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IPSec Vs. SSL VPN: VPN Encryption Explained & Compared


Do you want to know the difference between IPSec and SSL VPN encryption protocols? Then you are on the right page, as the article will highlight the key differences between them.

The idea of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is important when it comes to protecting data sent across open networks like the internet. Virtual private networks (VPNs) encrypt all data and requests before transmission, in essence. The VPN server is where the encrypted packet is initially decrypted.

The server also encrypts the data before transmitting it to the targeted website, and vice versa. As a result, encryption is what gives “virtual private network” its private connotation; it is also one of the VPNs’ main advantages. It protects users from hackers who might be able to easily monitor or tamper with data as it is being transmitted.

The VPN protocol may, however, be what determines how secure your connection is. Hence, VPN protocol is a set of rules that outlines how your device communicates with the VPN server. L2TP, IKEv2, and SSTP are three VPN protocols that employ IPSec encryption. OpenVPN, or more precisely, the OpenSSL library, is the most popular SSL encryption protocol.

Source OpenVPN PPTP L2TP/IPsec SoftEther WireGuard SSTP IKEv2/IPSec
Encryption 160-bit, 256-bit 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit ChaCha20 256-bit 256-bit
Security Very high Weak High security (might be weakened by NSA) High High High High
Speed Fast Speedy, due to low encryption Medium, due to double encapsulation Very fast Fast Fast Very fast
Stability Very stable Very stable Stable Very stable Not yet stable Very stable Very stable
Compatibility Strong desktop support, but mobile could be improved. Requires third-party software. Strong Windows desktop support. Multiple device and platform support. Multiple desktop and mobile OS support. No native operating system support. Linux, being built for other platforms and operating systems. Windows-platform, but works on other Linux distributions. Limited platform support beyond Windows and Blackberry

In this article, we are going to discuss two well-known VPN encryption protocols: IPSec and SSL VPNs. We would examine what they are, their similarities, and their obvious pros and cons. In the end, this article will help you determine what protocol best suits your cyber security needs. Without further ado, let’s look at what these VPN protocols are.

What is IPSec VPN?


The acronym IPSec, or “Internet Protocol Security,” refers to a group of protocols intended to assure private and secure communications across IP networks. So, what is an IPSec VPN? An IPSec VPN is a VPN that establishes and protects the confidentiality of communication between computers, mobile applications, or networks.

The security (encryption) of the data being exchanged between the device and the VPN server is ensured by IPsec VPN through a method called “tunneling.” But peer authentication at the network level and defense against replay attacks are supported by IPSec VPN. NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark are a few VPN service providers that use the IPSec VPN protocol to secure traffic.

What is SSL VPN?

Secure Sockets Layer VPN

Like its counterpart, the abbreviation SSL stands for the “Secure Sockets Layer” protocol. An SSL VPN is a virtual private network (VPN) formed using the Safe Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol in order to establish a secure and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the Internet.

SSL VPN was created as a result of the IPSec protocol’s complexity and the fact that not all users could use it. SSL VPN uses standard browsers and software. Only a select few VPN service providers use the SSL encryption protocol, including OpenVPN, Securepoint SSL VPN, Sophos SSL VPN, and Cisco IOS SSL VPN.

Similarities between IPSec and SSL VPN

Network data is encrypted by both IPsec VPN and SSL VPN but in different ways. However, these two VPN protocols do share a significant number of features and capabilities. Their similarities are listed below.

On looking at their similarities in terms of device authentication, they both support the use of digital signatures. i.e., they are both certificates based, and this is to enable clients to access two-step authentication. Both IPSec and SSL are developed to secure data in transit through encryption.

However, the approach by which they both secure data is quite different. Furthermore, both SSL and IPsec are in support of block encryption algorithms, such as Triple DES, which are commonly known to be used in VPNs. They can as well provide a higher level of remote access security, confidentiality, and authenticity.

Comparison between IPSec and SSL VPNs

Even though they do the same thing and have some similarities, IPSec and SSL encryption differs. Below are some of the aspects we found that the two encryption protocols differ.

1: Performance

The performance of the encryption employed by the IPSec and SSL VPN protocols is ensured by the latest hardware, which prevents any performance concerns. This indicates that neither protocol will cause significant performance concerns for the majority of remote users.

The quality and technology of the hardware are essentially what determines greater performance. Speed is yet another important element that affects performance. However, it is a controversial topic, as there has been AN argument from both ends as to which is faster.

SSL VPN engages through web browsers

As such, SSL VPN engages through web browsers, whereas IPSec VPN operates through client-side software. This suggests that connections established using SSL VPNs are slightly faster than those established using IPsec VPNs.

2: Security

SSL VPNs typically provide network-level access through an SSL-secured tunnel between the client and the corporate network or secure remote access via a web portal. As a result, each connection using the SSL protocol has its own network circuit. The likelihood of hacking could rise because of this model.

SSL VPNs SSL-secured tunnel

Hence, because users can access the SSL VPN remotely, a remote user who is using a device without the most recent antivirus software may spread malware from a local network to the network of an organization. On the other hand, IPsec requires third-party client software and is trickier to set up. It is a specific type of layer 3 security protocol (the network).

Using robust encryption and authentication techniques, it offers the highest level of security for many forms of network traffic. However, because they are unaware of the client being used, hackers find it challenging to breach an IPsec system.

Additionally, hackers would not have access to the precise settings required to make that client function correctly.

IPSec vpn encrypted with the proper key

Therefore, with IPSec, data that has been encrypted with the proper key can’t be accessed. The IPSec VPN protocols are, therefore, more secure because the SSL VPN has a drawback compared to the IPSec VPN.

3: Risk

The risk level is also one crucial feature to look at when it comes to the choice of VPN usage because the flavor might taste fine, and the risk will be high. By their OSI model, IPSec operates on Layer 3, which is the IP layer protocol, while SSL operates on Layer 7, which is the application layer protocol.

On assessing the risk level, even though IPSec can receive a packet via site-to-site and remote access VPNs, SSL only works on one access point, which is the remote access.

IPSec can receive a packet via site-to-site

In this comparison, it will be an equal level of scrutiny, i.e. (Remote access). Whenever remote access is allowed through IPSec, knowing it caters to a group of protocols gives access to its entire network and what it entails, including its private attributes and devices.

This could jeopardize the network as attackers are lurking everywhere to take advantage of a vulnerable network setup. Unlike IPSec, SSL gives its access to a specific device and what it demands.

SSL vpn protocols

Hence, its packet accessibility is in one lane at a time and not open to many devices. Therefore, the fear of malicious attacks on an SSL VPN is slim compared to IPSec.

4: Data Authentication

IPSec and SSL VPNs both encrypt and authenticate but what differentiates them is how they go about it. Every type has a particular system it abides by. However, bringing up the two, the data authentication mechanism is quite the opposite. Although the similarities might surface here, the architectures are different. IPSec uses one type of authentication method (Mutual Authentication).

IPSec vpn data authentication

On the other hand, SSL offers both client and server authentication. What to note is, most times, these two protocols follow cryptographic operations to authenticate data, and this often requires paying attention to how it is done.  While IPSec receives data, encrypts, and creates its MAC number before authenticating it, SSL creates the MAC number first and encrypts it before authenticating the data.

SSL vpn authentication

This authentication might require the exchange of secret ciphers and digital signatures depending on the VPN protocols you opt for. Data authentication is also another vital factor that determines smooth remote access device communication to enable easy decryption.

The main reason behind this authentication, irrespective of the VPN type, is to ascertain that packets are from a reliable source and not malicious cyber attackers. Moreso, both support digital certificates to enable clients to pull through two-step authentication.

5: Technology and Cost

Among the two, IPSec needs more tools in place to foster its activities. Unlike SSL, which only requires sourcing from web browsers for agreeable configuration, a different third part configuration is required using IPSec. This is because different tech-savvy are the ones providing this security.

Therefore, as it doesn’t only cater to one protocol but a group of protocols, several third-party distinct have to come into play. Since IPSec operates at the network level, its access is given equally to every user. Hence, IPSec is said to be a complex while, SSL is comparatively simple.

In terms of cost, with how demanding the IPSec setup is, it’s more expensive than SSL. Why because since it’s from several developers, it requires more third-party attention to enable its configuration. While this sets in SSL, remote access are less expensive because it doesn’t require any necessary external tools. Just with a modern compatible browser, its configuration will go smoothly.

However, this has nothing to do with functionalities. IPSec is well appreciated taking into cognizance that many users can use it at the same level. Also, aside from its remote access comes the site-to-site VPN that will allow an entire network full access to packet transfer.

6: DNS Filtering

DNS Filtering is one feature that works well with IPSec. Looking at the fact that it’s an IP base security protocol, it becomes easier to spot and assess how every device acquired its IP address. This is done by using the DNS resolution. This DNS resolution helps foster DNS queries to a DNS resolver which will further assess the IPs and fish out their domain name to know if what has been sent to the IPSec is legitimate or not.

IPSec vpn DNS resolution

In addition, since IPSec deals with a group of protocols of which some might be from cyber attackers — with the DNS Filtering attributes packed in IPSec, such malicious IPs can be assessed and blocked or blacklisted while that confirmed access is whitelisted. As a result, it enabled security at that level and eased the risk of network disengagement. This is one hidden feature many did not know IPSec has over SSL.

7: Ease of Use

VPNs are playing a bigger role in workplace contexts. However, if the technology is to become widely accepted, usability will be a crucial factor to take into account. In this context, SSL VPNs are really helpful. The fact that any current web browser may be used to implement the SSL VPN protocol makes it simpler to set up and use.

ipsec vpn and ssl vpn Ease of Use

The majority of online browsers support SSL by default; however, using OpenVPN normally requires a third-party program. When it comes to computers, people with little or no literacy levels can utilize them.

However, because an IPSec VPN is built using the IKEv2, SSTP, and L2TP protocols, the setup and configuration procedures are usually time-consuming. This makes the setup considerably more difficult.

However, IPSec is a VPN that is more widely used. Because IPSec runs at the OSI model’s network layer, the user has complete access to the company network. It is more challenging to limit access to particular resources. On the other hand, SSL VPNs give businesses the ability to carefully regulate remote access for particular applications.


Having compared the two VPNs, we have come to settle on the fact that every type of encryption protocol has its pros and cons. When trying to see through their usage, you must make sure the cons do not outweigh the pros. The main difference between IPsec and SSL VPNs is the uniqueness of each protocol.

While an IPsec VPN allows users to connect remotely to an entire network, devices, and applications, SSL gives users remote tunneling access to specific system demands and applications on the network.

However, having researched them, they are both good in functionalities. Hence, choices should be made concerning use case, convenience, and compatibility.


HOB Soft

Hobsoft is a team of digital security experts dedicated to providing honest, unbiased reviews of computer software to help users find the best solutions for their needs. Our reviews, tips, and how-to guides are based on extensive testing and personal experience, ensuring that we provide reliable and valuable information. With a background in digital security products and services, Hobsoft's expertise ensures that our reviews are both trustworthy and informative. Our team is committed to providing accurate information and helping users navigate the ever-changing world of digital security.