Internet security experts at CensorNet have warned that remote workers and branch offices that rely on VPN security technology to surf the web and use web based applications, may be racking up unnecessary and expensive data charges – especially those using mobile devices over 3G or 4G networks.
VPNs, whilst providing a secure connection to remote workers accessing corporate systems, can become a significant drain on bandwidth if they are used to shuttle all web communications, even non-sensitive, via the head office before going out to the internet – requiring up to a third more data. If employees are out on the road and are accessing the VPN using a mobile broadband connection, then the additional data use can add significantly to company mobile broadband bills, which are typically charged on the volume of information that users transmit and receive.
In addition, the unnecessary bandwidth issue can add small amounts of time – milliseconds – to the time it takes for each element on a web page to load. When totted up across web pages and regular surfing sessions, employees that go online via a VPN are effectively being paid to wait for their web pages to load more slowly than if they were surfing the web directly.
Tim Lloyd, CEO of CensorNet said, “Traditionally companies using web proxy technology have used VPNs to ensure remote end-points are filtered in the same way that desktops are – so all web page visits go back into the head office to go through the proxy before they go out to the internet. But until now the cost and time implications haven’t been fully realised. With the growth of remote working and widespread access to mobile data connections via smart phones and tablets, companies may be incurring significantly more data charges than they ever anticipated.”
CensorNet has been developing web access management solutions for more than a decade, including an alternative to proxying that uses tiny data packets to signal to the remote device as to whether the web site visit can go ahead. This technology, utilising the ICAP (Internet Content Adaptation Protocol) protocol, can cut the transmitted data volumes involved by between a quarter and a third – a data reduction that can significantly cut mobile data bills if employees are using mobile broadband connections to browse the web, especially while travelling overseas.
Lloyd continues, “As the UK starts to adopt 4G services, mobile broadband will even start to take over from landline connections owing to its speed and flexibility. This is when we predict that unnecessary VPN traffic will really start to stack up, to the point where companies will have to pay for additional bandwidth wherever their proxy servers reside. This is an unnecessary expense that could be avoided with a different approach to web access management.”
In addition, citing reports from the US that show battery life is halved when 4G handsets are used for voice calls, Lloyd concludes, “Companies need to really think twice before rolling out 4G devices for their employees. True – it will make it a lot faster to work remotely, but the inconvenience of phone batteries dying, coupled with the potentially significant increase in phone bills, means it really isn’t practical for companies just yet.”