Virtual private networks (VPN) are popular solutions for protecting the identity of users and business data online. At the heart of a VPN sits the VPN gateway.
In this article we cover what a VPN gateway is, what it does, and what are their benefits over hardware VPN concentrators.
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What is a VPN gateway?
A VPN gateway is a network device that creates secure connections between users, online applications, networks, repositories, and other systems. It forms the central node of a virtual private network (VPN) and facilitates secure data transfer over the internet, allowing authorized users to securely communicate with systems without fear of exposing sensitive information.
The secure connections that a VPN gateway creates consist of an encrypted tunnel formed between the sender and receiver. This allows them to communicate over public and unsecured networks with a high level of security.
A VPN gateway nowadays is a virtual device accessible in the cloud, but legacy VPN gateways would often be hardware (e.g. a router configured to handle the VPN connections). A dedicated device that provides VPN connections is called a VPN concentrator.
How does a VPN gateway work?
The main task of a VPN gateway is creating secure tunnels between users, networks, or systems over the internet. The way the tunnel is established and secured depends on the selected VPN protocol, such as OpenVPN, IPsec, or IKEv2.
The choice of the protocol determines the speed of the connection and encryption strength, so naturally different protocols excel at different tasks.
For example, secure access to local systems for remote users would often be encrypted via the IKEv2 protocol, while site-to-site connections connecting two branches would rely on the IPsec protocol.
However, modern protocols, like OpenVPN or Wireguard are equally suited for all VPN use cases. VPN providers sometimes use their proprietary VPN protocols, some of which are variations on open-source protocols.
VPN gateways do more than establish tunneled connections.
Another task of VPN gateways is authenticating users. When a user tries to access the private network, they must authenticate themselves. This authentication can be done simply via a trusted certificate installed on the user’s device, or, in a more sophisticated way, by entering a username and password in the client app, often reinforced with two-factor authentication (2FA) for better security.
Another important function of VPN gateways is providing an IP address. Especially a static IP address that permanently identifies the VPN gateway is an important part of company security and remote access, as it is used for IP whitelisting, securing remote access to resources, or publishing online services.
VPN gateways also carry out DNS resolution to route traffic over the internet, and more advanced gateways also offer DNS filtering as a protective measure against phishing and malware attacks.
Last but not least, VPN gateways can also handle access control, which consists of assigning access rights to users. This can be a powerful security tool of limiting access to applications and thus significantly reducing the risk of cyber threats and their impact.
Who is a VPN gateway for?
A VPN gateway is the go-to solution for securing remote access among small and medium enterprises (SME). These businesses face the challenges of limited IT resources (e.g. trained networking and security experts) and smaller budgets. These constraints preclude them from deploying and managing complex security solutions.
However, a cloud VPN gateway provides a simple, cost-effective, and highly scalable means of securing remote access to local and SaaS resources, making it an excellent fit for SMEs.
Benefits of using a cloud VPN gateway
Being software-defined, cloud VPN gateways are highly flexible and accessible solutions that provide several benefits for SMEs:
Ease of deployment and management
Cloud VPN gateways are easy to deploy and manage, even for businesses with limited IT resources. They don’t require any additional hardware, and all their management is done via a web-based user interface. This makes it easy for businesses to quickly set up and configure secure remote access and additional tasks.
Cloud VPN gateways are highly scalable; again, thanks to their zero-hardware architecture. Additional capacity is purchased as a service, instead of deploying and managing an additional VPN concentrator, as would be the case in legacy hardware VPNs. This allows SMEs to easily accommodate changes in the number of staff and systems.
Similarly to scalability, cloud VPN gateways come at a lower and much more flexible cost than hardware VPN concentrators. They require no upfront cost or maintenance costs as such, just a regular service fee. In addition, cloud VPNs are usually offered as pay-as-you-go services, which makes it very easy for businesses to scale their VPN service up or down depending on their immediate needs.
Cloud VPN gateways can be deployed anywhere in the world, providing optimal latency and global reach for remote users. Compared to their hardware counterparts, a cloud VPN gateway provides a superior user experience regardless of the user’s location.
How do you deploy a cloud VPN gateway?
VPN gateways are deployed as part of cloud services (such as MS Azure) or as part of dedicated VPN services, like GoodAccess.
Configuring your own VPN gateway is a labor-intensive process that requires knowledge of networking. The upside of that is you get to tweak the gateway precisely to your needs, however, you have to know what you are doing.
On the other hand, deploying a GoodAccess VPN gateway takes no effort at all. You simply create an account, enter the name of your team, and pick the gateway nearest to you. The technicalities of configuring have already been taken care of, so you get your VPN gateway as part of a ready-to-go service.
You can choose a gateway anywhere in the world, but it’s recommended to choose the one geographically closest for better latency.
Wrapping up on VPN gateways
VPN gateways provide worldwide secure connectivity and remote access to business systems via encrypted tunnels. Unlike hardware VPN concentrators, VPN gateways offer the benefits of increased scalability and optimized costs thanks to their software-defined architecture.
VPN gateways often come as part of VPN-as-a-service solutions, like GoodAccess, where they provide additional functionalities, like 2FA, DNS filtering, or identity-based access controls.