Many workers rely on VPN technologies to stay secure, productive and connected – but what happens when they stop working or start causing problems?
When they were first invented, VPNs were designed to overcome a variety of issues facing businesses with remote workers. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of the web communications were unencrypted, meaning data was transmitted in plaintext. In short, a VPN was the only way to ensure connections remained secure from the prying eyes of attackers. Secondly, most enterprise resources were kept on-site, inside the corporate perimeter. VPNs allowed remote workers to tunnel into that network, granting them access to tools and data otherwise only available to employees that were physically in the office.
Today the world has changed and these core use-cases have evolved too. VPNs no longer need to be all-or-nothing, and many have a wide range of enhanced functionality that extends far beyond that original purpose.
Whatever the reasons may be, hundreds of thousands of organizations still require some kind of remote access tool for their remote workers to be productive in a secure and reliable way – but what happens when things aren’t working as they should be?
Here are some of the most popular VPNs being used by businesses, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Common VPN problems
“My VPN won’t connect.”
One of the most frequent and most frustrating issues with many VPNs is that they simply will not connect. Sometimes they will look like they are connected and online, but it is impossible to access websites or resources.
“My internet connection is unbearably slow.”
Sadly a large number of the more old-fashioned, legacy VPNs rely on dated communications technology that were not engineered for the age of superfast broadband and 5G connections, and the network speed will often suffer as a result.
“My video conference is experiencing issues“
More video calls are taking place than ever before, but often a VPN can cause a litany of issues with video and audio connections – from broken conversations to patchy streaming.
“I can’t access Netflix, Youtube or another website“
Some VPNs have functionality that allow administrators to apply policy controls to certain sites and services, blocking users from accessing unsanctioned materials. That may not be the case though. There are many instances where a VPN may be preventing you from connecting to a particular service.
“I have to reauthenticate and log in several times a day“
Almost every VPN service requires some kind of authentication process for users. It can be irritating to have to log back in several times a day, especially if working on unstable or fast-changing networks.
“I have to reload what I’m doing when the network drops”
Recurring or multiple disconnects, re-authentications and switching between different network types can be hugely annoying for remote workers, especially when having to restart the web or app session from scratch each time.
Common VPN solutions
Unfortunately, VPN technology can be complicated meaning troubleshooting each particular issue can be a challenge. Here are some steps that you might be able to take to try to resolve some of the more common problems.
Reinstall the VPN. Often client versions and applications can become quickly outdated. Visit the app store or vendor website to get the latest version download.
Remove other VPNS. Very few VPN services play nicely together. If you have another VPN installed, or a browser plugin doing something similar, make sure you disabled all other network products that may be interfering with your main VPN service.
Update your OS. Whether you’re on mobile or desktop, often VPN clients may be having a conflict with the version of Windows, Mac, Android or iOS that you are running.
Join a different network. Sometimes it might not necessarily be the VPN, but the underlying network. Try connecting to an alternative, if possible, or restart/turn off your WiFi.
Disable your security products. Security products often struggle to co-exist. Temporarily pausing your antivirus or firewall might help you get closer to figuring out the problems you’re having with your VPN.
Restart software. One of the oldest IT tricks in the book is to simply ‘turn it off and on again’. That can work with the VPN software, the application or even the whole computer. It can work wonders.
If all else fails
If all else fails
Ultimately, a lot of problems encountered with VPNs are simply a result of dated or low quality technology. Many of the main enterprise VPNs were designed over a decade ago and are subsequently not suitable for the demands of modern remote working.
Helpdesk teams have a limited ability to resolve issues, partly because VPNs working on home WiFi, public networks and cellular connections will be largely invisible to the support personnel. You can’t fix what you can’t see. This is compounded by the challenge that most VPNs improve security at the cost of productivity and speed – many of them actively degrade the user experience.
Put simply, most VPNs suck. If you’re in a position to re-evaluate your organization’s remote access solution, you should consider emerging technologies, such as SDP, ZTNA or CASB, or look to VPN products that are built for the requirements of modern, scalable remote working.
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