The History of OpenVPN

How two men changed the face of cybersecurity.

OpenVPN was launched through the joint efforts of co-founders Francis Dinha and James Yonan. While both of these leaders have very different backgrounds and very different skillsets, together they’ve built a company that has changed the face of cybersecurity worldwide. 

The Importance of Security

Francis Dinha, OpenVPN co-founder and CEO, did not have the upbringing you might imagine for a company founder. Dinha was born and raised in Iraq, during the oppressive reign of Saddam Hussein. During his childhood, it was illegal to criticize the government or speak out against the dictator; doing so could result in jail time, or even public execution. Maintaining personal privacy was not seen as a luxury, but rather an essential means for survival — as it still is for many in the world today. Dinha and his family often didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, and the threat of tyranny was very real. “Even when I was young, I knew the meaning of fear and poverty,” Dinha explains, “but I also knew there was something better for me out there.”

As he grew up, Dinha developed a passion for technology. “I had a hunger to learn more, explore more, and find more — it was never ending for me.” Through his studies his knowledge of math and science grew, and in his early 20s he knew it was time to pursue his education more fully. He fled Iraq and applied for asylum in Sweden, at first making the journey alone before his family was able to join him a year later. He learned the Swedish language, and began furthering his education at the Linköping University where he studied applied physics, electrical engineering, and computer engineering. In his early 30s, he was given the opportunity to move to the United States to work as a programmer for a technology company in Dallas, Texas. He took that opportunity, moved to Texas with his family, learned his fourth language, and established himself as an authority in the technology field. 

Necessity is Still the Mother of Invention

James Yonan likewise had a long career in computer science before starting OpenVPN. He was the architect of TSE, a platform for rigorously evaluating the statistical fitness of financial trading models, and was also an early pioneer in the effort to create C language and Unix tools for the original IBM PC. In 2001, he was traveling through Central Asia and needed to remotely connect to his office for work. The only connection available to do so was often through Asian and Russian internet providers, and connecting through servers in countries which often had deeply untrustworthy security practices gave Yonan no small concern about his online safety. He realized that as long as his information was transmitted over unsecured connections, his data was vulnerable to attack. To address these issues, Yonan authored the original open source VPN software, which he titled “OpenVPN.” At that point, OpenVPN was just a side project — Yonan didn’t realize that he had just created a way to change the face of cybersecurity forever.  

James Yonan, CTO and Co-founder of OpenVPN

Through a series of coincidences, Dinha happened to hear about the software that Yonan developed. His interest piqued, he looked further into the project and was impressed with the potential; he began to envision a product that could not only provide safety and security to people as they used the internet — but freedom to those in oppressive countries like the one he had escaped. Dinha contacted Yonan and presented him with a business plan. From there, Yonan and Dinha joined forces and took OpenVPN to market, with Dinha serving as the CEO and Yonan as the CTO. Through their joint efforts, OpenVPN quickly became the most trusted and downloaded VPN protocol in the world, now with more than 60 million downloads since its inception.

Yonan didn’t realize that he had just created a way to change the face of cybersecurity forever.

Products to Revolutionize the Marketplace

The core of OpenVPN has always been business-to-business (B2B), and the first product the two founders launched together was designed as an enterprise solution: Access Server. This tool provides businesses of all sizes with access to an extensive list of enterprise-grade features, and serves as an alternative to higher-priced complex hardware systems that require costly maintenance. OpenVPN Access Server is a highly scalable and flexible virtual private network (VPN), used to launch an enhanced platform that delivers secure applications to users. OpenVPN's intuitive software-based platform makes it simple for an organization's employees, branch offices, suppliers, or customers to gain secure and simple remote access to shared data, such as network file folders or client server applications. 

In large part thanks to feedback from those users, in 2020 OpenVPN Inc. changed the cybersecurity world again with the release of CloudConnexa, the first OpenVPN-as-a-service solution. This next-generation private networking solution eliminates the need for VPN server installation — now, users simply connect to a hosted service with regions around the globe. This managed service provides secure networking between private networks and remote users in the form of a “Private Network in the Cloud,” making network security exponentially more accessible, practical, and scalable for businesses of all sizes. Without the capital and operational hours required to manage, scale and host VPN servers, businesses can easily oversee their network, data, and users with a suite of security benefits available right from their online dashboard. 

"OpenVPN's strong user community of more than five million IT professionals and small business owners has demanded simple, secure, and inexpensive solutions to networking and access challenges."

Francis Dinha, CEO and Co-Founder of OpenVPN

The more that companies grow reliant on digital data, the more essential these tools become. In 2017, Market Research Future reported that by 2022 the global VPN market would hit $106 billion. Media coverage of data breaches has brought business and network security further into the spotlight, and there is a growing awareness of the need for better access control and data security measures. Organizations are realizing how important it is to use a VPN as part of their overall network security strategy. 

At OpenVPN, we believe organizations should have confidence in utilizing online resources to leverage and grow their business. Freedom of information, ability to grow, and access to a secure and safe Internet is vital for organizations — and for individuals. We will always push forward in an attempt to provide that type of security through products and services that enable safe access to information across the globe: connecting your world, securely.

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