Virtual private networks (VPNs) have for a generation been viewed as the connectivity solution for the distributed enterprise, enabling secure remote access for mobile workers and branch offices back to the business-critical data at headquarters. While these connections are viewed as far more secure than the public Internet, VPNs are no longer the only solution for securely vetting enterprise traffic – let alone the most efficient one.
In reality, the days of ubiquitous VPNs may be numbered. These and other backhaul configurations make network management unnecessarily cumbersome as more and more remote workers and mobile devices flood enterprise networks, requiring their own dedicated VPN tunnels. The drawbacks of such complicated configurations are innumerable, and only get compounded every time a new device joins the network.
Security Left to the User
VPNs are designed to increase network security, but their functionality does little more than act as a standard web proxy. This means that advanced threat protection capabilities still need to be deployed on top of VPNs to assure traffic entering the network is secure.
Often, for instance, remote users will access the network using unsecured devices – like a personal laptop – that may already be infected with a malicious software. Once the user has authenticated their access request and successfully logged into the servers at headquarters, the malware could compromise network data.
This threat is difficult for network administrators to manage because they are forced to rely on responsible users to ensure that the network remains secure. This also illustrates one of the limitations of the VPN: most don’t differentiate traffic based on origin or device, but simply grant access to users who enter the right credentials. In addition, if an employee is given a device to be used exclusively for the company's business, there can be no guarantee that the employee will do so.
By nature, VPNs can slow down performance since they require proper authentication to be completed before users can access the network. But it’s trickier when the connectivity of remote users doesn’t move at the same speed as others on the network. In truth, VPNs are only as fast as the slowest Internet connection between two endpoints.
Adding to the performance lag is the fact that most IP applications were designed for low-latency and high reliability network environments. This means that network performance issues will only become more apparent as more real-time and interactive applications begin leveraging the enterprise network.
Complexity Breeds Budget Busters
VPNs require an array of equipment, protocols, service providers and topologies to be successfully implemented across an enterprise network – and the complexity is only perpetuated as networks grow. Purchasing the excess capacity and new Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) connections needed to support effective VPNs can weigh heavily on IT budgets, while managing these networks will require greater reliance on personnel.
Rather than limit the number of devices on their networks, organizations need to seek out solutions that simplify network management as companies continue embracing mobile and remote workforces. Even businesses that continue to rely on VPN or backhaul networks to protect their data need to employ a defense-in-depth approach to security, since VPNs, on their own, only offer the baseline protections of a standard web proxy.
As more solutions move to the cloud and enterprises rely less and less on physical servers and network connections, the need for VPNs will eventually evolve, if not disappear altogether.