consider whether the speed is sufficient for business needs.

Should you create your own VPN, or buy one?

Instead of trying to build one yourself, you can buy a prebuilt VPN solution. If you're shopping for VPN solutions, ask questions about the ease of configuration.

Steps for setting up a VPN

6 steps to set up a VPN

Step 1: Line up key VPN components

To get started, you'll need a VPN client, a VPN server, and a VPN router. The downloadable client connects you to servers around the world, so employees everywhere can access your small business network. The client can be used on devices like smartphones and laptops, even if workers are using public Wi-Fi networks.

To secure and encrypt all network traffic, you'll also need a VPN router. Many routers come with VPN clients built-in.

Step 2: Prep devices

On occasion, VPN clients can conflict with other clients, or fail to work properly. It's a good idea to prepare your network system before you set up a VPN so that you can avoid problems down the road.

As a first step, uninstall any existing VPN client software that you don’t need. In theory, the VPN clients should be able to work well together, but competing clients can also be a source of problems, so it’s best to remove them.

This is also a good time to consider network configuration. If you plan to install a VPN for workers who'll access online resources in several ways—such as Wi-Fi, 4G modems, and wired connections—you may need to spend more time configuring the VPN client. Simplifying networks by unplugging unused devices can help.

Step 3: Download and install VPN clients

The simplest way to get your VPN up and running is to install clients from your VPN provider. However, they may not offer software for every platform you need, such as Windows, iOS, and Android. Even if they don't, it's better to install what they offer first and then confirm that your VPN account is operating correctly.

Look for the "downloads" page on your VPN provider's website. You should also download apps for the mobile devices that your workers use since you’ll want to protect connections from as many devices as possible.

If the initial client you install works right off the bat, then you can contact the VPN provider about clients for other platforms. And if you can’t log in at all, then you can pass along that information to the VPN provider's support team.

Step 4: Find a setup tutorial

If, for some reason, your VPN provider doesn't offer software for the devices your business uses, check the provider's website for guides on manual setup. Hopefully, you'll find the documentation you need. If you don't, search for other providers' setup guides that use the same devices.

For example, if your business uses Chromebooks, you can search for tutorials specifically for these devices.

Step 5: Log in to the VPN

After you install the VPN client apps, it's time to enter login information. In general, the username and password will be the ones you used when you signed up with the VPN provider, although some companies ask you to create a separate login for the VPN client itself.

Once you're logged in, the VPN app usually connects to the server nearest to your current location.

Step 6: Choose VPN protocols

VPN protocols decide how data is routed between your computer and the VPN server. Some protocols help improve speed, while others help improve data privacy and security.

OpenVPN

This is an open-source protocol, which means you can view its code. OpenVPN is also rapidly becoming an industry standard.

L2TP/IPSec

The Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol is another popular protocol. It has strong security protections and is often bundled with the IPSec protocol, which authenticates and encrypts packets of data sent over the VPN.

SSTP

The Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is fully integrated with the Microsoft operating system.

PPTP

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is one of the oldest VPN protocols. But it is becoming less widely used since there are faster and more secure protocols available.

Step 7: Troubleshoot

Usually, your VPN provider's client will start working right away. But if that's not the case, try these steps:

  • Shut down and reopen the client and try rebooting your device.
  • If you have any other VPN software running, make sure you're disconnected, then close it down.

VPN clients need appropriate software drivers to work correctly. In some cases, you can click on the "repair" setting to reload drivers. Check the settings page to see if this feature is available.

If you're having trouble logging in, double-check your login credentials. Some VPN clients generate their own logins, and some let you choose your own.

Be sure you're using the correct login, and if necessary, read any welcome emails or quick-start guides you may have received from the provider.

You can also try switching servers. Choose to connect to a different server that's close to your physical location.

Another option: Try connecting with different protocols, assuming the VPN client allows you to change them. For example, you can use OpenVPN using TCP, then switch to L2TP and PPTP.

If you're still running into problems, other software programs may be the culprit. Sometimes, firewalls or security software can disrupt VPN connections. You can temporarily disable software that might be causing the problem—just make sure to turn it back on once you connect so you don’t leave critical business systems vulnerable to attack.

Step 8: Fine-tune the connection

Once you have the basics out of the way, it's time for improvements. Make sure the settings you've applied to the VPN suit your business's needs.

For example, decide whether you'd like the VPN to run as soon as people start their devices. This may be a good idea if you need the protection of a VPN all the time—for example, if most people work outside the office. But if you think that you'll only need to use the VPN occasionally, you can set it to launch only when required, freeing up network resources for other uses.

Another fine-tuning option is to choose commonly used servers as your defaults or "favorites." This can save you a bit of time since you and other employees won't have to search for preferred servers every time you connect.

You may also want to turn on the "kill-switch" if your VPN provider offers it. The kill-switch is designed to prevent a device from sending or receiving data if the VPN becomes disconnected.

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