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4 types of VPNs and when to use them?


A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a secure connection that enables Internet users to access the web while protecting their privacy and enhancing security. It works by creating an encrypted tunnel between the user's device and a remote server, effectively masking their online activities and hiding their IP address.

Personal VPN is the most commonly used type of VPN out of main four, as it secures online activities and is also able to bypass geo-restrictions. Therefore, many consumers enjoy such a service. Meanwhile, businesses are more tend to use site-to-site VPNs to secure connection between multiple networks.

In this article, we will dive into four types of VPN: remote access VPNs, site-to-site VPNs, extranet-based site-to-site VPNs, and personal VPNs. More so, we'll overview their tunneling protocols that accelerate the performance, so you know which type of VPN suits your needs the best.

Key points of the article

Comparison of the four main VPN types

Each of the four main VPN types caters to different needs and fulfills various purposes. While some are ideal for personal usage, others are excellent for usage between multiple organizations. So let's compare each VPN type in terms of connectivity, user access, use cases, and deployment:

Personal VPNRemote Access VPNSite-to-Site VPNExtranet-based Site-to-Site VPN
Connectivity User device connects to a VPN serverUser device connects to a private networkConnection between multiple networksConnection between internal networks of multiple organizations
User Access Individual usersIndividual usersOrganizations with multiple networksMultiple organizations with multiple networks
Use CasesPersonal use (protecting privacy, accessing geo-restricted content)Remote or traveling workersMulti-branch organizations, healthcare providers, educational institutionsTrusted partners, suppliers, customers
DeploymentThe VPN client is installed on the user’s deviceThe VPN client is installed on the user’s deviceConfigured on a network devicesConfigured on network devices
Examples NordVPN, Surfshark, Norton Secure VPN, Atlas VPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhostOpenVPN Access ServeNordLayerCisco Dynamic Multipoint VPN, Zscaler Private Access (ZPA)

Here's what each point refers to:

  • Connectivity. It refers to the ability of a VPN to establish a secure and reliable connection between the user's device and the internet. In this table, we review each VPNs connectivity and how it connects to the network.
  • User access. User access refers to the level of accessibility and permissions users have when using a VPN. It can differ based on the type of VPN and its intended purpose. Some VPNs provide broader user access, allowing users to connect from multiple devices at once or access specific network resources. Others may have limitations on simultaneous connections or restricted access to certain services or websites.
  • Use case. The use case of a VPN refers to its specific purpose or situation where it is used. Different VPN types are better suited for different use cases. For example, businesses typically utilize site-to-site VPNs to securely connect multiple locations. Knowing the use case helps select the most suitable VPN type for a given situation.
  • Deployment. Deployment refers to the setup and implementation of a VPN system. It may involve installing VPN software on devices, setting up VPN servers, configuring network devices, or utilizing cloud-based VPN solutions.

While different types of VPN cater to different needs, let’s have a closer look at each provider and what situation it serves the best.

Personal VPNs

A personal VPN, also known as a commercial or consumer VPN, is a technology that enables individuals to establish secure and private connections over the Internet. You can use a personal VPN by installing this software on your devices. After you do that, the software will encrypt your internet traffic and direct it through a remote VPN server, concealing the IP address and ensuring anonymity and privacy.

Personal VPNs are especially valuable when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks found in locations like cafes, airports, or hotels. These networks are typically unencrypted, making it easier for hackers to intercept data. VPN encrypts your traffic and makes it difficult for malicious actors to access your activities online.

Another benefit of using a personal VPN is the capability to bypass geo-restrictions and access content that might be limited to specific regions. By connecting to a VPN server in a different country, users can appear as if they are accessing the internet from that location. This allows them to reach region-restricted websites, streaming services, or online platforms.

There are various examples of VPN providers, including NordVPN, Surfshark, Atlas VPN, Norton Secure VPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, and numerous other commercial VPNs.

Remote Access VPN

Remote access VPN is a technology that provides a secure connection for individual users to connect to a private network using the internet. It grants remote users the ability to access network resources, such as files, applications, or internal systems, as if they were physically present within the network's premises.

That means that the user has the VPN client application installed on their computer (as an example) and the client establishes an encrypted VPN tunnel to the VPN network. Remote users authenticate themselves through credentials (usernames, passwords) or other authentication methods that verify their identity. Once authenticated, the remote access VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between the user's device and the private network.

This type of VPN can be used by remote workers which allows them to access company resources and collaborate with colleagues. Also it can be used by IT support, VPN enables the personnel to remotely access and troubleshoot devices, servers or systems from any locations. Examples of such VPN providers: PureDome (by PureVPN), OpenVPN Access Server.

Site-to-Site VPN

A site-to-site VPN is a technology that establishes secure connections between multiple remote networks over the internet. It is commonly used by businesses to connect different branches or locations into a single private network, known as an intranet. Each branch or location has its own local area network (LAN) with different IP ranges.

With site-to-site VPN, these LANs are securely interconnected, allowing seamless communication between them as if they were part of the same network. The VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between the remote sites, ensuring that all transmitted data is encrypted and protected from unauthorized access, thus maintaining confidentiality.

To facilitate the exchange of network traffic, routing configurations are required to enable the remote sites to properly route data. Each site's routers are configured to forward traffic based on the VPN addressing scheme.

There are two variations of site-to-site VPNs: extranet and intranet. Typically, extranet is more suitable for businesses with multiple geographical locations or branches that are the primary users of this type of VPN.

