How to deploy a VPN in a Windows environment

We live in an interconnected world which largely depends on the Internet to carry out most of our day-to-day activities. Yet for all the Internet users across the globe, lack of security is one major threat to be worried about. Although there are various methods and techniques to enhance the cybersecurity, none of them can be treated as a universal solution to all the threats of the Internet. However, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can enable a user to overcome most of these security and privacy related concerns associated with the Internet.

A VPN is a network technology which helps in establishing a secure network connection across a public network such as the Internet or on a private network owned by a service provider. VPNs can provide various benefits to an individual user or an organisation in terms of functionality, security, and network management. Moreover, a VPN is not restricted to a limited number of systems in a particular geographical area but is capable of connecting multiple systems distributed over a very large distance just like a wide area network (WAN). Apart from providing a secure network, VPNs can also enable a user to access the Internet anonymously.

So how does a VPN work?

VPN networks work on the basis of a client-server architecture. Here, user’s devices such as a computer, tablet, or mobile act as clients and the VPN server acts as an intermediary between a client and the actual server. This client device is connected to a server using a secure private link, thanks to a VPN server in between the connection. When a client or user sends a request, it is initially forwarded to the VPN server, from where it is sent to the actual server to retrieve data. In this way, user anonymity and security are maintained in VPN connections. VPN is a powerful tool in networking, enabling a user to securely share their information with others. Moreover, a VPN also acts as a gateway of communication in their own internal networks in an organisation.

There are arguably endless ways to setup a VPN for an individual system or for an entire group of systems. Although the process of setting up a VPN on a small scale and on an organisational level might slightly vary, it’s almost the same as long as you are deploying it on a same operating system.

Deploying and configuring a VPN in a Windows environment

In the process of deploying a VPN in a Windows environment, both client and server systems have to be set up accordingly. A major part of deploying a VPN channel at an organisational level is handled by the server. That said, the process of deploying a VPN largely rests with the server whereas all the client systems have to join the network with minimal user interaction using provided credentials.

Password-based VPN deployment

Password-based deployment is the safest way to deploy a VPN connection for multiple users. It prevents unauthorised access to the network and allows the management to keep a track of its clients and users.

Here are the two password-based point-to-point authentication protocols to deploy a VPN:

  • Non-EAP methods such as CHAP, PAP, Ms-CHAP v2, and more.
  • EAP methods such as PEAP, EAP-TTLS, and more.

The use of EAP methods to deploy a VPN at an organisational level is highly suggestive as non-EAP methods are not considered secure. Furthermore, Microsoft itself suggest its users to use EAP methods to deploy a VPN connection.

Deploying a VPN to a group of systems enables them to establish a secure connection among themselves and also enables them to connect to the server remotely. Before deploying VPN to a group of systems, they must be first interconnected to a server. In this case, let us consider the server to be a Windows server.

Steps to deploy a VPN on a Windows server

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  • Install the “Remote Access” via Windows PowerShell or the Windows server manager.
  • After installing, select the “DirectAccess and VPN (RAS)” role services from the menu.

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  • After this, proceed with the installation process with default settings until you get to the installation overview screen.

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  • After the installation process is completed, the “Getting Started” wizard pops up on the screen.
  • From the wizard, you can select any one from the three options listed based on your requirement.

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Note: In case there are several clients, then deploying DirectAccess along with VPN can be a better option as it can enable a direct access through a VPN to all the connected client systems in the network.

  • Now right-click on the server name and click on “Configure and Enable Routing and Remote Access“ option from the menu.

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  • On the configuration wizard, select the “Custom Configuration” and enable the “VPN access” to start the service.

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  • After the installation process is completed, all the users have to be enabled for remote access to connect to a VPN server.

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Steps for a client device to connect to the VPN

  • Open Control Panel, and from that, open “Network & Sharing Center” and click on the “Set up a new connection or network“ option from the menu.

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  • On the connection wizard, select “Connect to a workplace” and click on next.

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  • Now the wizard will ask you to select the mode of connection to connect to your Office VPN.

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  • On the next step, the user needs to enter the information provided by the administrator which includes the Internet address along with the destination name.

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  • Now the user has to enter the user name and password provided by the network administrator to connect to the VPN network.

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  • Once all the aforementioned steps are completed, click on connect to start your VPN connection.

Please note that there might be scenarios wherein an organisation will need to import the user’s certificates to deploy the public key infrastructure (PKI) for a VPN connection. Although there are various ways to deploy a VPN network based on certificates, the best approach depends on the organisation’s deployment infrastructure and policies.

In case an organisation has more than one branch located at different geographical locations, deploying a multisite VPN can prove out to be quite beneficial. A multisite VPN uses the Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) technique to redirect all the clients to the nearest available VPN server site. Moreover, a multisite VPN is also used to resolve the addressing issues among geographically separated clients in the network.

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) has now emerged as a revolution in providing secure data transmission between the clients in multiple remote locations. It can be termed as the best mode of transferring sensitive information over a network for both small-scale and large-scale businesses and organisations. Therefore, a VPN is unarguably one of the best available solutions across the globe for providing an encrypted network environment.

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