What Is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 VPN Defined
  • 1:42 Different Types of VPNs
  • 3:06 How Do VPNs Work?
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Raymond Blockmon

Raymond has earned a bachelor's degree in computer information systems and a master's degree in organizational leadership.

A virtual private network (VPN) provides a way to use network resources securely in a remote manner. In this lesson, we'll cover why we use VPNs, what types of VPNs are used, and what is necessary in order for VPNs to work.

VPN Defined

A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that is completely isolated from the rest of the Internet. It provides people, businesses, governments, and military organizations to remotely use network resources securely. For the most part, VPNs are free to use. VPNs use site-to-site and remote access methods to work. They also use an array of encryption services that allow the secure connection to be formed.

So, do we really need VPNs? Actually, yes we do! VPNs provide a vital service to businesses, governments, military organizations, and even individuals. VPNs provide secure access to your local area network. Without VPNs, accessing sensitive information remotely would not be possible. VPNs allow two or more networks to be connected together. For example, a branch office of a bank located in Nevada and its headquarters located in Texas connect to one another through the Internet securely to share their resources (such as bank statements, mortgage records, etc.) together. With a VPN, both locations are logically connected together as one using the Internet securely as its backbone.

Imagine applying for a home loan where your paperwork has to be snail-mailed back to the corporate headquarters for review. It can take up to a week! But with VPNs, the home loan can be nearly instantaneous reviewed by the bank's headquarters no matter how far separated the branch office and the bank headquarters are.

Different Types of VPNs

Now we'll take a look at two common types of VPNs: site-to-site and remote access VPNs.

A site-to-site VPN allows two or more networks to be joined together. These networks use sophisticated encryption services to allow the connection to exist without hackers intercepting the traffic between the locations. Going back to our example, the connection between the branch office and its headquarters is an example of a site-to-site VPN. Users at both locations cannot tell that they are accessing network resources from another site because it is transparent to them.

A remote access VPN allows a user with a computer to access a private network. For example, I have a remote access VPN at my home that allows me to connect to my server, which stores all my music, documents from work, and photos of my family. I can access my VPN from my smart phone if I need something important.

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