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VPN and SSH comparison

SSH is considered by many as a cheap, yet not particularly worthy alternative to VPN technology. However, it is still commonly used and it even offers some advantages. To find out what makes SSH similar to VPN, we’ll discuss both technologies including the benefits and downsides of each of them.

Let’s start by saying that SSH stands for Secure Shell, while VPN as you may know, refers to Virtual Private Network. While a VPN allows you to establish a connection to a network of servers, a SSH is only designed to connect you to a computer. Both technologies are used to create a tunnel for network traffic, protecting it with encryption for additional security. Although in our opinion, VPN offers some advantages over SSH, the latter shouldn’t be dismissed.

VPNs and SSH can be suitable for two different uses: internal and external. We’ll explore these later, but essentially, internal refers to running your own VPN/SSH server and external is related to the connection to a remote service offered by your company so that you can access the corporate network from home, or by your VPN provider to secure your data.

SSH

As previously mentioned, SSH works on an application level, meaning that it requires manual configuration to be able to provide protection for your entire traffic. In order to set-up encryption for all your software, you will have to do it manually using your SSH client, which would generally be PuTTY.

There are certain advantages in the fact that SSH doesn’t encrypt all your traffic. Since encryption is not applied to all your data and applications (some of which may not even need to be secured), you will not experience a significant slowdown on your connection. However, disguising SSH traffic is challenging and there are some Flash/Java/JS/Activex plugins that are able to get around the connection settings.

VPN

The most important difference between SSH and VPN is that the first works on an application level, while the latter is in charge of the transport level. With a VPN, all your network traffic is automatically routed through a secure tunnel, which is why when you install a VPN software, a virtual network adapter is also be installed.

In terms of security, both a VPN and SSH are capable of providing the same level of encryption. However, VPNs have the added benefit of being able to be disguised as HTTPs traffic. This means that snoopers or other parties that try to see your traffic won’t recognize the standard HTTPs from VPN traffic.

While a VPN is usually easier to configure, there is not an universal standard for this purpose. As a result, the level of support available is variable and in some cases, you may experience problems with the setting up process. That being said, most VPNs currently available offer good quality software and support. This means that you are not likely to experience issues, unless you want to run your own VPN server or have to connect to your company’s network.

While a VPN is usually easier to configure, there is not an universal standard for this purpose. As a result, the level of support available is variable and in some cases, you may experience problems with the setting up process. That being said, most VPNs currently available offer good quality software and support. This means that you are not likely to experience issues, unless you want to run your own VPN server or have to connect to your company’s network.

In summary, the main benefit of a VPN is that it can use UDP or TCP and it is capable of disguising traffic. The downside is that there is no unified standard so the level of support can vary. The technology can be used for remote access to your company’s network and to enhance the security of your connection.

Although SSH can be easily installed, the same cannot be said about the set-up process. All connections have to be configured individually and your browsers has to be set to use a SOCKS proxy. The good news is that since SSH is a unified system, it is possible to find a great deal of support for it.

Overall, SSH is an affordable option to get remote access to a single computer and since it doesn’t encrypt all your traffic, the speed of your connection won’t be affected. Because it is a unified protocol, there is a large amount of support available. However, it is difficult to set up and it can only use TCP. The fact that it doesn’t encrypt all the traffic can also be considered as a disadvantage. Plus, SSH traffic is difficult to disguise and is prone to DNS leaks.

Conclusion

While SSH and VPN are able to offer the same level of security, the configuration of SSH is more difficult and there are not that many providers that support this service. On the other hand, there is a vast selection of companies offering VPN services and since it encrypts all your traffic and it is easy to disguise, it has an edge over SSH.

That doesn’t mean that SSH shouldn’t be considered, after all, it can be a good option if you are not concerned about having all your traffic encrypted. For extra security, you can use these two technologies at the same time, although that will have a significant impact in the speed of your connection. Alternatively, there are some providers that support both.

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