VPNs tend to be divided into different categories, and the division between SSL and IPSec VPNs is one of the most common. Knowing the difference can make or break security solutions, so let’s look in more detail about what is SSL VPN and how it can apply to your operations.

If you’re wondering what is SSL VPN, the first thing to know is that it stands for Secure Sockets Layer. You’ll often come across the term when buying items from eCommerce stores, where companies like to inform customers about their use of SSL encryption. That’s because SSL acts like a “padlock”, enabling secure connections between individual computers and payment portals. But that’s not all SSL is about, as we’ll find out.

How does an SSL VPN work?

SSL is also a key component of many Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and here’s how a basic SSL VPN works. Unlike IPSec-based services, SSL VPN providers can embed their VPNs inside web browsers. So there’s no need for an external client, and users don’t need to worry about firing up their VPN separately. It just loads with the browser, and protects them immediately as they surf the web.

To achieve this, SSL VPNs use end to end encryption which delivers protection from the point that data is entered into browsers to the moment they arrive at their destination. These days, it’s also important to note that they probably won’t use SSL itself. Instead, the industry standard is SSL’s successor protocol, which is known as Transport Layer Security (TLS), but works in much the same way.

Another aspect of how SSL VPN works is that there are a couple of different types of SSL VPN.

  • SSL Portal VPNs – These VPNs create single connections to specific websites, which then act as “portals” to other services, such as company databases or ordering systems. They tend to feature access gateways with passwords or other authentication methods.
  • SSL Tunnel VPNs – With these SSL VPN services, users can access multiple sites via one SSL VPN port. These online services don’t necessarily have to be browser-based, as the SSL encryption used in these VPNs creates a “tunnel” which contains all of the data sent from (or to) the user.

This kind of VPN is popular with businesses who need off-the-shelf solutions which are compatible with their existing software systems, and generally suits people who require simple implementations with a high degree of protection for web-based activity.

Is SSL VPN secure?

SSL VPNs have become extremely popular thanks to their ease of use and low cost overheads, but there’s a catch. Some experts have flagged up significant security issues regarding how SSL VPN works, leading to a drop-off in the system’s adoption among security-conscious users.

For one thing, authentication can be a weak spot, particularly of Portal-based SSL VPNs. Intruders can gain access to secured networks by imitating legitimate users, and staff using these VPNs need to maintain a high level of security discipline as a result.

If SSL-based VPNs are used in larger networks, the network can also be vulnerable to worm or Trojan attacks, meaning that each node needs to be kept up to date and prepared for the latest cyber-threats. The very ease of use associated with SSL can be an issue, too. If users can log on from almost any computer, it can be hard to ensure that the terminals they use are virus-free. This leaves networks open to various threats, such as keystroke loggers, which can compromise entire user databases.

Then there’s gateway spoofing. Cyber-criminals can create portals which look similar to genuine SSL portals, allowing them to harvest user details.

Added together, these threats mean that SSL users have to balance ease of use against security, and ensure that all network users are well trained in security measures. So the answer to the key question is SSL VPN secure is that it can be, if users source the right security partner and take steps to protect their networks.

SSL VPN vs IPSec VPNs: What’s the difference?

If you’re thinking about implementing an SSL VPN, you are most likely already familiar with what is a VPN. Choosing between SSL VPN vs IPSec be a critical decision for network performance and security.

IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) has long been the standard for consumer VPNs. In these systems, protocols create tunnels between the user’s connection and the wider internet, funneling encrypted date to its intended destination via a VPN company’s servers.

IPSec isn’t associated with specific applications, so torrenting apps, streaming clients and web browsers are all protected by its tunnels. Because of this, a client is almost always required to configure your VPN, while an SSL VPN client is rarely needed.

SSL is also easier to set up for remote networks, and can be faster for pure web browsing. But it has some limitations relative to IPSec. For instance, if you want to access network resources outside of your browser like printers or storage disks, you probably won’t be able to do so from an SSL protected portal.

However, SSL has another big advantage. Because SSL VPN port numbers are relatively low, and it uses the HTTPS protocol, SSL VPNs won’t usually have problems with public wi-fis. IPSec can run into issues due to its use of high port numbers and protocols like ESP or UDP.

Introducing some leading SSL VPN client options

SSL has become a go-to option for business network managers and many individuals, and a large market has emerged for SSL VPN client options. To round off our look at SSL, it might help to list a few of the main contenders:

  • Sonicwall
  • Forti Client
  • UWMC
  • Watchguard
  • Cisco
  • Baracuda

Many of these providers have specialist services for different industry sectors, as well as products to handle email threats, ransomware and other cyber-dangers. So if you’re confident you know how SSL VPN works and you need a versatile, easy to use secured portal, they should do the job.