It’s no secret that healthcare delivery grows more complex with each passing year. Whether your organization has a local, regional, or national presence, you will need one thing: a way to maintain fast, secure, and reliable communications wherever your clinics, providers and staff are located.
As the popularity of the Internet grew, healthcare organization turned to it as a cost-effective way to extend their networks. The continuing popularity with the Internet has led to the evolution of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). A VPN is a connection that allows private data to be sent securely over a shared or public network, such as the Internet. With VPNs, communication links between users and sites can be achieved quickly, inexpensively, and safely across the world.
Using special tunneling protocols and complex encryption procedures, data integrity and privacy is achieved in what seems, like a dedicated point-to-point connection. And, because these operations occur over a public network, VPNs can cost significantly less to implement than privately owned or leased services.
The Internet is a shared public network of networks with open transmission protocols. Therefore, VPNs must include measures for packet encapsulation (tunneling), encryption, and authentication to ensure that sensitive data reaches its destination without tampering by unauthorized parties.
A firewall is an important security feature for Internet users. A firewall prevents unauthorized users and/or data from getting in or out of your network, using rules to specify acceptable communications. However, once the data gets outside your firewall, your usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information are visible to hackers.
VPN tunnels, enabled by encryption algorithms, give you the ability to use the public, shared Internet for secure data transmission after it leaves the protective custody of your firewall. Even though you access your network via the Internet, you are actually “on” your organization network. What makes a VPN transmission a tunnel is the fact that only the recipients at the other end of your transmission can see inside your protective encryption shell. Tunneling technology encrypts and encapsulates your own network protocols within Internet protocol (IP). In this way, the Internet based VPN transmission is transparent to users.
To ensure data privacy and protect valuable transmitted data against attacks, encryption techniques are required to scramble clear text message into cipher text. The cipher text is then sent to the recipient, who decrypts the message back into clear text again. This encryption/decryption process on the parts of the sender and receiver of the message combine to form a Key system. There are two Key systems:
- Private Keys – uses the same secret, fixed-length bit string as a key for both encryption and decryption. To emulate a private link, the data being sent is encrypted for confidentiality. Packets that are intercepted on the shared or public network are indecipherable without the private key.
- Public Keys – allows information to be encrypted with one key and decrypted with a different key. The two keys used in this scenario are referred to as private and public keys, or the ones you keep to yourself and the ones you distribute to your remote users.
- Authentication and Access Control
The last sequence in VPN transmission is authentication. At this step, recipients of data can determine if the sender really is who he says he is (User/System Authentication) and if the data was redirected or corrupted enroute (Data Authentication).