A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet. It enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network, and thus are benefiting from the functionality, security and management policies of the private network. A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunnelling protocols, or traffic encryption.
A VPN spanning the Internet is similar to a wide area network (WAN). From a user perspective, the extended network resources are accessed in the same way as resources available within the private network. Traditional VPNs are characterized by a point-to-point topology, and they do not tend to support or connect broadcast domains. Therefore, communication, software, and networking, which are based on OSI layer 2 and broadcast packets, such as NetBIOS used in Windows networking, may not be fully supported or work exactly as they would on a local, area network (LAN). VPN variants, such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), and layer 2 tunnelling protocols, are designed to overcome this limitation.
VPNs allow employees to securely access the corporate intranet while travelling outside the office. Similarly, VPNs securely connect geographically separated offices of an organization, creating one cohesive network. VPN technology is also used by individual Internet users to secure their wireless transactions, to circumvent geo-restrictions and censorship, and to connect to proxy servers for the purpose of protecting personal identity and location.