Virtual Private Network (VPN) Definition and Examples

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VPN stands for "virtual private network." It is basically a way to securely transmit private data over a public network (e.g., the Internet) using encryption and other security mechanisms.

There are various types of VPNs. For mobile workers, VPNs typically mean "remote access VPNs," where a remote worker connects to a corporate office over a secure VPN tunnel in order to exchange data and share resources, just as if he/she was on the internal network.

Other types of VPNs include site-to-site VPNs, where one entire local area network (LAN) is joined or connected to another LAN, such as satellite offices connected together in one corporate network over the internt.

Often used interchangeably with: "remote access"


VPN implementations can be software-based, as with Cisco's VPN client and server software, or a combination of hardware and software, such as Juniper Network's routers that are compatible with their Netscreen-Remote VPN client software.

Another form of VPN is SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN, which allows the remote user to connect using just a Web browser, avoiding the need to install specialized client software. There are pros and cons to both traditional VPNs (typically based on IPSec protocols) and SSL VPNs.

Home users can subscribe to a service from a VPN provider for a low monthly or yearly fee. These services encrypt and can anonymize users' browsing and other online activities.

Here are my picks for the top 3 VPN services.