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Updated 1:22 p.m. UTC Feb. 6, 2024

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What is a VPN?

A commercial VPN, or virtual private network, is an encrypted tunnel. After connecting to it, all internet activity passes through the secure service. When employees access cloud applications or their company’s network, business VPNs protect all data — including confidential client information and worker locations — from prying eyes. 

Business VPN solutions offer features that personal services don’t. For instance, many provide an administrative portal, allowing centralized control over multiple VPNs. Some give discounts for bulk license purchasing. 

A VPN for business use may include features suitable for small to large corporations, such as: 

  • Activity reports.
  • Dedicated account managers.
  • Transferable user licenses.
  • Integration with single sign-on tools.
  • Device security posture monitoring.
  • Fixed IPs with dedicated servers.
  • Network segmentation.

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How does a VPN work?

The internet is like a public highway for online activity. Business VPNs encrypt data and then send it through a secure tunnel. The private pathway prevents advertisers, internet providers and hackers from observing online activities, including uploads and downloads.

According to Justas Pukys, product manager at Surfshark VPN, “the core functionality of a VPN is to secure and encrypt users’ data so that third parties like hackers, cybercriminals or, in some instances, governments couldn’t track users or see what they are doing online.”

A business VPN client (software for your phone or computer) encrypts the request on your device before sending it through your internet connection to the VPN server. The VPN server decrypts the request and forwards it to the appropriate web server. Once the web server responds, the VPN encrypts its response before sending it back to you. Your VPN client decrypts the information, and your requested website or application loads. 

Of course, this process happens quickly. After establishing a VPN connection, users access the internet as usual. The business VPN works in the background, encrypting and decrypting data, so your online requests, activities and information aren’t exposed.

Here’s how a business VPN works:

  • The user downloads a desktop or mobile client: Apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android devices require a username and password for identity verification. 
  • A business IT team walks the user through the setup: Depending on company policies, users may need to enable a kill switch, select the company-approved protocol and configure split tunneling.
  • Employees establish a VPN connection: Most VPN apps have a single button for connecting or disconnecting. Alternatively, businesses and users can configure the account to connect automatically.
  • The VPN server begins protecting data and online activity: Once connected, the VPN client encrypts or decrypts all interactions before sending online requests through the VPN tunnel. 

What does a VPN cost?

Pricing for most basic VPN services starts around $2.59 per user per month when billed annually. However, this figure varies based on the provider, plan tier and billing cadence. Most VPN solutions offer single-tier pricing, but many offer subscription options. Higher-priced plans may allow for more simultaneous connections and perks such as a dedicated IP address or antivirus tools.

Individuals can select different billing terms, which can lower the VPN cost. Annual, biennial or triennial options typically cost less than month-to-month plans. Providers may also offer weekly billing or bulk licensing options, which let business owners buy three or more licenses for a lower price.

How to choose the right VPN for your small business

Before looking for VPN solutions, think about why you need a VPN and who will use it. Are you connecting remote workers to your main office network? Want a site-to-site solution? Or are you a solopreneur needing a VPN while using public Wi-Fi? 

Next, consider a VPN’s privacy and security tools. According to Pukys, “a good rule of thumb is the stronger the encryption, the better.” In addition, Pukys recommends users “consider additional security features that a VPN provides for better safety, and look for VPN providers with periodic and public audits confirming that companies follow their established policies.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests researching services by reading VPN reviews and ratings. It also recommends checking out app store pages to see “what types of data the app will access on your device.”

Compare small business VPNs by looking at:

  • Download and upload speeds.
  • Available protocols.
  • Per user cost.
  • The number of servers and locations.
  • Ease of use for employees.
  • VPN features, like a kill switch and split tunneling.
  • Custom configuration capabilities.
  • Administrative dashboards.
  • VPN company history, audits and security measures. 
  • Time to implement and deploy.
  • Single sign-on and MFA functionality.
  • Scalability.
  • Desktop and mobile app functionality.
  • Ability to configure the VPN for compliance standards.
  • Ease of adding or removing users.
  • Advanced security tools and features.
  • Customer support options and responsiveness. 

What we don’t recommend

In most cases, we don’t suggest businesses use free VPNs. According to the FTC, “many VPN apps are free because they sell advertising within the app, or share your information and online activity with other companies.” Instead, use the free version to assess a VPN service and see if the application is easy to use. Then switch to a paid plan for everyday business use. 

Most larger teams should avoid consumer VPNs. These lack centralized billing and management tools that simplify business processes. The price per user is the same or slightly more for team-centric subscriptions but lets your company administrator oversee your VPN program.

However, solopreneurs and independent contractors don’t necessarily need business-level tools found on higher-priced plans and services.

Best Overall VPN Service

Stay safer online with the leading VPN service.

NordVPN offers a fast VPN that includes additional cybersecurity features for browsing the internet on multiple devices with security and speed.

Get 68% off NordVPN + 3 extra months
Get 68% off NordVPN + 3 extra months
Best Overall VPN Service
Get 68% off NordVPN + 3 extra months
Easy to setup and use
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