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VPN - Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in Plain Speak
This article offers an easy-to-understand technical description of remote access Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and encryption.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is an extension of a private network, like the University's. VPNs are created by encrypting traffic from a remote computer, such as your home computer, so it can travel securely over the Internet. The traffic is by a VPN server when it reaches the University and sent along to its intended destination.
For example, if you want to access a private University web page that is not available to the world outside the University. Using a VPN, you can access that document from an outside location such as your home, coffee shop, or hotel room. Here's how:
Your remote computer, called a client, establishes an encrypted connection from the Internet to a server inside the private University network. This allows you to communicate with the University network in a manner only the VPN server will be able to decode, even if you are using a potentially insecure Internet connection. The VPN server decrypts the information and forwards it to whatever University system you are trying to reach. For example, if you request a private web page, the VPN server receives the request from your computer, decrypts it, gets the page from the web server, encrypts it, and sends it back to you.
What Is Encryption?
Encryption is a method of scrambling data so that you have to know what was done originally to decrypt it. Coding information so that it can be decoded is done through carefully selected algorithms (precise sequences of mathematical operations). The intended receiver has some method of reversing the algorithms that outsiders do not. To be effective, both the VPN client and server must share some private knowledge about what algorithms are going to be used to obfuscate the original data.
Because the VPN client and the responding server on the University network both encrypt data before sending it, anyone intercepting the messages in transit won't have any mechanism for decrypting it.
How to Get VPN Access at the University of Chicago
To begin using this service, visit the SSL VPN Service website.