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Virtual Private Networks

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It's a private connection between your computer - wherever it is - and a computer somewhere else. It's private because it's strongly encrypted, so it can't be read en route.

The University of Edinburgh has a VPN. When you use it, your computer has a private connection to the University's network. To other computers, your computer appears to be on that network.
You should use the University VPN whenever you are working while away from the University, for security.

The School of Informatics also has a VPN. This provides you with a private connection to the School's own network. This can be useful, because some Informatics websites and services are only available to computers on the School of Informatics network. The Informatics VPN has an extra feature - it can optionally encrypt only your traffic to the School network, leaving your other network traffic unchanged. When the University VPN doesn't do what you need, you can use the Informatics VPN.

Get started with a VPN

Why use a VPN?

There are several reasons.

  1. Many of our services, such as ssh and remote desktop, are only available to computers on the University network, or on the School of Informatics network. If you use a VPN, you can be on that network - and access those services - wherever you are.
  2. It gives a secure private connection to our network from anywhere on the internet.
  3. Both the University network, and inside that the School of Informatics network, are protected by firewalls which shut out most external traffic. A VPN gives your computer a route through the firewall from outside.
  4. Your computer can be made to appear as if it were on the University (or School) network. This can be useful when using internet sites which are only accessible from University (ed.ac.uk) addresses.

Why use the Informatics OpenVPN?

The Informatics network is inside the Edinburgh University network. ⇒ This diagram may help.

  1. The University network is protected by a firewall which shuts out most external traffic. But inside that there is also a second firewall, around the School of Informatics network. Although the University VPN gives secure access to the University network, it does not give access inside the Informatics firewall. Only the Informatics OpenVPN can do that. So if you need to use a service which is only available on the Informatics network, you'll need to use Informatics OpenVPN.
  2. The University VPN routes all network traffic through the University network, but this might not always be desirable for personal network traffic. The Informatics OpenVPN service gives the choice of either routing all traffic or just School of Informatics-related traffic.
  3. When trying to use an internet resource which is only available to computers with an inf.ed.ac.uk address.

Other Options?

If you only want to remotely connect to web services in the University or School of Informatics from a browser session and you have access to "remote.ssh.inf.ed.ac.uk" (staff and research postgraduates only, see ssh) then you can set up an SSH Proxy. You may also depending on the browser and third party plugin module (if any) you are using be able to control exactly which domain(s) will use the proxy connection by setting up a whitelist for example.

Last reviewed: 
24/08/2022

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