Cloud-based software (sometimes referred to as hosted or SaaS), is a software deployment method whereby users access the system through the internet. With cloud-based ERP, this means that the software lives on hardware and servers managed by the software vendor, and you, the customer, access the system using the internet (for example through an RDP connection or web browser). There are many benefits to using cloud-based software, including the fact that your business does not need to manage any of the physical hardware or servers that the software is installed on. Instead, you get access to software that resides on powerful equipment with a whole team of IT people responsible for managing the equipment including data back-ups, IT maintenance and upgrades. This saves you money from having to purchase equipment and the cost of hiring people to maintain it. When connecting to Cloud-based software, users do this through RDP – as explained in this article: RDP and Cloud-based Software. However, we require an additional security step to further protect your data and systems for remote access when not in the office - connecting through VPN.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network and is a way to access the internet that differs from accessing via Wi-Fi or a hardwired connection. VPNs provide an additional layer of security by masking your IP address when you are connecting to the internet, to prevent outside people from getting your information. When hackers have access to your IP address it is easier for them to retrieve personal information which can then be used to hack into your computer and so masking your IP makes your online actions virtually untraceable.
In summary, using a VPN protects the data you send and receive on your computer, laptop, tablet and phone so that hackers aren’t able to watch your every move.
Before we continue discussing VPNs, let’s first define IP.
What is an IP Address?
In technical terms, an Internet Protocol (or IP) is a numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the internet for communication. The point of an IP is for device identification and location tracking and any device that connects to the internet and works wirelessly will have an IP address - including your phone, computer, thermostat and baby monitor. Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) such as Rogers and AT&T automatically assign your devices different IPs which update every time you reboot. This allows ISPs to reuse IP addresses when customers change providers. Essentially, IP addresses help to locate and differentiate the billions of devices that are connected to the internet from one another.
Unlike home and personal internet plans, business internet plans offer the option to include a static or fixed IP address, meaning that your office IP will always remain the same. This makes it easy to whitelist the IP address for access to specific applications (as further discussed below).
Now, back to VPNs.
How Does a VPN Work?
VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. To simplify it even further, a VPN connects your device to another computer, called a server, somewhere on the internet and allows you to access specific information, file folders, applications, and tools made available by the other computer. When you send data over a Wi-Fi network or hardwired connection, the VPN uses encryption to scramble the data which makes it unreadable and allows you to securely access the information you need. A great example of this is using a VPN to access your company’s secure, private file folders and documents when you are not in the office. Setting up a VPN for remote access allows employees to securely connect to a business network and access local network resources and software systems from anywhere in the world.
The Importance of Using a VPN for Remote Access to Cloud-based Software
For most businesses, using a VPN provides an additional layer of security, anonymity and encryption for employees working remotely. As part of Blue Link’s security features, all our customers must use a VPN to connect to our cloud-based ERP software when they are not at their office. This allows our team to control who has access to your hosted environment and the associated software, systems and files stored in that environment, based on the list of users you provide. While in the office, your employees are protected by using your company’s private Wi-Fi or direct connection (which involves entering a password). Our team is then able to whitelist your company’s IP address since it won’t ever change, giving employees access to your hosted environment. Whitelisting is the process of choosing select IP addresses that are permitted to access the Blue Link hosted environment. Therefore, the only time employees need to use a VPN to access Blue Link is when they are not at the office. This allows employees to safely access sensitive, private data when working from anywhere in the world. Instead of having to continuously update and whitelist your employees changing IPs, instead, we set-up access through a VPN. This security feature prevents malware and unknown sources from trying to access your hosted environment.
To connect to a VPN, our IT team will provide a VPN client to your employees who will then need to enter their credentials to access the secure environment. Your credentials are unique to you as the user and the environment you are trying to access.