People

Coronavirus fears spark a rush of interest in the humble VPN

VPN providers have seen a spike in interest as companies prepare for more remote work.

Woman working on laptop

Companies are scrambling to purchase and implement VPN tools as they prepare for an uptick in employees working from home.

Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

Over the last several months, Rob Smith had been plugging away on a research paper with the working title "Remote Access VPN Is Dead." But that was before concerns about the coronavirus started keeping more and more office workers at home.

"I'm going to have to give that a new title," said Smith, who is a research director at Gartner.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

It turns out, business is booming for the often-overlooked VPN industry as companies prepare for the worst impacts of COVID-19.

Companies are scrambling to purchase and implement VPN tools as they prepare for an uptick in employees working from home. Amazon, for example, is reportedly asking all employees to test their VPN connection on Thursday by logging in remotely for at least 10 minutes. The technology essentially acts as a secure tunnel between a device, such as an employee's personal laptop and a corporate network: Communications and data sent between the two are encrypted, preventing third parties like hackers and governments from eavesdropping or stealing passwords and other sensitive information. Much has been made about how working from home could be a boon to videoconference providers like Zoom, but VPN shows how a much wider swath of remote work technologies could see increased adoption in response to coronavirus.

The surprise spike in interest has jolted the industry, Smith said. "On a corporate level, VPN had been a dying technology … It's dinosaur technology that really hasn't changed since the late 1990s," he said. "Now the coronavirus has suddenly given the VPN industry a new life. It's alive and well."

VPN technology typically doesn't receive much attention and can sometimes be a boring industry to observe. Smith says that out of the more than 2,000 analysts at his company, he's the only one who covers VPN tools. He gets about 10 VPN-related inquiries a week, and eight of those are from companies that already have a VPN and are looking for different solutions.

Over the last month, however, he's been fielding an explosion of inquiries from companies that are preparing for employees to work from home, but don't have the technology in place to secure that type of setup.

"People who have never allowed remote employees are saying: 'Oh my god, what am I going to do now?'" he said. "Companies that never thought about remote workers are now forced to do so because of coronavirus fears."

Last month, 77 companies mentioned "work from home" or "working from home" in conference call transcripts, compared to just four mentions in the same month a year ago, Recode reported. Twitter this week encouraged all of its employees to work from home to prevent the spread of the virus. Square is implementing a similar policy.

VPN providers said companies are knocking down their doors. Some providers have launched promotions and are giving free access to help companies affected by the virus.

Related:

Last week, Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity firm Check Point started quietly offering companies free 60-day licenses to its VPN tools. Within days, they received interest from several hundred companies, said Maya Levine, a security engineer at Check Point.

"We realized there's going to be a huge surge in people wanting to work from home, and we wanted to help businesses in this transition period," she said.

The promotion is nice marketing for Check Point, which is used by about 7,500 companies globally, but Levine said the decision was made out of goodwill.

"This is how we can help," she said.

Pulse Security, a major provider of remote access technology, has also started offering temporary licenses to new customers, and has given existing clients emergency increases in capacity. Pulse, like many VPN providers, licenses out its software to corporations based on their use: A 1,000-person company may have a VPN license so that 100 workers at any given time can access the network remotely. "Now all of a sudden we have 500 or more users who need to use it," said Pulse Chief Marketing Officer Scott Gordon. "These companies had something in place but nothing at the scale that they need to handle this type of issue."

Gordon said Pulse has received at least five times the normal amount of requests from companies asking for emergency capacity increases. "Other events pale in comparison to what we're seeing now," he said.

Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.

Smith from Gartner said he's also received many inquiries from companies that have realized they need to greatly expand their VPN licenses. Although he couldn't mention organization names due to client confidentiality agreements, he said he helped a large government research institute this week that was having issues because they could only accommodate so many people using the VPN at once. Many more employees were working remotely due to coronavirus fears, he said.

Both Smith and Gordon said they started noticing an uptick in VPN-related inquiries in January, specifically from companies that had a presence in Asia. Over the last three to four weeks, Smith started seeing a spike in inquiries from European and American companies. Companies in all industries and continents seem to be seeking help, he said. He estimates that about one in three companies doesn't have a remote policy.

"Companies are realizing they have to drastically change the way they work," Smith said.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins