BP is planning to move 60% of its staff and external partners who access company systems via internal networks to the internet.
BP has trialled the use of internet connections for remote workers over the past 18 months.
By the end of the year 10,000 end-users are expected to use the internet as their corporate network.
The move is expected to facilitate new business practices while also cutting networking and IT support costs.
Over time, the company plans to simplify its connections to external business partners by using the internet. It currently maintains 384 extranets.
According to analyst firm Gartner, 90% of businesses use virtual private networks based on the IPsec security protocol, but Paul Dorey, chief information security officer at BP, is deploying systems based on the SSL technology used on internet banking sites.
"Many VPNs are blocked by firewalls and router set-ups in
hotels and other remote access locations," said Dorey. SSL can pass through most firewalls, proxy servers and routers without
difficulty, unlike VPNs based on IPsec protocols.
John Pescatore, research vice-president at Gartner, predicted that difficulties with IPsec would mean that within two years 50% of all VPNs would be based on SSL technology. He added, "In certain countries, governments have influenced telco operators to block IPsec traffic [to monitor foreign business activities]."
BP is providing staff with internet access to corporate e-mail, human resources applications and some key "intranet" websites.
"[Internet] users at this stage tend to be those who use basic HR, intranet and office applications rather than applications such as SAP, but we are working on this for subsequent stages," Dorey said.
This strategy will cut IT support costs, he said, because users can manage their own systems.