What is VPN? | University of Oregon: Information Security
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What is VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and relates to a set of software and hardware that enable your computer to transparently connect to a remote network as if you were physically attached to that network. In addition, the communication between your computer and the remote VPN hardware is encrypted.

Background

The University of Oregon site licenses some electronic resources for use by current students, faculty and staff. UO site licensed materials have been intentionally restricted to UOnet, the University of Oregon network. What this means in practice is that you cannot access these resources unless you are using a computer that is connected to the UO network. There are limited exceptions, notably the UO Library provides a creative method to enable remote access to their restricted electronic materials through the use of proxy, see http://libweb.uoregon.edu/systems/proxy. Also note that the new VPN service should enable you to avoid having to utilize this proxy which may make it easier for you to access these materials.

Who needs VPN software?

If you would like to be able to access the UO's public domain servers from a remote location, use the UO Usenet News servers from home, or to ease your access to restricted library databases then the VPN is a good option. For security purposes, we recommend the use of end-to-end encryption tools like SSL included in your web browser, or SSH for shell and file transfer. Wireless users are especially vulnerable to electronic eavesdroppers and should use caution. If you are a wireless user, and have an application which lacks end-to-end encryption, you may wish to use the VPN software to help protect against wireless eavesdroppers.

At the moment, there aren't many pressing needs for the VPN software, but as the campus network requires additional measures of protection from external attacks, certain services that are currently available, will require a VPN connection for remote users. For example, one of the proposed new restrictions is called LPR which is a method of printing remotely. Given that there are many LPR related exploits and that external probes for LPR vulnerabilities are increasing in frequency, it is likely that LPR access will be restricted in the future. If that occurs, the VPN software would enable a remote user to continue to print from a remote network to a printer located on campus. See the Computing Center Newsletter for more information.