Pagoda Blog

VPNs Explained and How to Choose One

September 17, 2020

As telecommuting increasingly becomes the norm, securing your internet connection, and that of your employees, should be a top priority. While your home Wi-Fi is most likely private, we often connect to free public Wi-Fi when on the go without thinking about the consequences. For example, how many times have you checked your email through an open, public Wi-Fi connection while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting to be seen at the doctor’s office? For most of us, it’s almost an involuntary reflex to just quickly check our email, social media, and even our bank account anytime we have a spare moment—and we don’t often think about the security of our connection.  


Your online activity when conducted through public Wi-Fi is vulnerable to interception by anyone else using that same connection. It’s also vulnerable when using a standard connection at home or at the office. In these situations, you need a private, secure internet connection to protect your personal and company data with an extra layer of security. This is where a VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes in. 


What is a VPN? 

A VPN works by creating an encrypted, secure tunnel between your local network (whether that’s at the office, at home, or somewhere on the road) and an exit node in another location. This “tunnel” scrambles the data using encryption making the data unreadable. It masks your online activity as well as your IP address so that your location is unknown and your activity is virtually untraceable. Keep in mind, your activity is still being tracked and recorded through search engines like Google, but through a VPN, your IP address is associated with the VPN instead of with you, effectively making all your online activity anonymous. A useful analogy is to think of your IP address as your return address—without a VPN it leads right back to your device. 


When should you use a VPN? 

For optimal security, you should always use a VPN. Even public Wi-Fi connections that require a password are still being used by many unknown users. Any one of those users could intercept your activity and gain access to the credentials to your bank account, email, or any other account you may be using on that connection. When you’re at home or at the office you may in theory know everyone using your internet connection, but a VPN adds an extra layer of security. Cybercriminals can still gain access to your personal, password-protected Wi-Fi connection but it’s significantly harder with a VPN.  


Related post: How to Secure Your Wi-Fi Router


Always using a VPN also has the additional benefit of preventing your internet service provider (ISP) from connecting your browsing history to your device. Your ISP is always tracking your online activity and most ISPs sell this information to advertisers without your explicit consent. Fortunately, a VPN prevents your ISP from connecting your activity to your personal device. This means they can’t trace your activity back to personal identifying information that could expose sensitive health data, banking information, and other private data that you don’t want falling into the wrong hands. 


A VPN also can protect you from identity theft or a company data breach. Every time you search for something online, conduct a transaction, or access an account that contains sensitive information such as your bank account or health provider portal, your information is exposed and vulnerable to cybercrime. 


How to choose a VPN 

When selecting a VPN you have two options: You can choose one that’s managed by your company or use a third-party VPN service. 


Company-managed VPN

A company-managed VPN is connected to a server at the office, giving you secure, unlimited access to internal files, documents, and programs. This type of VPN requires a business-grade router which must be actively maintained to ensure you’re always running the most up to date security protocols. Because this type of VPN connects to a company server through the business-grade router, it gives you access to your work network. This means that  remote employees can access all files, programs, and systems as if they were physically at the office. It’s also often the most cost-effective option as many companies already have a business-grade router or firewall. 


Problems can arise, however, when too many people are using it at once because all VPN traffic flows through the corporate network. (Typically this really does mean all traffic—not just company-related online activity but both professional and personal online activity for your employees, such as streaming videos.) Some companies get around this bottleneck issue by configuring their VPN so that only work-related online activity runs through the private, encrypted connection. While this improves internet speed, it makes the network vulnerable and basically negates any protection the VPN would have provided. This is because remote workers are accessing company resources while also directly accessing the internet via a connection that is possibly insecure.      


Third-party VPN service

A third-party VPN service provides the same security but instead of connecting to a physical server at your office, it runs the traffic through both a dedicated server provided by the VPN service and through the internet, avoiding the bottleneck that can occur should too many employees simultaneously be using a company-managed VPN. This type of VPN does not provide access to your work network, however, so if some of your files are stored exclusively on your company server, you won’t have access to them through a third-party VPN service. 


There are a lot of third-party options out there with different offerings and price-points. Each business has its own unique access and security needs so it’s important to do the research and decide for yourself which one is the best fit. There are a few factors every business should consider, however, as you review your options. 


Number of servers 

Before you choose your VPN service provider, verify how much data it’s able to process. Many providers will share how many servers they have which can help you determine capacity and processing speed. A good rule of thumb is the more servers, the better, although this can affect the price point. Aim for a provider that offers 1,000 servers or more to ensure it can handle all your company’s files and programs. This will also help ensure that you and your team always enjoy a fast connection.  


Number of devices

Your VPN also needs to support enough devices for your entire team. Before selecting a provider and a plan level, confirm that it offers enough connections for your needs. (Make sure to include both laptops and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, in your count.)  



To determine the security offered by a VPN service provider, you first need to look at their communication protocols. A provider that values your privacy and can be trusted with your data will offer OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec. OpenVPN is the most secure but will not connect with a smartphone or tablet. Fortunately, there are providers that offer both options so you don’t have to sacrifice security for convenience. You should avoid providers that use the outdated communication protocol PPTP. 


It’s also important to note that some VPNs (typically the free versions) do actually collect your data and track your online activity. To make sure your data and activity remains private, look for a provider that has a “no-log” policy.  


There are many reputable third-party VPN service providers available so to get you started in your search, below are two resources that list some of the best VPN services and why:


VPNRatings Best VPN Services of 2020

PCMag’s The Best VPNs for Businesses and Teams

Related reading: 

8 Cybersecurity Myths That Put Your Small Business at Risk

Setting Up a Secure and Productive Home Office for the COVID-19 Outbreak

The Privacy Risks of Location Tracking  


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