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The History of OpenVPN

How two men changed the face of cybersecurity.

Francis Dinha, OpenVPN Inc. founder and CEO, didn’t have the upbringing you might imagine when you picture a successful businessman. He was born and raised in Iraq, under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, where it was illegal to criticize the government or speak out against the dictator. There were spies everywhere, and being overheard saying the wrong thing often lead to jail time — or outright execution, which citizens were required to watch as a grim reminder of who held the power.

When Francis’ home in northern Iraq was bombed, his family was forced to flee. He was only a child when they moved from place to place, living in caves until they finally were able to settle in Baghdad. But even then, as a minority Christian of Assyrian descent, Francis and his family had to be especially cautious not to draw unwanted attention to themselves. And it didn’t help that they spoke Aramaic rather than the local language of Arabic. Francis and his family had no way to communicate with the people around them; they 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,” Francis explains, “but I also knew there was something better for me out there.”

As he grew up, Francis developed a passion for technology. “I had the hunger to learn more, explore more, and find more, and it was never ending for me.” Through his studies he became even more interested in math and science, and in his early 20s he knew it was time to pursue his passions. He left Iraq and applied for asylum in Sweden, and a year later his family followed him there. 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.

The Start of OpenVPN

Fast-forward to late 2001, and James Yonan was traveling through Central Asia. In order to work, James had to remotely connect to his office, and this connection was often through Asian and Russian internet providers. Connecting through servers in countries with such untrustworthy security practices gave James 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, James authored the original open source VPN software, which he titled OpenVPN. At that point, OpenVPN was just a side project — James didn’t realize that he had just created a way to change the face of cybersecurity forever.

Francis happened to hear about the software that James developed, and as he looked into the project, Francis envisioned a product that could not only provide safety and security to people as they used the internet — but one that could provide freedom to those in oppressive countries like the one he had escaped. Francis contacted James and presented him with a business plan. From there, James and Francis joined forces and took OpenVPN to the market, with Francis as the CEO and James as the CTO. Through their joint efforts, OpenVPN quickly became the most trusted and downloaded VPN software in the world, with more than 60 million downloads since its inception.

The core of OpenVPN Inc. has always been business-to-business (B2B), and Access Server was designed as an enterprise solution. This 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) solution. OpenVPN’s software-based platform and intuitive management interface 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.


“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,” says Francis.


Today, VPNs are on the rise — 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 into the spotlight, as well as 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.

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