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Comparing IPsec vs. SSL VPNs ONLC Training Centers

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) have been used for years for remote access to a network for users to their corporate or education networks. The end goal of a VPN is to provide remote users access to network resources. 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.

IPsec VPN

IPsec was developed out of the necessity for remote users to connect to networks over the Internet without the use of very expensive dedicated lines.  it uses encryption algorithms and in some cases two-factor authentication (2FA) to provide maximum security. The normal setup would be where an actual VPN hardware appliance is stood up in front of the on-premises network. Then each user who wishes to connect to the VPN must install a small software application on their machine that is capable of connecting to the VPN appliance, which secures and encrypts the connection and corresponding tunnel through the network.

VPN client software can be hard to manage because they need to be kept up to date and running on the appropriate version that the VPN appliance requires. IT staff is usually tasked with installing and maintaining the software, so some measure of control must be exerted over the software installed on the users’ machines.

There is also a financial burden associated with client software. Updates must be purchased by the host company every time a new upgrade is released, or they have to purchase an expensive license for all of the clients to automatically receive updates.

The main benefit of an IPsec VPN is that you can access almost anything on the network that you could if you were locally connected such as servers, printers, and attached storage. IPSec operates at the Network Layer of the OSI model, meaning users have full access to their corporate network regardless of application.  A good VPN setup should provide remote users with the opportunity to achieve the same level of productivity as if they are sitting at their desks connected to the LAN.

SSL VPN

An SSL VPN (secure sockets layer) runs over the Internet like an IPsec VPN. However, it is usually running through the web browser (among other application layer protocols) instead of having to install an actual application on the client computer. This makes it much easier to manage. Most modern computers have at least one if not multiple web browsers with SSL capability already installed. SSL/TLS VPN gateways are deployed behind a perimeter firewall, which has to be configured to deliver traffic to the gateway. There are no licensing fees, and the software is automatically upgraded on the server without requiring user interaction. This makes this type of VPN much less of a financial burden and lightens the load of the IT staff.

The communication between the client and the VPN server is managed by SSL, which is usually included in most modern web browsers. SSL VPNs can be safer in some instances because they can tunnel only to web-enabled applications instead of the entire network. The user’s privileges can be more precisely managed since they can only access applications that are exposed to them.

The main drawback to an SSL VPN is that it can only be used to access web-enabled SSL applications. Also, the client can’t access physical network resources such as printers. This imposes limits on the users, but as stated in the above paragraph, that can be a good thing in certain situations.

SSL VPNs are becoming more and more popular because entire networks are moving to the cloud where the servers are virtually simulated in software instead of being a dedicated piece of hardware that sits in a specific location. In cloud networks, all the software is web-enabled, so the SSL VPN works just as the IPsec VPN does for physical networks. Documents can be printed to PDF, downloaded, and then printed locally if the user so desires.

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.   

To learn more about IPsec and SSL remote access VPNs, contact ONLC. We have the knowledge and experience to get you trained and certified on all things VPN related. Whether you’re looking to boost your skillset or take the next step towards a new career in IT, ONLC is the right decision.

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