What Is OpenVPN and How Can It Help Protect Your Data against Cyberattacks?

Image of a padlock symbolizing data security.
Padlocks work for securing everything!
Source: pixabay

Cyberattackers use various techniques to harm you, ranging from cyberstalking to ransomware. Packet sniffing is one of the first techniques cyberattackers learn in their “careers”. In short, packet sniffing is problematic because of its simplicity and the prevalence of packet sniffing tools. For instance, you can access these tools as part of Kali Linux or download them from various penetration-testing websites. You can also buy pre-configured packet sniffing devices. To this end, cyberattackers don’t need  specific expertise to carry out cyberattacks. But OpenVPN is one effective solution you can use to combat this issue.

In this article, I’ll explain what OpenVPN is, as well as its benefits and challenges. I’ll also show you how to set it up in your business. Let’s begin with a definition!

What Is OpenVPN?

The private networking and cybersecurity company behind OpenVPN aims to provide solutions that help companies safeguard their assets. Its mission is to help improve cybersecurity through its solutions in a dynamic, cost-effective, and scalable way. 

OpenVPN is a virtual private network (VPN) data encryption software solution that enables you to encrypt your data. In brief, it can protect connections between network nodes within your business or to external sites. Additionally, you can drastically improve your overall cybersecurity without expert knowledge. 

OpenVPN provides two offerings: OpenVPN Cloud and OpenVPN Access Server. Companies can take advantage of these offerings depending on their needs and requirements. OpenVPN services small businesses up to government organizations.

Screenshot of the subscription page and how the number of VPNs needed will impact price using a slider.
Everyone loves the interactivity of a slider!
Source: OpenVPN

OpenVPN Cloud offers you three VPN connections for free. You can check out the pricing options for OpenVPN Cloud on this page

Access Server, on the other hand, only offers two VPN connections for free. For more information on Access Servers pricing options, you can check out this page.

After the free trial ends, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee for both offerings depending on the number of VPN connections you need.

That said, I think it’s time to look at how OpenVPN works. Let’s dive in!

How Does OpenVPN Work?

Screenshot of OpenVPN's cloud dashboard showing VPN status and VPN connections.
OpenVPN’s professional dashboard centralizes control and management!
Source: OpenVPN

As mentioned, OpenVPN encrypts your data between endpoints like most VPN solutions on the market. It allows you to establish a secure connection by providing the endpoint with an encryption key. Once you create this connection, you can encrypt your data and send it as a series of packets with a header, body, and footer.

Bad actors often use a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack to try and intercept your wireless traffic. In a MITM attack, the traffic will go to the endpoint through the bad actor’s system. In brief, this allows them to “packet sniff” or inspect your data packets. Alternatively, if bad actors have access to your network, they might use a “LAN turtle” to conduct a LAN attack to similarly sniff your packets.

If you have unencrypted data, a cybercriminal conducting packet sniffing can see all this data. They can easily find out who you’re conducting business with and see your user credentials. So, you must encrypt your data without any hesitation.

That said, some cyberattackers can bypass data encryption even if you use military-standard encryption. Fortunately, this is very difficult for an amateur cyberattacker. The average attacker finds it almost impossible to decrypt data unless they have a research-level background in cybersecurity. When it comes to using a VPN, never assume that your VPN is infallible.

A question you could have by now is how secure OpenVPN is. Let’s take a look!  

How Secure Is OpenVPN?

As mentioned earlier, encryption is difficult to bypass for many cybercriminals. This is due to the technical knowledge and research work required.

OpenVPN uses a cipher called AES-256, which is the military standard and the industry standard overall. AES-256 refers to a 256-bit encryption algorithm. The larger the bit number, the harder it is to decrypt. When using OpenVPN, you can select one of two modes: GCM (Galois or Counter Mode) or CBC (Cipher Block Chaining). Both are secure and meet 256-bit security requirements.

AES-GCM combines encryption and authentication steps. On the other hand, AES-CBC uses a secret cryptographic key known as SHA1 for packet authentication. In short, the process for creating the encrypted tunnel is slightly different depending on the mode you use. Overall, they’re both trusted and effectively keep your data hidden.

Now, I’ll review the benefits and drawbacks of using OpenVPN, starting with the benefits.

