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How private is your enterprise VPN? In reality, not very.

Virtual private networks have “private” right in their name – but do they actually provide an enterprise with the level of privacy and security needed? A look behind the technology shows that the answer is a resounding no.

The main reason that VPNs fail the privacy test for the modern enterprise is that in a cloud-centric work environment, the traditional “network perimeter” has become a thing of the past (in quotation marks because it doesn’t really exist anymore).

The legacy approach of VPNs to security was conceived in an environment of on-premise enterprise settings. Today’s employees – working with applications and data in multi-site, multi-cloud, and hybrid-cloud environments – need access not just from internal corporate networks, but from external ones. Third parties like vendors and channel partners also need network access, which while bringing new benefits to the enterprise also introduces new risks.

How can enterprises handle this new reality when it comes to network security and privacy? While some still hope to accomplish these goals using the traditional approach of enterprise VPNs, these just aren’t up to the task, given the workplace changes described above. You need to look no further than the headlines to see evidence of the limitations of VPNs, since traditional perimeter security is what has led to many of the large data breaches we see in the news practically daily now.

This is because VPN solutions often leave a very large lateral attack surface exposed and vulnerable, which makes them unsecure. Security is also affected by the ongoing challenges of maintaining access control lists and firewall rules. What’s more, conventional VPNs have become synonymous with performance problems, and also require complex set-up processes and expensive dedicated appliances and routers.

Let’s drill down into some of the specific reasons why the traditional perimeter security approach of VPNs just isn’t enough to defend the modern enterprise:

  • Access is at the network level, not the application level. VPNs are too trusting by granting users access to your enterprise’s entire network. Just a single breach of one connection can compromise the security of the whole network.
  • Open firewall ports. VPNs are a hacker’s dream since they create easy-access vulnerabilities through open firewall ports, which are sitting ducks for hacking tools like port-scanners to hone in on and exploit.
  • Creates vulnerability through single point of failure. VPNs are dependent on physical appliances for their infrastructure. Because they can be a single point of failure, your network becomes vulnerable from a security standpoint each time you need to upgrade or replace an appliance.

When you look at these points of vulnerability, it becomes clear that VPN may actually add security risk, not reduce it, as was its original intention.

Restoring Security and Privacy to the Enterprise

If you’re among the enterprises that are still relying on the legacy approach of VPN to security, you should be feeling a little nervous after reading the facts above. You’re right to feel worried, since traditional perimeter security solutions can’t adequately safeguard today’s enterprise. Instead, enterprises need a more inherently “secure by design” technology to protect multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments: software-defined perimeter (SDP) technology.

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In this innovative approach, the technology enables enterprises to create the SDP that they need. In other words, rather than giving all users the same broad network access, IT can decide on the appropriate assignment of application-level segmentation, isolation and protection based on which application(s) each user actually needs to access on the network to get their work done.

By doing so, SDP achieves a “zero trust” environment, minimizing the potential attack surface that is exposed to users via limited access at the app level rather than network level.

Since a secure SDP is based on a micro-tunnel design that limits access based on apps and users, not by network, security is one of the biggest distinctions between SDP and VPN technology. VPN opens the floodgates to all comers, granting users access to the entire network, leaving open a very large network attack surface with open firewall ports.

SDP, on the other hand, only gives users access to designated applications, and the result is little to no network attack surface exposure. Data flows directly between users, sites, and clouds using encrypted micro-tunnels and public key authentication, which leverages self-expiring, one-time-use keys.

With randomly generated, non-standard user datagram protocol (UDP) ports, SDP makes the tunnels and servers untrackable, virtually invisible to hacking tools like port scanners. The result? Fewer opportunities for attacks and an optimally secure perimeter that puts VPNs to shame.

VPN’s archaic architecture has simply become way too risky in today’s hybrid and multi-cloud environment. SDP technology offers enterprises the defensive alternative they need – one that reflects the reality of today’s workplace while operating at a fraction of the security risk, cost and complexity of VPNs, or any other approach.

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