VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” which establishes a protected network connection when using public networks. It essentially encrypts your internet traffic and disguise your online identity. With the modern workplace being hybrid or remote, a VPN that ensures uncompromised security is crucial. Being able to complete tasks outside the office leads to greater productivity and flexibility, which is why working remotely has been embraced by more employers each year. Using a VPN, remote team members can connect directly to the network, performing tasks just as they would while in the office.
There are two main types of VPN software in existence today, IPsec and SSL. IPsec has been around for a long time, but SSL VPNs are gaining popularity thanks to software platforms shifting to the cloud as well as the popularity of web-based applications. Let’s take a more in-depth look at both types.
What is IPsec?
Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) is the traditional VPN method. Introduced in the 1990s, it is well established, regularly updated, and continues to be widely used. IPsec requires third-party client software on the user’s device to access the VPN—it is not implemented through the web browser. Companies need to purchase client software, install it on each user’s computer, keep it updated, and sometimes pay to maintain their license. This makes IPsec rather complicated to implement and configure.
The purpose of IPsec is to give the remote computer direct access to the central network, making it a full member. Remote users have access to any file storage locations, programs, printers, and backups, exactly as if they were in the office. IPsec is, therefore, a robust system that gives users whatever resources they need, wherever they are located.
What is SSL?
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is IPsec’s major rival as a VPN protocol. Though its origins also trace to the 1990s, SSL is a more recent method for implementing VPNs, and it is becoming increasingly popular. The SSL protocol was replaced by a successor technology, Transport Layer Security (TLS), in 2015, but the terms are interchangeable in common parlance and “SSL” is still widely used.
SSL VPNs are implemented through the remote user’s web browser and do not require the installation of special software. All major web browsers—including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari—come with SSL support. This makes SSL easy to set up and use, especially when a team member is installing it without help from tech support.
SSL gives users more specific access than IPsec. Rather than becoming a full member of the network, remote team members are granted access to particular applications. This makes it simple to provide different levels of access to different users. Security is maintained by restricting access to only what’s needed.
IPsec vs. SSL VPN – Which VPN Should You Choose?
Each type of VPN has its pros and cons. Sometimes trade-offs have to be made when choosing either one to manage your remote network access. You might even have a situation where both can be used.
Some of today’s networks are hybrid networks, which have both on-prem and cloud components that would require the use of both types of VPNs. It comes down to the needs of your remote users as to which one will work best for your situation.
The main difference between IPsec and SSL VPNs is the endpoints for each protocol. While an IPsec VPN allows users to connect remotely to an entire network and all its applications, SSL VPNs give users remote tunneling access to a specific system or application on the network.
Choosing the right application comes down to a balance of convenience for the end-user and security for the organization. With SSL VPNs, if a bad actor gains control of the tunnel they have access to only the specific application or operating systems that the SSL is connected to. IPsec protocol, while secured with encryption as part of the TCP/IP suite, can give hackers full access to an entire corporate network if access is gained.
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