SSL VPN vs IPSec

Nathan Rizzuti Profile image

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Updated September 12, 2022

Remote workers worldwide have become increasingly familiar with VPNs and for good reason. The best VPNs protect user data through an encryption process that renders data unusable to anyone but the intended parties. But although remote access VPNs hold immense value, many don’t know there are many ways, also called protocols, used to implement these security measures. Below, we will compare two prevalent protocols: SSL VPN vs IPSec.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • VPNs have various protocols that determine how and what data is encrypted.
  • IPSec casts a wide net and secures all connections, applications, and internet traffic under one network.
  • SSL connections only provide secure access for specific browser-based applications.

For more on data security protocols, check out our article comparing SD-WAN vs VPNs or even IPSec vs OpenVPN. Business owners looking to set up their organization with a top-quality private network should read our guide on the best VPNs for businesses.

Insider Tip

You can combine IPSec and SSL VPNs to increase security.

Differences Between IPsec vs SSL

VPNs establish a secure connection between internet users and a virtual private network server. All data goes through encryption, and the IP address is changed. Not only does a VPN connection secure data, but it also hides a user’s identity so they can get past internet regulations, censors, and site blockers.

One of the key differences between IPSec and SSL comes down to which layer of the OSI model it operates on. The OSI model stands for Open Systems Interconnection. It describes seven layers devices need to operate on to connect and, subsequently, allow the internet to do its thing.

IPSec connections operate on the OSI model’s network layer, while SSL connections operate on the application layer. The major difference between these two is that IPSec VPNs require users to download applications software, where SSL connections are established through your web browser. In addition, these varying connections lead to other differences regarding what traffic is encrypted, what’s needed to access the VPN, and how easy they are to manage.

Data Security

Because SSL is an application layer protocol, only traffic within specific individual applications, like a web browser, will be encrypted. Meanwhile, an IPsec connection gives users access to an entire network. The result is that all active content, from web browsing to file transfers to plug-in connections to applications, is securely connected.

Warning

Always make sure to properly vet free VPNs before connecting to them. They can often seek to steal your information or be a trojan horse for malware.

Performance

Modern gadgetry means that most remote users won’t suffer serious performance issues from either protocol. However, because IPSec connections operate on the network layer, this adds complexity and can sometimes lead to slower connection speeds.

SSL connections are known to be quick because they only establish a secure connection through one app at a time.

STAT: 50% of VPN users use private networks to access restricted entertainment, like streaming services. (source)

Control

Network layer protocols are excellent because they encompass many software applications, which is helpful for peace of mind. Still, ultimately, SSL VPNs provide more granular control over what’s being encrypted.

SSL VPN vs IPsec FAQs

Can you test the security of your VPN application?

There are online services users can access that test for DNS or IP leaks.

What is a TLS VPN?

TLS stands for "Transport Layer Security" and is a more modern name for an SSL. It's the same protocol with an updated vernacular for accuracy.

Can you use an SSL VPN for an iPhone?

There are all kinds of protocols available for iPhone users, including SSL.
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