A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a security measure that can increase the inherent level of security within a network by ensuring data sent from that computer isn't intercepted until it reaches its destination.
According to Cisco, a VPN is a connection which has been encrypted, linking one device to another over the internet. This allows a user to perform tasks with a certain level of peace of mind that a regular connection wouldn't allow.
In the world of finance, having that peace of mind is essential since the sheer volume of transactions that a business may deal with on a day to day basis can be immense, and any security breaches in a financial network could be disastrous to the parent company.
In the field of finance, there is often a need to secure data end-to-end when transfers are made. What this means is that the initial packet of data is encrypted and sent, then when it's received on the other side, it is decrypted.
If the packet is intercepted on its way through, then there is very little chance of the person who intercepted it from discovering its contents. VPN's offer an additional layer of security. Whereas transmitting data regularly through the internet via a secure connection may be like sending a postcard, transferring data over a VPN is like putting that postcard in an envelope, making it virtually tamper-proof.
Lifehacker notes that even in our private lives, it's a good idea to use a VPN because of the threats associated with unsecured internet connections. Professionally, a VPN offers an added layer of security and more is better than less when it comes to a sensitive field like finance.
A VPN is a valuable addition to a finance company's arsenal against hackers. There are a number of methods of exploitation that hackers may employ to get into a system, and while some of these are obvious to many of us in the field, there are a few that are a lot subtler but just as nefarious as the obvious culprits. Among the things that a VPN may be able to protect a company from are:
- Malware: Many companies end up with malware on systems through no fault of their own. This malware can be used to track and passively transfer sensitive information to hackers who can then use this data as leverage in technological blackmail or worse. Malware includes things such as viruses, Trojans, and key loggers. VPN's create a system by which this sort of hijack software is unable to communicate with their server (since VPN's require some specific setup to work) rendering them useless to their owners.
- Phishing/Smishing: While many of us are aware of the practice of phishing, the related action of smishing is far less noted. Whereas phishing uses emails as their medium, smishing depends on SMS and text communication. Usually, a link is included and when you're dealing with a lot of clients, it's easy to mistake a phishing or smishing scam as a legitimate email. There is a need to ensure that sensitive information isn't sent over the internet either by email or phone, and a VPN helps guard against that possibility.
- Mobile Applications: Even people who are regular users of the internet and even understand complex internal running on a server can be stumped when it comes to a mobile application. It's a horse of a different color and even experienced users use mobile apps without fully understanding how they function. This can be disastrous when sensitive information is stored on a company phone, for example. The aim of these malicious apps is to get access to information on the phone and transfer it discreetly to their originators. A VPN stops this discreet transfer by blocking the app's access to the internet. Even so, malicious apps should be found and removed as soon as possible since their presence on a phone constitutes a security risk.
- Networks with Lax Security: Not all networks are secure. Open networks in particular leave their transfer of information open to anyone else on the network. With the rise of sophistication in network "sniffing" or interception of packets on an open network, there is a very real concern that information sent over an open network like this can be stolen without the user even knowing it was being done. VPN's guard against this by securing the information so that only the intended recipient of the info gets it.
As PC Mag notes, threats to one's data might come from innocuous sources like your ISP, and while it's expected that these companies know how to handle your data, once that data leaves your purvey, you technically have no control over where it goes.
Sensitive information related to finance, for example, is too valuable to leave in the hands of an ISP, and the best VPN is one of the most affordable and secure methods of ensuring that the data only goes to its intended recipient.
In recent years, security breaches in financial institutions have led to issues that could have been prevented, if only the company had invested in a VPN much sooner. While it is an added expense, the long-term benefits to the company usually outweigh the relatively minor cost of obtaining an enterprise-level VPN. In the world of finance, it should be considered a necessity, not a luxury.