All virtual private networks, or VPNs for short, are created to do one thing: let people access the internet and other computer networks free from the prying eyes and bad intentions of other people. Specifically, VPNs provide a secure link between computers, phones, and other devices, and the internet.
While all VPNs are broadly the same in principle, in practice they’re not all created equal. Different kinds of VPNs are suited for different uses. So, it’s important to understand these differences when deciding which VPN is right for you.
In this article, we’re going to give an overview of:
- What VPNs are and how they work
- The differences between the two types of VPN solutions
What is a VPN and what does it do?
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel that connects your internet device(s) to an external server. This tunnel prevents your internet service provider (ISP) — or anyone else who has access to your connection — from viewing your internet activity. It also prevents outside parties from being able to steal any sensitive information you send over the internet, like credit card numbers and account passwords.
Once you’re connected, the VPN server then links you to the internet or a private network. From there, you can browse the internet anonymously or access a corporate network securely.
Consumer and corporate VPNs are used for different reasons
So, now you know that every VPN protects your online activities so that outside parties can’t see or steal your internet traffic. But did you know that there are two types of VPNs — corporate and consumer — and that each type is used for different reasons?
Consumer VPN services are most useful for anonymizing a single person’s online activity. They do this by encrypting your connection, using servers located around the world, and providing dynamic IP addresses that are shared by multiple users. Such VPNs are employed for a variety of purposes. Here are a few of the most common:
- Securely access the internet using public WiFi networks
- Access content or web services with geographic restrictions
- Browse the internet privately, so that no one knows where you go or what you do
Corporate VPNs are used to provide secure access to company networks by hundreds or even thousands of remote workers. They also provide greater security than consumer VPNs. That added security comes from the use of static IP addresses and performance customizations unique to each business. These customizations are what allow corporate VPNs to meet regulatory requirements for handling sensitive corporate and customer data.
Ultimately, the purpose of a business VPN is to protect corporate data and the company network.
Consumer VPNs are simpler to use but less secure than corporate VPNs
Personal VPN services are built for easy setup and use. They’re also cheaper than business VPNs. To get started with a consumer VPN, you download an app, create an account, and start browsing. Settings for consumer VPNs are relatively limited, created by the VPN provider, and are controlled by the user. The implementation of security measures and maintenance of the VPN servers are handled by the service provider.
There are trade-offs for this simplicity. You must trust that your VPN provider has strong privacy protection and has configured the system properly to keep user data in the encrypted tunnel. Not only that, you must trust that the VPN provider isn’t recording user traffic or selling user data.
Business VPN systems have dedicated servers that are centrally managed and maintained by company IT support staff. This staff has total control over the network, and so can add or remove users and change settings for every user. Individual users have no control over their data, and the company can monitor all of their traffic.
Enterprise-grade VPNs are more expensive to build and maintain than simply paying to use a consumer VPN. However, that’s not to say that VPNs are out of reach for smaller businesses. The price of maintaining VPNs generally goes up with the number of users. At a smaller scale, corporate VPNs are quite affordable.
That means every company can have a customized system to suit its needs and ensure that its VPN works the way they need it to.