With malicious actors more active than ever and criminal efforts growing ever-sophisticated, small and medium-sized businesses must prioritize securing network communications for users working remotely.
While hardware platforms — including equipment from Cisco, Fortinet and SonicWall — are often used, software-only VPN services are growing in popularity due to their simplicity, flexibility and capacity to provide protection when users connect to third-party applications and resources outside the organization’s network. Here’s how five leading VPN services for SMBs stack up.
- What is a VPN service?
- How does a VPN service work?
- What are the business benefits of a VPN service?
- Best VPN services for SMBs
What is a VPN service?
A VPN service is a technology solution, often sold as a monthly or annual subscription, that typically provides users with a small application and corresponding VPN server functionality. The two components — the application and VPN server’s encryption functionality — subsequently work together to provide users more secure network communications, including for those traveling the public internet.
SEE: Mobile device security policy (TechRepublic Premium)
How does a VPN service work?
VPN services typically create an encrypted tunnel through which communications pass to and from your computing device — whether a compatible smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, laptop or even a router.
While the details quickly become complex, the basic strategy typically involves a VPN service first confirming your identity, after which the service encrypts corresponding traffic to its VPN server, which then decrypts the communications and sends them on to the destination. Upon receiving replies, the VPN server encrypts information received from the destination system before returning those communications, securely, to your device, where the VPN service software decrypts the traffic, thereby permitting the communications’ proper use.
What are the business benefits of a VPN service?
By creating a private network over public infrastructure, such as the Internet, VPN services make network communications much more secure. Because the VPN service encrypts information between the VPN server and the user’s device, information contained within those communications — including logins, financial information and other sensitive data — is unusable to those who might eavesdrop, including when using the Internet, wide area networks (WANs) and public WiFi connections. Subsequently, the contents of your communications are hidden from Internet service providers, government agencies, malicious hackers and other parties.
VPN services also mask actual IP addresses. As a result, users can make it appear they are logging in from a different location, thereby providing access to potentially otherwise unreachable resources. Such anonymity also protects users’ identities from being accurately followed by websites, applications, services and other sources seeking to track individual behaviors.
Best VPN services for SMBs
Many vendors offer compelling VPN services for businesses that protect users accessing email, cloud applications, corporate servers, collaboration portals and other resources. Here’s a look at several leading providers of VPN services specifically designed to meet the needs of SMBs.
With high-speed servers in 94 countries, ExpressVPN offers secure, reliable VPN connectivity from almost anywhere. Available for Android and iOS phones and tablets, macOS, Linux, and Windows desktops, laptops and routers the service touts lightning-quick connectivity thanks to a VPN network built for secure, high-speed performance using the company’s Lightway VPN protocol.
Supported by 24-hour email and live chat, ExpressVPN also offers VPN split tunneling, in which users can direct some network traffic through a VPN and other communications directly to the Internet. With its TrustedServer technology, customers can rest assured no data is written to the firm’s hard drives for logging. As with many VPN services, if the VPN disconnects or becomes disabled, the service automatically activates a network lock kill switch to keep data safe.
ExpressVPN permits connecting five devices at once and accepts multiple payment options, including PayPal and Bitcoin. Plans begin at $8.32/month when billed annually or $12.95/month when billed monthly. A 30-day money-back guarantee is also provided with both month-to-month and annual payment plans.
Offering an array of network security services — including secure Web gateway, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Network Access solutions — Perimeter 81 provides customers with user role management, a cloud management console, SSO and multi-factor authentication options. The firm’s services support using multiple VPN protocols, including IPSec and WireGuard, and permit synchronizing with Amazon, Google and Microsoft cloud services.
With data centers in more than 40 countries, corresponding services are available worldwide. Round-the-clock support is available including via chat, email and an online ticketing system. Account managers offer another avenue for assistance.
Multiple subscription plans (all with a 30-day money-back guarantee) are available directly from the company or through more than 60 channel partners. An Essentials plan is the entry-level option and costs $8/month per user when billed annually or $10/month per user billed monthly. A Premium version runs $12/month per user billed annually or $15/month per user billed monthly, while a Premium Plus version is $16/month per user billed annually, or $20/month per user billed monthly. Enterprise versions with special pricing are also available, as are dedicated gateway services for $50/month per gateway.
The Essentials plan requires a minimum of five users, while Premium accounts require at least 10 users. Premium Plus accounts must have 20 users, with enterprise pricing requiring a minimum of 50 users.
An Essentials subscription includes cloud network management, a global private network, secure application access for two applications, Zero Trust policy-based segmentation, unlimited data usage, 14 days worth of activity audits and reports, 500Mbps gateway performance and unlimited network tunnels, among other options.
The Premium plan provides 30 days of activity audits and reports and a 1000Mbps gateway, while increasing secure application access compatibility to 10 applications and adding support for 10 firewall policies as a service.
