Last time (Accessing Remote Data Part 2) we talked about setting up secure remote communications from one stationary location like a home office to another stationary location like the main office. This time, let's talk about providing remote data access to those users wandering around from place to place. After all, since your laptop is portable, you may want to start moving around with it under your arm yet still do business.
The counterpart to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) between two fixed locations is client VPN software on a computer that connects securely to a VPN-enabled router. In other words, your mobile laptop to your office router.
Good news: These are available, even for the low end entry level routers favored by small businesses. You even have choices between several different brands of client software. Your router manufacturer will probably have one for sale, and most brands now work withs tandards-based VPN clients.
Bad news: you will almost certainly have to buy these software applications, but they aren't too expensive. Software clients from standard small business router vendors (Netgear, Linksys/Cisco, SonicWall, ZyXel, Watchguard, Buffalo, D-Link etc.) are designed to work with your hardware. Expect to pay in the $50 range for one license, and the cost goes down with volume. If you have 15 people that work remotely now and then, the price will drop per license and you can afford the one-time fee for the software. The security you gain for the $50 or less you spend will be worth the cost.
The client software creates a virtual connection in your computer that encrypts all your traffic between you and the office. As your data files fly across the Internet, no one can see them or read them if they try. Configuration won't be fun for the first mobile computer to office link, but take good notes and the following systems will go much more quickly and easily.
Be prepared to upgrade your router if many people start logging in remotely. Processing overhead for the VPN traffic takes a toll on the router's CPU. More traffic means more money for a newer router. But it also means your remote data access remains safe.