In Support of VPNs

I’ve written about VPNs before on this site and how they can provide a layer of security for mobile attorneys. A few weeks ago, Ars Technica published an article entitled Die, VPN! We’re all “telecommuters” now—and IT must adjust. The thrust of the article is that, with the rise of mobile devices and other technologies (like cloud storage), the VPN is obsolete. It doesn’t suit the way we work.

Today, Ars published an op-ed piece disagreeing with that article. It’s worth the read for anyone who does make or may make future security and IT infrastructure decisions.

The author points out the ever-increasing number of corporate data breaches and suggests that VPNs can alleviate a lot of the problems. After walking through a real-life corporate breach and how it might have been prevented, the author warns, “while VPNs might not be a perfect solution to every problem, they serve a critical purpose in today’s world where, indeed, we’re all telecommuters. Abandoning VPNs because you heard they are inconvenient is, frankly, a reckless and potentially devastating mistake.”

HTTPS Everywhere by the EFF

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation released the 1.0 version of its Firefox extension, HTTPS Everywhere.

HTTPS Everywhere makes Firefox use the SSL-encrypted version of certain websites automatically. It works in the background to redirect your regular HTTP traffic to HTTPS if it’s available. So, for example, when you click a link on http://facebook.com that someone sent you, the extension automatically rewrites your request to connect to the encrypted version of the site instead.

Sadly, the extension only protects you when the websites you access support HTTPS. But it’s a great start for secure web browsing.

Network Security for Attorneys: VPN Tunnels

I ran across Ernie the Attorney’s post about mobility and security a while back, and some of the comments talked about using a VPN for network security outside the office. But they assumed you know what a VPN is and what it’s for.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and refers to a family of technologies that work together to connect two or more remote computers to one another as if they were attached to the same physical network. Usually the connection is encrypted and provides other security features to verify the identities of the computers involved.

But what’s that mean for you? As used by most mobile attorneys, a VPN will let an internet-connected mobile user connect to his office network and use its resources as if here were physically connected to it. For example, if you set up a VPN connection to your office network from a public airport wifi network, you can use the networked printer in your office or connect to the fileserver stashed in your wiring closet as if you were there.

Properly set up, a VPN can also help you protect sensitive data and conceal your online activity when you use unencrypted public wireless networks. In addition to using network resources like your office printer, you can also use your office’s internet connection, making it appear to the outside world that all the surfing and emailing you do outside the office originates from the office. Continue reading