By Keith Allison
March 11, 2014
As NYU continues to expand its global presence, and as more critical University functions take place across world-spanning networks, it is increasingly important to protect sensitive data as it is transmitted from one location to another. There are a number of tools available to assist in protecting online data and transfers, and among the most important is the Virtual Private Network, or VPN.
The NYU-NET computer network—the way you connect to the Internet from an NYU facility such as a dorm, office, or classroom—was built with a substantial level of security that helps keep your data private. However, not all networks have the same amount of protection built into them. VPN enables you to extend the protections of NYU-NET to any network: at an airport, in a cafe, even in another country. Several NYU services require the use of VPN when you are not directly connected to NYU-NET, and it is likely the number of applications requiring VPN will expand in the future. Even when VPN isn't required, however, it is a suggested security measure to use it when you are connecting to an insecure or unfamiliar network.
NYU has offered a VPN service to the community for some time, using the Cisco IPsec VPN software (or VPN "client"). Recently, a new version of the VPN client was made available for download. This new software, called Cisco AnyConnect VPN, makes it even easy to connect from many of NYU's locations, and from a wider range of devices, including Android devices, which were not previously supported. Support for the old Cisco IPsec software client is being discontinued by Cisco, so you should begin using the new AnyConnect client as soon as you have the opportunity.
Downloading and creating a new connection in the AnyConnect VPN software will help protect your data, as well as the data of your NYU peers. Click the appropriate link below for instructions on installing and configuring the new VPN client for your device or computer's operating system.
Once you have set up the VPN client and established a connection (or connections) to NYU VPN, you can use it by simply opening the software and selecting the NYU VPN listing from the pull-down menu on a computer or the list on a mobile device. You will need to do this each time you want to use VPN. If you are based in the United States, but are going to be traveling to one of NYU's other global locations that has its own VPN tunnel, you may wish to set up a secondary connection for the local VPN server, as it will provide faster speeds than connecting back to the NYU-NY VPN server. To do this, open the AnyConnect client and follow the instructions for your operating system or device in the knowledge base articles listed above.
Remember, you do not need to use VPN if you are connected directly to NYU-NET (in your campus office, for example, or from a computer lab). Also, VPN connections are set to disconnect (or "time out") after three hours of inactivity or after 72 hours even when active. If you are disconnected, you will have to reconnect; this includes timing out as well as manually disconnecting or losing your connection because you have turned off or rebooted your computer.
Once it's set up, using VPN can become second nature. NYU ITS provides many VPN-related knowledge base articles to assist you with configuring, using, and troubleshooting a VPN connection. If you experience any issues connecting to the VPN service abroad or while in the United States and need assistance, please contact NYU's IT Service Desk. To learn more about VPN technology in general, see Wikipedia's article on Virtual Private Networks.
Keith Allison is part of the ITS Publications & Communications group and the Editor of Connect: IT at NYU.