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Using A Virtual Private Network With Your Local Network

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Who knew???

Three months ago, I added the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to my arsenal of online protection (Click the article’s title here to learn more about VPN’s:  Virtual Private Network – Why And How To Use One).  As with most security applications, the more secure your system, the less convenient some of the system’s processes become.  In my situation, access to the VPN is done by installing and using the VPN provider’s software on each of our computers.  We quickly found that once the VPN software was running on a computer, access to our local network from that computer was eliminated. To regain access to the local network, we either had turn off the Virtual Private Network on that computer, or go to a computer not using the VPN, and accessing the local network from there. Not convenient, and in addition, a real pain.

I contacted my VPN provider to discuss the networking problem, and I was told, basically, because of security reasons, there was nothing that they could do about it.  I did some additional checking, and found that through most VPN providers, their VPNs, and local networks of their users do not co-mingle.  After some more research, I found a method called “split-tunneling” that might work; however, in the end, I decided to leave well enough alone, and continue turning off the VPN, or going to another computer without the VPN running, to use my local network.

Thirty days ago, I changed my internet service provider.  I had the new service installed, and the day after the installation, I tried to use my server, and could not get in.  Yikes!!! On my Mac, I usually go to Finder > Go > Connect to Server and in the next pop-up window, I type the server name like:  cifs://host_name.local, then hit the Connect button. In a few seconds I am connected to the server.  The problem on this event turned out to be that on some .plist in my Mac, the server’s host name is associated with its “old” IP address.  So, I typed in the server’s “new” address, instead of the host name, in the Connect to Server window (like: cifs://192.XXX.X.XX), and I was once again connected to my Debian powered server.  All was right with the world,…and it even got better.

After gaining access to my server through my trusty iMac, I started downloading some information from a vendor’s website.  As the files were downloading, they were being saved to a folder on my server.  Then I realized that the VPN was running on the the iMac. This can’t be.  Local network access is not supposed to be possible while running the VPN, yet I was accessing both the VPN and the local network just fine.  This must be some weird fluke.  I went to another Mac (a Mac Pro).  I made sure the VPN was running on it.  Then, I went to Finder and accessed the server, once again, using the server’s IP address in the access string.  From the Mac Pro, I downloaded data from the Internet to my server.  The download worked fine.  I copied files from the Mac to the server, again, the process worked fine.  I went to several different websites, and no issues.  I did “speed checks”, with typical results.  Everything, the VPN and the local network, were both working.

There are three morals to this story is:

  1. Don’t believe everything you hear.
  2. Sometimes the solution you are looking for is very simple, and is hiding in plain sight.
  3. If you can’t access your local server while using a Virtual Private Network, try accessing the server using it’s IP address, and not by using its Host Name.

I have used the IP address method to access my server now for thirty days, and both the VPN and the local network are working well together.  I hope this tip works for you as well.

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