Site-to-Site VPN: How It Works and Do You Need One?
What Is Site-to-Site VPN Technology?
Site-to-site VPN (virtual private network) is a type of VPN that keeps data encrypted between two networks without needing credentials or client apps on devices using it.
VPNs are like tunnels, where encrypted information can travel from site to site. To better understand site-to-site VPNs, think of the Channel Tunnel, which connects England to France. An organization using this “tunnel” could send sensitive data from a company’s England branch to another office location in France.
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Site-to-site VPNs are important tools for many organizations worldwide. Businesses use it to connect two or more locations. For example, a site-to site VPN would allow a company’s headquarters in Chicago to connect to a smaller branch in Long Beach, California.
Due to the rise of remote work and eLearning, businesses take advantage of this tech to share information securely. In fact, 41% of VPN users in the US and UK use the technology weekly and 36% use it daily.
The VPN services market is expected to reach $92.6 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research.
How Do Site-to-Site VPNs Work?
When you use the internet with a regular connection through a router, your data has less barriers around it.
The public internet is a vast ocean of data, users, and networks which can all interact with each other. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does mean a malicious actor looking to access sensitive data would have less obstacles to do so.
VPNs started out as a way for businesses to protect themselves and that continues to be their primary purpose today. Since they create “tunnels” between two networks, site-to-site VPNs go from one location to another, and the only people who can see the data being transferred are users logged onto the network.
The VPN uses gateways at each location which encrypt all traffic that passes through them.
All traffic (data) has to be encrypted at the gateway which is solely responsible for protecting the data and sending it through the tunnel to the other side.
When inbound traffic is received, it is decrypted, and data packets are sent on to the target host—such as an employee receiving sensitive information about clients.
Because of this process of encryption and decryption, hackers and other cybercriminals are shut out and any other potential bad actors in the “ocean” cannot take advantage because the data is impenetrable and the tunnel inaccessible.
Benefits of Site-to-Site VPN
Watertight Internal Network
When a business takes advantage of a site-to-site VPN they can share data and information between networks more securely.
Business leaders are concerned about the rise of cyberattacks, especially ransomware which is often targeted towards SMBs. Additionally, the cybersecurity skill gap in the US makes it difficult for organizations to find specialists to safeguard their data.
Using a VPN can give businesses peace of mind, safe in the knowledge that data can be transferred between disparate locations while the risk of a breach is lowered.
As opposed to a personal VPN service, site-to site users don’t have to have client VPN apps installed on any of their devices. This means it’s easier for employees to safely connect to the company network.
Employees simply have to be logged on to this network as they usually would, and the gateway—which is the entry point at one end of the VPN— takes care of the rest.
One of the biggest benefits of implementing a site-to-site VPN for an organization is its scalability. If you open a new branch or office, it’s easy to add them to the WAN (wide area network).
Using VPNs is only one of the tools within Infosec, which aims to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data. Watch an explainer video on information security—also known as Infosec—and its benefits below:
Are There Different Types of VPN?
Yes, and they each serve distinct purposes depending on a company’s needs.
VPNs can be split up into three categories:
Remote Access VPNs
This is the most common type of VPNs used by individual users. It connects devices to networks. For instance, an employee working from home would use a remote access VPN to connect their laptop to their company’s network.
This type for VPN can create a more secure connection between remote workers and the organization where they work. It can also be used by workers travelling or using their own device to conduct business.
The focus of this blog. While remote access VPNs connect individual users, site-to-site VPNs connect whole networks to each other.
As opposed to a remote access VPN, site-to-site VPNs encrypt data at a gateway, so users don’t have to have any of the VPN software installed on their computer—so long as they’re connected to the “site” (the network), their data is protected.
A personal VPN creates an encrypted connection between a person’s device —such as a laptop or cellphone—and an online destination.
For example, a user could use a personal VPN—accessed through a VPN service such as NordVPN or TunnelBear VPN—to stream content on Netflix from their personal computer.
Remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs connect employees to their organizations or two company branches to each other. Thus, they are both examples of B2B VPNs. If your VPN vendor or service provider helps manage this secure connection, you are benefitting from a B2B VPN service.
Does Your Business Need One?
This depends on a number of factors, but usually will come down to the following considerations:
- The size of your business
- The number of company locations
- The sensitivity of data being shared
If your business is small, functioning in one office with little data traveling outside of your premises, then a site-to-site VPN won’t be necessary.
If, however, you’re a growing company that has ambitions to grow into a larger organization in multiple locations, or perhaps already operating in multiple locations, then a site-to-site VPN would be a sensible investment for now and for the future.
Then, consider the sensitivity of the data your business handles.
For businesses operating in industries like healthcare or finance, data protection is crucial. Customer records, protected information, and any sensitive data demand more cybersecurity protocols. Compliance laws and regulations also require businesses to protect certain types of customer data.
This goes for many businesses of other verticals, too, many of which handle significant amounts of customer data and can face hefty fines—or worse—if they don’t have the right security measures in place.
If your organization is still sharing sensitive data over an unprotected channel, a site-to-site VPN option can help you minimize the risk of the data being stolen or breached.
Why a Site-to-Site Might Not Be Best
While site-to-site VPNs have been good ways for businesses to secure traffic, recent years have shifted working circumstances to the point where this kind of setup doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to most modern businesses.
As SMBs continue to relocate their data and applications to the cloud, and workers spend more and more time operating outside of office networks (remote working), the process of routing traffic through an onsite data center makes little sense.
Because of this, many companies are shifting away from site-to-site VPNs entirely.
Drawbacks of Site-to-Site VPN
With a site-to-site VPN, data is designed to only be encrypted between two points. The VPN tunnel itself doesn’t offer any security features like access control or content regulation.
Because of this, organizations often implement a spoke-hub process for dealing with VPN connections, meaning that all data passes through a central location (usually the company’s HQ) where it can be inspected and sent on its way.
The issue with this technique is that it creates a more substantial load on your servers, meaning slower network speeds.
Visibility and management
Each site-to-site VPN tunnel is independent from the other, making management and visibility of these data transfers difficult. Where IT departments are doing their best to centralize data and reduce network latency, a site-to-site VPN can have the opposite effect.
In addition, VPN must be set up, configured, monitored, and managed individually—often a complex and costly endeavor for SMBs.
Remote Access VPN Might Be Right for Your Business
If your primary concern right now is protecting data handled by remote workers, then you might want to invest in a VPN that is remote access-based.
As we briefly mentioned, a remote access VPN works in much the same way as a site-to-site VPN, only—as the name implies—it can be logged into from anywhere and any device that has an internet connection.
Difference Between Site-to-Site and Remote Access VPN
With a site-to-site VPN, an encrypted tunnel using IPsec—a suite of protocols that create an encrypted connection between devices—is created to establish a VPN “tunnel” between two servers in order to traffic data.
With remote access VPN, an SSL VPN—which uses an encryption-based Internet security protocol—is typically used to form connections between the office network and individual endpoints.
Secure access service edge (SASE) is a platform that is geared towards companies that house a lot of their data in the cloud. It combines remote access VPNs with the security features that you would expect from a corporate firewall, like threat hunting and detection, next-gen antivirus, and more.
If you’re concerned about company data being handled remotely, then investing in a SASE system is likely the best option for dealing with a remote workforce for now and the future—it’ll allow you to have all the benefits of your office network security but through the cloud instead.
While site-to-site VPNs are best suited to businesses which operate with multiple offices, remote access VPN is best suited to organizations which have remote workers, and a combination of the two is ideal for a company that has both.
A managed IT service provider could help you set up and supervise a secure site-to-site VPN connection for your business. To learn about the benefits of managed IT services, download the eBook Does Your Business Need a Managed IT Service Provider?