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What is an SSL VPN and Why Should I Use it?


Part II of SSL VPN for Personal VPNs

So, any VPN using SSL encryption or SSL browser can be termed an SSL VPN. Where personal VPN services are concerned, this is nearly always OpenVPN (and it is this protocol that pretty much any SSL VPN review you come across will be referring to). OpenVPN is the most popular VPN protocol for a number of reasons: firstly, it can be implemented on numerous platforms, including Windows, Linux, Mac and (with rooting) even Android mobile devices. On top of that, OpenVPN has been open source for a long time which means the professional public has been able to refine its code to ensure there are no security flaws.

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SSTP VPN, the other VPN to use SSL, is not nearly as popular amongst personal VPN developers, mainly because it is a Windows-only protocol (making it the VPN proxy server for Vista and Windows 7, though not XP or earlier). Some people do not trust SSTP because of it's Windows origin, as the Microsoft OS has an awful security track record. Until very recently, though, one of the main advantages of using SSTP on Windows was that it required no software download to set up your VPN, making the setup process quick and easy. Nowadays, however, the custom client software that uses OpenVPN has brought so many indispensable functions to VPN proxy services that nobody cares anymore how quickly SSTP can be set up. Users are more than happy to invest a little extra time installing custom VPN software if it means they are able to reap the many other rewards that the download brings.

what is a SSL VPN going to do for me?

Any SSL VPN review will tell you that when you run SSL encryption, you gain two distinct advantages over other VPNs running different encryption protocols. The first is that SSL encryption is extremely secure – with keys up to 2048 bits and no known breaches of data encrypted with this protocol. The second is that SSL transmissions are always permitted through firewalls, where other VPN and encryption protocols often run into problems on this front. Some companies, or even countries, block VPN use by closing down the ports that they access. It is not possible to do this with SSL because so much browser-based traffic relies on SSL encryption (internet banking and online purchases for example). OpenVPN can easily be configured to run through port 443 so that its traffic is indistinguishable from other HTTPS transmissions.

why might i use a different VPN?

Some devices still do not support SSTP or OpenVPN, and this means you will not be able to connect with an SSL VPN. You are most likely to face this problem with smartphones, which still strongly favour the older and less secure but slightly faster PPTP protocol (for iPhone anonymous surfing, you have no other option than PPTP). Many providers of personal VPN services allow you to choose between OpenVPN and PPTP precisely because they understand many users want different VPN options for their computers and mobile devices. If compatibility is not an issue, however, there is no strong reason why you would want to use anything other than an Open VPN with SSL for your personal VPN anonymous service.

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team