Benefits of Using OpenVPN

Below are a few of the key benefits OpenVPN offers you. That said, it’s wise to use a VPN when dealing with any type of data transfer. This can reduce the chances of someone intercepting your data.

  • Encrypts your data using 256-bit encryption to obscure packet contents from cyberattackers
  • Enables you to access and manage VPN services from one centralized platform 
  • Has 34 server locations distributed across the world to ensure low-latency connections
  • Provides third parties with a robust VPN protocol to help anyone keep their data safe
  • Uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) monthly subscription plan that enables businesses to integrate OpenVPN cost-effectively and scale as needed
  • Allows you to use a hosted VPN solution rather than opting for an on-premise VPN server

Drawbacks of Using OpenVPN 

As with any solution, you can also expect some drawbacks when using OpenVPN. You can find a few of these drawbacks below.

  • Makes it difficult to control data visibility after it leaves your business due to not having on-premise VPN servers
  • Monitors data going through many locations, which might lead to a data breach in some cases
  • Allows third parties to potentially exploit their access to how OpenVPN’s protocol works

Lastly, I’ll briefly show you how to set up OpenVPN. It’s a very simple process, so let’s get started.

How to Set Up OpenVPN

Endpoints will require an OpenVPN client installed to access OpenVPN services. The setup process is the same for both Cloud and Access Server offerings. Here’s a step-by-step guide for you to follow:

  1. Open the VPN and log in using your credentials
Screenshot of OpenVPN options for Access Server.
Select your platform after logging in.
Source: OpenVPN
  1. Select the relevant client for the local machine you’re on
Screenshot of the OpenVPN installation wizard.
Go through the installation wizard.
Source: OpenVPN
  1. Go through the installation wizard; this will install the client locally on your machine
Screenshot of OpenVPN in a system tray.
OpenVPN icon in the system tray.
Source: OpenVPN

Congratulations; you can now access OpenVPN through your local client.

Let’s wrap up!

Final Words

OpenVPN offers you a complete cloud-based VPN solution for your company. Specifically, it enables you to encrypt traffic through its 256-bit encryption and control everything from a centralized dashboard. You don’t need infrastructure for a local VPN server, and you can easily scale this solution using its monthly subscription plans. No matter how big or small your business is, OpenVPN is an excellent VPN solution that you should consider.

Do you have more questions about OpenVPN? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

How do you compare VPN solutions?

Fundamentally, you can compare a VPN solution’s ability to encrypt data by the number of bits it uses for its ciphers. Currently, the best number of bits to have is 256-bit which is the military standard. However, don’t assume that this makes your VPN security infallible. A sensible approach to take is to assume that all the data you send is completely visible to anyone.

What is the difference between using TCP and UDP protocols?

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) effectively control how you send data packets. In short, TCP sends data faster but with packet loss, making the process less efficient. UDP is slower but excellent for static processes like sending emails. With VPNs like OpenVPN, you can configure either depending on your needs.

What is endpoint protection?

Endpoint protection should be on your shopping list when selecting a VPN solution like OpenVPN. In short, it ensures the encryption of your data until it reaches its destination. However, not every VPN solution offers endpoint protection, so keep that in mind.

What is a no-log VPN service?

VPN servers log connections, including IP addresses, session IDs, and times and dates. Cyberattackers can use this information to their advantage. They can find out who you’re conducting business with, your suppliers, and so on. A no-log VPN service is the perfect solution for this issue.

Should I use a VPN?

Yes. Packet sniffing has become so easy to do these days. With little knowledge, anyone can buy off-the-shelf hardware or use free software to conduct packet sniffing. Using a VPN like OpenVPN can stop bad actors from sniffing your data packets.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Cyber Threat Hunting

Learn what cyber threat hunting is and how you can use it to stop threats from sneaking up on your network.

TechGenix: Article on SSL VPNs

Find out what SSL VPNs are and how they can help improve your business’s security.

TechGenix: Article on Data Masking

Get to know more about data masking and what it can do for your business.

TechGenix: Article on WARP and VPN Security

Discover the differences between WARP and VPN.

TechGenix: Article on Cloud Tenant Architecture

Secure your business better by understanding how cloud tenants can impact your business.

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