The Premium Plus plan expands secure application access to 100 applications and firewall policies as a service to 100, while Enterprise plans provide unlimited secure application access, unlimited firewall policies and 60 days of activity audits and reports.
Numerous other features and capabilities differentiate Perimeter 81’s subscription plans. A complete list is available on the company’s website.
StrongVPN recently merged with Encrypt.me and provides secure VPN services for Android, iOS, macOS and Windows users, among others, using a simple app. The VPN service protects personal information and network activity by encapsulating network traffic within an end-to-end VPN connection. Router versions, including with standalone hardware devices, are also available separately.
The vendor states the service will never track, store nor sell its customers data and provides access in countries across every continent. Marketed as providing censorship protection, the service permits accessing content worldwide without restriction. By permitting changing your device’s IP address, the service enables users to bypass local Internet censorship restrictions while remaining secure and providing anonymity.
StrongVPN’s WireGuard protocol, which is built into its VPN service, is another platform feature. Advertised as delivering fast next-generation network performance, in addition to providing better throughput, WireGuard requires less memory and CPU resources than IPSec, another common and popular VPN protocol.
As is common with VPN services, StrongVPN is available by paying monthly or annually. A single account costs $3.66/month when purchased annually or $10.99/month billed monthly. A 30-day money back guarantee is also provided, but only with the annual plan. Support, meanwhile, is available via an online forum, email (email@example.com) and chat 24/7.
Supporting Android, iOS, macOS and Windows users, and offering a router VPN app as well, VyprVPN operates more than 700 VPN servers in 70 locations throughout every continent. The service leverages dynamic server switching to balance loads and ensure optimal VPN network performance.
Using its own Chameleon VPN protocol, VyprVPN provides all the expected VPN services — including encrypted communications tunnels, DNS protections and censorship evasion and log-free VPN services — as well as kill-switch functionality that automatically suspends Internet and network traffic when the VPN disconnects or becomes disabled. The service also works to defeat VPN blocking using deep packet inspection.
The service offers 24/7 support, up to 30 simultaneous connections and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Customers can purchase monthly or annual subscriptions, with the annual billing option saving firms 44%. The annual plan costs $8.33/month, while the monthly plan runs $15/month. With each plan customers receive apps for all devices.
The VyprVPN for Business service runs $299/year and adds multiple business-specific features. For example, the business platform adds user administration and management capabilities, a dedicated account manager, unlimited usage, no download caps, a NAT firewall for blocking unwanted inbound traffic and access to global business servers designed to meet the needs of traveling staff, users who must work remotely, journalists and similar professionals working within sensitive industries.
A major player within the VPN services sector with a variety of products, NordLayer offers small and medium businesses an easy-to-use VPN solution, requiring no hardware.
Featuring two-factor authentication, single-sign on (SSO), an auto-connect capability, a central management control panel that logs which users and devices are accessing which gateways and even a site-to-site business LAN solution, NordLayer matches well with common business needs.
The service offers 24/7 support with average support response times reportedly under one minute. With servers in more than 30 countries, the provider’s information management systems are ISO 27001 certified and support military-grade encryption.
Supporting Android, iOS, macOS and Windows users, both monthly and annual pricing models are available. A basic subscription — which includes the management control panel, centralized settings and billing, two-factor authentication and SSO — costs $9/month per user when billed monthly or $7/month per user when billed annually, while an advanced subscription — which includes all the features of a basic subscription plus custom DNS services, a dedicated IP address, site-to-site functionality and IP allowlisting — runs $11/month per user billed monthly, or $108 paid annually. Custom NordLink subscriptions are also available.
While all these SMB VPN offerings are capable, competitively priced solutions, the NordLayer offering, in my opinion, is the best of the lot. Several factors contribute to the recommendation, including NordLayer’s zero-trust NordLynx (WireGuard) protocol, the ability to securely share files endpoint-to-endpoint, auto-connect capabilities and an option to prevent unauthorized data access using dedicated, fixed IP addresses. Still other features further enhance the value of NordLayer, such as segmenting networks and setting specific permissions for different network resources, custom DNS options that can reduce phishing exposure, ThreatBlock capabilities and support for biometric authentication for SMBs instituting such protections.
But NordLayer boasts other advantages, too. The company is long known and trusted for its a variety of VPN offerings, including for home office users. Support is provided by a technology-fluent team and average response times are impressive. Because the company maintains an extensive help center, many SMB administrators will likely discover they can answer common questions themselves using provided guidance.
With widespread global access and dedicated servers worldwide, military-grade encryption, ISO 27001 certification and SOC 2 compliance, the company is focused on security from every angle. With a host of other security-related products, including the NordPass password manager and identity and access management solutions, SMBs can centralize multiple security services with a single, capable and reliable vendor.