You may have heard the words “virtual private network” or its acronym VPN mentioned by the computer savvy. But what does it mean? And how does VPN work? And also, why should you care?

The truth is, VPN is a critical part of staying safe online, which is why it’s important for all of us to understand how it works and when to use it.

What is VPN and how does it work?

First, let’s break it down:

Virtual: VPN does not require extra cables or physical infrastructure. The connection is entirely virtual.

Private: VPN increases the privacy of a user’s connection. VPN allows you to connect to a secure network that is only available to users with certain permissions.  

All information connected to a browsing session while using a VPN is restricted to that network. However, the VPN provider may still collect information about your session, so be sure to choose a trustworthy provider. 

Network: VPN works by creating a secure connection, or “tunnel” between your computer and a remote server. Your actions are then routed through that tunnel, which is anonymous and private (except to your VPN provider).

Uses of VPN

There are two main reasons to use a VPN: to protect your privacy and to connect to specific networks (such as a school or work network).

Keeping Your Information Private

As you browse the internet, you share information with the websites you visit. You “ask” to see pages of a website. When you log into Facebook or Twitter, you transmit your username and password, usually as encrypted data. You also share information with your internet service provider, such as your IP address and browsing history. 

If your network connection is insecure, like in a public Wi-Fi setting, or a website uses no encryption (or poor encryption), malicious entities may also pick up the information you’re sharing with websites. 

VPNs help block that information from prying eyes.

Company Connections

Many companies require that their employees use a VPN to access the company network when working on mobile devices or when they’re off-site. It may also be required to use VPN while on-site while connecting to specialized databases or dealing with confidential information.

At the University of Maryland, you’re required to connect to specific VPN networks when accessing the Kuali Financial System and Warehouse on the Web. Additionally, some UMD library resources require a VPN connection for access from off-campus.

Public Wi-Fi

Another situation in which you might want to secure your browsing information is when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. Whether you’re catching up on homework in Starbucks or working on a project in the public library, insecure connections may leave you vulnerable to malicious users interested in your personal information.

Using a VPN can help keep your important information safe from hackers. 

Connecting to a Network

Specific networks can be created and accessed using VPNs.

Company Connection

Companies may use VPNs not only to keep their information private and secure, but also to allow users in different locations to access the company network. Whether employees are on vacation, working from home, or commuting, they can use the company’s VPN to access company data, services, and applications. 

Home/School Connection

Just as you can connect to your company’s VPN when away from the office, with a little setup you can also connect to your home network while on vacation or away from home. 

In the same way, you can use the UMD VPN Client from TERPware to access UMD internet resources while not on campus. University of Maryland students and employees are required to use a VPN when accessing certain university applications. 

Download the UMD VPN Client

Now that you’ve learned the value and purpose of VPN, you may want to get started using it. Fortunately, UMD offers the community a VPN client that’s easy to use, the Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client.

The VPN client can be downloaded on a variety of devices, including Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. You can also use it on mobile devices, such as an iPhone or Android phone.

Here’s how to get it for yourself:

  1. Visit TERPware and log in with your Directory ID and password. You may need to authenticate with multi-factor authentication.
  2. Search for VPN.
  3. Select the appropriate operating system.
  4. Follow the instructions to install and set up the Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility client.

Once it’s installed, connect to VPN with these steps:

From your device, open the application. 

  1. You’ll be prompted to enter a network address. Type and click Connect.
  2. Select a Group from the drop-down menu.
    1. UMD is used for general internet access.
    2. UMapps is used for sensitive resources, such as KFS.
    3. UMAccess-MFA and UMD-MFA are used for accessing some secure data center applications that require extra security.
  3. Enter your Directory ID and password. Click OK.

Now you’re connected! Enjoy a safer, more secure internet experience.

Published On: 
Friday, April 6, 2018