What is a VPN?
A VPN is a secure connection that can be made between a computer (such as an individual’s computer at home) and a protected or private network (such as UWM’s campus network), using an otherwise insecure public network (such as the Internet). Data that is passed over the public network is encapsulated (wrapped up) and encrypted (translated into a code) so that it is much more difficult to intercept or tamper with.
Passing data through a network without letting the network actually see the data like this is a process known as tunneling. In effect, the connection works just as if the computer were connected to the protected network by its own private wire with a point-to-point direct connection. Thus the name VPN, which stands for virtual private network.
When a VPN connection is made between a computer and a UWM server, that computer essentially functions as if it were on-campus, inside the campus firewall that protects the campus network from the Internet, even though physically that’s not true. This lets it access services and perform functions that an off-campus computer normally would not be able to do. If you are remotely using a university-managed computer, VPN connectivity allows functional enhancements and necessary updates, etc.
Why use a VPN?
Not everyone needs to use a VPN. Even those who do need to use a VPN typically do not need to use it all the time. There are specific things you need to use a VPN for. Here are some examples:
- Accessing mapped drives: Getting to uFILES space (usually referred to at UWM as your “U:-drive”), or other shared network file space from off-campus requires making a VPN connection. (Note that this is just a required first step; the VPN makes it possible to connect to these shared spaces, but it doesn’t actually make the connection.)
- Remote desktop access: Using a personal computer from off-campus to log into your UWM office computer that is on campus requires making a VPN connection. (Again, this is necessary, but not sufficient: you also have to have previously set up the on-campus computer to allow remote connections, and you actually have to establish that connection after you have connected via the VPN.)
- Accessing “hidden” systems: Some systems, such as the High-Performance Computing (HPC) systems, Perceptive Content, Odyssey HMS, and other specialized department-specific systems are not directly accessible from off-campus. In order to reach them, you need to make a secure connection to a system within the UWM firewall first. A VPN connection is generally the easiest way to accomplish this.
Some things that you do not need a VPN for include:
- General web browsing, whether you are looking at UWM web sites, or external ones like Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon, etc.
- Checking your UWM email
- Using Canvas for classwork
- Using Microsoft Teams or Microsoft 365 (previously Office 365); and any other task that does not require access to a protected network resource at UWM.
To summarize: If you do not need to perform one of the specific tasks outlined in the “Why use a VPN?” section listed above, then you should not use the VPN. This will cause unnecessary slowness to your device and services due to the extra work required to encapsulate and encrypt your data.
Connecting to VPN
The campus VPN (virtual private network) service allows secure, authenticated, and authorized access to resources on the UWM network that are otherwise unavailable to hosts outside the campus network.
All off-campus users must connect to VPN in order to use remote desktop. Below you will find step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process:
- VPN for Mac OS: Set-Up Instructions
- VPN for Windows: Set-Up Instructions
- Click here to connect to VPN
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the UWM Help Desk at 414-229-4040 or visit uwm.edu/helpdesk.