In the past, whenever we wanted to connect to a network, we would have to rely on our IT admin to set up a VPN connection on our behalf. If we forget to pay the bill on time, or if VPN connections are still an over-the-counter item, he might not be able to, which is why most of us prefer to have our own VPN accounts and connections dedicated to our personal use.
Today, things are a little different. Thanks to the explosion of the VPN market, setting up a VPN connection on your own computer is as easy as clicking a button. This is a great option for those who want to connect to a network without needing the help of an IT admin, or for those who don’t want to run the risk of being billed for an over-the-counter item that they might not be able to get.
On the other hand, setting up a DirectAccess connection requires a little bit of expertise, as you have to know what kind of connection you want (WAN or LAN) and which kind of authentication you need (username and password, or NTLM). You also need to consider what encryption method you want to use (TLS, TLS+SSL, or SSL).
Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of the following network connections discussed below.
One of the biggest advantages of using VPNs is that they allow for much more flexibility and control over the network connection than DirectAccess or shared network connections. This is largely due to the fact that you can use any IP address you want to connect to a network (as long as you have a VPN service that supports IPv6), as opposed to having to use an IP from a pre-defined range on a given network. Additionally, you have complete control over the encryption method and the security level of the connection, as well as being able to choose the location of the VPN, which can have a significant impact on the performance of the connection (and you can pay per-IP-packet to have the data encrypted as it travels to/from your computer).
There are numerous benefits to using a VPN. You can read more about them here. If you’re looking for flexibility and control when connecting to a network, then VPNs are the clear choice. The disadvantage is that you have to install and maintain the VPN software on your own computer.
When it comes to connecting to a network without having to go through a VPN, or when using a VPN is not an option (for example, when using public Wi-Fi), then you have the choice of either setting up a DirectAccess connection, or using an intermediary server. A DirectAccess connection is very similar to a VPN connection, in that you can use any IP address you want to connect to a network, as long as you have a suitable adapter. The big difference is that this type of connection does not encrypt the data traveling between the computer and the network. So, in theory, anyone who has physical access to your computer (or the cable that is connected to it) can view what you are doing online. There is also no way to prevent someone from using your computer while it is connected to the network.
The advantage of a direct access connection is that you don’t have to install any additional software to utilize it. The disadvantage is that only certain network adapters (for example, those made by Realtek) support direct access connections, so if you have one of these network adapters, then you are pretty much stuck with what they have to offer. Additionally, there is no way to ensure the security of such a connection, as anyone who has access to your computer can view what you are doing online. As a result, setting up a direct access connection is a bit more difficult than setting up a VPN connection.
Shared Network Connections
Shared network connections are a bit like direct access connections, in that you don’t have to set them up yourself; however, instead of just one computer being connected to the network, you will often find multiple computers (usually ranging from 2 to 4) simultaneously connected to a network via a shared connection. These computers (often referred to as a “family of computers”) are connected to a router, which is then connected to the network. This allows for simultaneous access and usage of the network resources (such as the Internet) by all the computers connected to it.
The advantage of shared network connections is that they are much easier to set up than direct access or VPN connections. You simply need to connect to the network, and all the computers in your home will be able to access it. The disadvantage is that any one of the computers connected to a shared connection can interfere with the connection of the other computers on the network, as well as being a potential security risk. The security of shared network connections also depends on how the connection is set up, as it is very easy for a computer to ‘listen in’ on the network and to capture data from the connected computers, or to disrupt the connection of other computers on the network.
The take-away from this is that shared network connections are safe for general use, but you have to be careful when using them on a home network, as there is a chance that some computer could be set up to ‘sniff’ or ‘intercept’ network traffic. So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use network connection that you can set up on a whim, then shared network connections are a great choice.
Now, if you’re using a Mac and you want to connect to a network, then you’ve got no choice but to use DirectAccess, as Safari doesn’t play nice with VPNs (it claims they are ‘unsafe’ for use on a Mac). So, if you’re using a Mac and want to connect to a network, then you’re pretty much stuck with what Apple has to offer when it comes to networking.
Similarly, if you’re using a Windows PC and want to connect to a network, then you have a couple of options. You can either set up a DirectAccess connection, or you can use an intermediary server (such as NoVirusBad.com or SuperVPN.com).
The advantage of DirectAccess connections on Windows is that you don’t necessarily need to set them up yourself. So, if you’re looking for an easy way to connect to a network, then you can consult the documentation (such as this tutorial) to see how to do it. The disadvantage is that you still need an IP address (either from a pre-defined range or from the dynamic allocation by your ISP), meaning that you still need to actively look for one to connect to a network, as opposed to being able to connect to any IP address with a VPN. Also, if you forget to pay your bill on time, then your ISP could end up in the middle of a billing dispute with you, as your machine will be attached to the network regardless of whether you want it to be or not. Furthermore, although they are safer than direct access connections, VPNs aren’t perfect and can be hacked (this happens more often than you would believe). So, if you are using a VPN connection on a home network, then you still have to be careful about potential security risks (such as someone else ‘listening in’ on your network, or someone else getting access to your personal information, due to a software error or a security breach).
The Bottom Line
When choosing which type of connection to use when connecting to a network, you need to take several things into consideration. First, determine what the main purpose of the network is. Is it just for entertainment (such as playing games or downloading apps) or do you want to do online business (such as buying or selling items or providing your services online)?
If you’re just doing basic computer/Internet usage for personal enjoyment and don’t have a specific purpose for the network, then VPNs are a great choice, as you can use any IP address you want to connect to a network (as long as you have a suitable VPN service), and you have complete control over the security of the connection. If you’re looking for flexibility and control when connecting to a network, then VPNs are the clear choice. The advantage of a DirectAccess connection is that you don’t necessarily need to set them up yourself, as shared network connections are very easy to use. Due to the fact that they are a bit safer than direct access connections, VPNs are still a great choice when connected to a home network, but you have to be careful about potential security risks (such as someone else ‘listening in’ on your network, or someone else getting access to your personal information, due to a software error or a security breach).