In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic usage of virtual private networks (VPNs) has dramatically increased. A survey of 1,834 adults in the U.S. conducted by CouponFollow, a service for discovering online coupons, finds more than a third (35%) now make use of a VPN. Half of VPN users use it for anonymous browsing (49%), while 45% use one for work.
More than one in ten (12%) first started using a VPN when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and one in five (21%) installed a VPN due to having to work from home last year. More than half (51%) of respondents who use a VPN report using it often, if not always. Almost half (46%) of Americans intend to continue using a VPN after the pandemic ends.
A higher percentage of end-users employ a VPN on their work computer or device (33%) than on their personal device (27%). Even fewer (20%) have a VPN installed on their mobile device.
The study also notes VPN usage is highest among men (47%) compared to women (28%). Usage is higher among younger survey respondents, with 43% of Millennials & Gen Z respondents using a VPN compared to 41% for Gen X). More than half of Gen X (57%) report having the VPN on nearly all the time. Less than a quarter of Baby Boomers (24%) are VPN users.
Most end-users are relying on a VPN that is provided to them as a service versus software that was provided to them by an IT organization enabling them to set up a tunnel to remotes access applications residing behind a corporate firewall. However, there’s no doubt usage of VPNs both as a service and via software provided by an employer is considerably higher.
The issue that many IT organizations, however, are now coming to terms with is the fact that reliance on cloud applications is now also much higher. In many cases, all the network traffic generated by those applications is being backhauled through a local data center before being passed on via a VPN to an end-user. Obviously, the cloud application experience being provided via a VPN tends to vary widely. Now that it’s become apparent that more users than ever will be working from home a lot more often even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, IT teams are going to be asked to securely provide access to an increasing number of cloud applications in a way that doesn’t impact application experience as much as a VPN.
The primary method of achieving that goal is a secure access service edge (SASE) platform or service that typically incorporates firewalls at the very edge of the network. Essentially a secure implementation of a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), a SASE platform or service makes it possible to route network traffic via a secure cloud gateway directly to either a cloud application or an on-premises IT environment. There is no more need for backhauling network traffic. That platform can then be extended to remote users via software-defined perimeter (SDP) software that replaces VPN client software that is typically more cumbersome to manage.
There’s no doubt VPNs play a critical role in enabling employees to work from home during the pandemic. It’s just the time has come to transition to a more flexible network architecture that just happens to be more secure. The CouponFollow survey finds 28% of respondents falsely think a VPN will protect their device from viruses and malware.
It may take a while before SASE platforms and services replace VPNs. However, at a time when more organizations than ever are transitioning to a zero-trust IT architecture, the VPN is rapidly becoming obsolete.
Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb, and Slashdot. Mike also blogs about emerging cloud technology for SmarterMSP.