For example, healthcare institutions such as hospitals, clinics, or medical centers use site-to-site VPNs to ensure the secure transmission of patient data, access to electronic health records, and collaboration among healthcare professionals. And if you need such a VPN, you can take a look at NordLayer that grants protection to multi-cloud and hybrid environments.

Extranet-based Site-to-Site VPN

Extranet-based Site-to-Site VPN is a technology that facilitates secure communication between different organizations or entities, typically involving trusted business partners, suppliers, or customers. It enhances the capabilities of site-to-site VPN by enabling connections between the internal networks of multiple organizations.

Each organization maintains its own internal network or intranet, and the VPN establishes connections among them, creating an extranet network that spans across multiple organizations. Robust access control mechanisms are implemented to manage and restrict the level of access each organization has to the resources of other organizations within the extranet. This ensures that only authorized entities can access specific resources.

This technology finds various applications in business partnerships where organizations securely share resources, sensitive data, or proprietary information through the site-to-site VPN. It also enables seamless collaboration, joint project management, and secure communication channels.

Additionally, companies relying on complex supply chains involving suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and others can benefit from this VPN. It facilitates efficient coordination, real-time inventory management, and secure data exchange throughout the supply chain.

Another use case is customer access, where customers can connect to an organization's internal network to access information, place orders, or track transactions securely. Notable VPN providers offering such capabilities include Cisco Dynamic Multipoint VPN and Zscaler Private Access (ZPA).

Different VPN protocols

VPNs can be categorized by looking at the technology it uses, for example – different tunneling protocols. VPN tunneling protocols create secure and encrypted connections between the user's device and a VPN server. They encapsulate data within a secure tunnel and ensure its safe transmission over the internet. Such tunneling protocols provide authentication, encryption, and data integrity to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access.

WireGuard

WireGuard is a relatively new and lightweight VPN protocol that focuses on simplicity and efficiency. It aims to provide fast and secure connections while maintaining a smaller codebase for easier auditing. WireGuard tunneling protocol also offers strong encryption and is designed to be resistant to various cyber attacks, such as hackers trying to steal your private information.

Some VPNs establish their own variations of the WireGuard tunneling protocol. For example, NordVPN has developed a proprietary protocol called NordLynx, which is a modern variation of the WireGuard protocol. By combining the speed and simplicity of WireGuard with enhanced security features, NordLynx offers faster connection speeds and strong encryption. It is exclusively available through NordVPN and is compatible with major operating systems.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a tunneling protocol predominantly employed in VPNs, facilitating data transfer through either UDP or TCP. It boasts a longstanding presence in the field and is often called the tried and tested protocol, which some individuals may consider advantageous compared to other VPN protocols.

OpenVPN can be implemented across a range of operating systems such as macOS, iOS, Android, Windows, Linux – just to name a few. OpenVPN remains highly regarded for its robust security measures and continues to be favored by many users. Many VPNs still use OpenVPN as the primary tunneling protocol. However, despite its widespread popularity and extensive usage, it is relatively slower compared to modern standards.

In today's VPN market, OpenVPN is a widespread option among tunneling protocols offered by most VPN service providers, such as Surfshark VPN, Atlas VPN, IPVanish, and other leading VPN providers on the market.

IPsec

IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a widely used protocol suite for securing internet communications at the network layer. It provides a framework for authenticating and encrypting IP packets to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data transmitted over IP networks.

IPsec operates at the network layer (Layer 3) of the OSI model and can be used to establish secure virtual private networks or to secure individual network connections. It can be implemented on various devices, including routers, firewalls, and virtual private servers (VPS).

L2TP

L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) is a tunneling protocol used to establish virtual private networks or to provide remote access to a private network. It operates at the data link layer (Layer 2) of the OSI model and works together with another protocol such as IPsec to provide security for the VPN connection. L2TP typically encapsulates the data packets from another protocol. These packets are then transmitted to the other endpoint where they are de-encapsulated and forwarded to their final destination.

L2TP often works together with another protocol called IPsec, which adds encryption, authentication, and integrity checks to the data transmitted over the VPN. When L2TP and IPsec are used together, it's called L2TP/IPsec. IPsec handles the security aspects, while L2TP takes care of the tunneling process.

SSTP

SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) is a way to create a secure connection between your computer and another computer over the internet. It uses a special type of encryption called SSL/TLS, which is the same technology that keeps your online shopping and banking secure. There’s also the HTTPS port, which is normally used for secure websites, so it can often get through firewalls and other network restrictions.

SSTP is built into Windows computers, so it's easy to use if you have a Windows computer. It makes sure that your connection is private and secure, so nobody can eavesdrop on your data or tamper with it.

IKEv2

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) is a tunneling protocol that is used to establish and manage VPN connections. It is an updated version of the original IKE protocol and is widely used in various VPN implementations. It offers features like authentication, encryption, and key management to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data transmitted between the VPN endpoints.

Overall, many operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux support IKEv2, and its strong security features, flexibility, and support for mobile devices make it a popular choice for VPN deployments, ensuring secure and reliable communication.

Final thoughts

There are several types of VPN and all four – personal VPNs, remote access VPNs, site-to-site VPNs, and extranet-based site-to-site VPNs cater to different needs and purposes. For example, personal VPNs focus on individuals who simply want to secure their online activities or access geo-restricted content. Meanwhile, other technology, like extranet-based site-to-site VPN, facilitate secure communication between businesses, organizations, and large entities.

Therefore, you should identify whether you need a VPN for your personal usage or business. If you need it for the latter, then think about what kind of communications you’d like to secure. And if you’re unsure, some types of VPN, like personal VPNs, offer money-back guarantees and free trials to try it out risk-free, so we recommend looking into that.

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