IPSec vs SSL VPN – Differences, Limitations and Advantages

IPSec vs SSL VPN – Do you know the difference? Both these VPN’s namely the IPSec VPN and the SSL VPN have become popular among users for different reasons. An IPSec based VPN provides security to your network at the IP layer, otherwise known as the layer-3 in OSI model. An SSL VPN, on the other hand, creates a secure connection between your web browser and a remote VPN server.

An SSL VPN doesn’t demand a VPN or virtual private network Client software to be installed on your computer. This feature is one of its most significant benefits.


An IPSec VPN’s most significant advantage is that it provides a lot of flexibility concerning network configurations. Let’s have a look at them individually, to understand the difference between them.


The VPN Client software on your software initiates the IPSec. You have to log in into this Client software with your credentials. These credentials are provided to you by your VPN service provider.

When you log in, you initiate an internet key exchange. Once the authentication has taken place, a VPN connection is initiated.

The IPSec VPN works in two modes namely the tunnel mode and the transport mode. In transport mode only the payload of the IP Packet is encrypted. The tunnel mode involves encrypting the whole IP Packet.

The IPSec VPN uses internationally renowned cryptographic standards such as 3DES, MD5 SHA, etc.

These cryptographic standards authenticate packets and encrypt data. The IPSec also supports two-way authentication. In it, digital certificates or a pre-shared value is exchanged to verify the user. These reasons make IPSec the go-to protocol for site to site VPNs.


There are several benefits of VPN. But the biggest strength of the IPSec in particular is its flexibility with network configurations and applications. The legacy applications mainly can be accessed without a need for significant reconfiguration.

This flexibility means that an IPSec gives access to the entire subnets of a corporate network. This feature makes it popular among IT administrators.

The work environment of an IPSec VPN is one with which you have some familiarity. This familiarity brings down servicing cost. Moreover, the work done for an IPSec is mostly local, eliminating the need to depend on other server resources.

An IPSec VPN allows you to work locally in the absence of internet. This feature would imply that you can work on Powerpoint presentations and Office documents and edit them. Then, when the internet is available, they can be synchronized into the corporate network.

Additionally, after the initial key exchange, multiple connections can use it without exchanging keys each time.


Its biggest drawback is that it requires the VPN Client software to create the VPN connection. This limitation implies that you cannot get ‘Anywhere Access’ with an IPSec VPN. Because of this reason, you cannot use the public internet kiosks and cafes for VPN access.

Another issue is that the service calls increase for configuring the VPN Client. While the Client creates a secure connection, it limits access to the network significantly.

The IPSec provides access to the entire subnet of the corporate network. This feature could be used as a means to get into the network by the hacker. If a Trojan or virus compromise a remote system, it could spread to the whole internal network.

To create an IPSec VPN, you may need to reconfigure firewall policies. That may require the ports of the firewall to be opened. Moreover, access control can be an issue.

The VPN gateway is the sole authority which builds a VPN Tunnel for the client. Once it makes this tunnel, it doesn’t review the traffic that flows through it. The permission rights are with whoever controls the network.


SSL VPN came into the picture to fulfill the ‘Anywhere Access’ criteria of users worldwide. They create a VPN connection between your browser and a remote server. This feature means that It gives access to the web browser or the web applications, not to the entire network.

All browsers have the SSL built into them from the start.

The SSL VPN provides a secure connection through the exchange of digital certificates. These digital certificates are used for authentication. Like IPSec, it uses renowned international standards for cryptographic encryption.


As mentioned above, the SSL VPN’s provide access to your internal corporate network from any remote place. For web-based applications, a simple ‘https’ connection is all this is required. This advantage is one of the reasons why it is prevalent among users.

It also reduces the cost of installing a VPN Client on your computer.

Since the SSL is inbuilt into all web browsers, it is operating system and browser independent. This feature eliminates the need for you to install anything new. This feature also means that such a VPN connection is device independent.

Moreover, as the SSL VPN doesn’t provide access to entire subnets of the internal network, the threat of a Trojan or malware spreading is reduced.


The primary concern for an SSL VPN is that it gives access mostly to only web-based applications. For legacy applications, configuring an SSL VPN may take several hours. The IT administrators also have trouble finding low-level access to commands such as Telnet.

Moreover, there might be a requirement of multiple key exchanges during a single session. This feature may cause the speed of the connection to go down.

Additionally, since there is no actual control over the remote computer, the security can come into question. There may be traces of information left on the remote machine which can be exploited by hackers.

Since the SSL VPN provides a secure connection to web browsers, it almost always requires an internet connection. Unlike an IPSec VPN, it does not provide the facility for the remote computer to work locally and then synchronize their data.

IPsec vs SSL – Which one to go for?

Both the VPNs have their characteristics and features. Both of them well-known security standards and protocols. If a company has a high number of mobile users, that require access to the internal network through web-based applications, then SSL is the one to choose.


If on the other hand companies need to provide developers access to after service hours support then IPSec would be the one. Many companies consider the cost element as well.

SSL VPN is cost effective as it doesn’t require the installation of a VPN client software. For small companies however that have a small number of users, the IPSec VPN’s might be the most cost-effective solution.

Over to you on IPSec vs SSL

The IPSec VPN’s security is well known among users and has been around for a long time. The SSL VPNs, on the other hand, provide better functionality because of its ‘Anywhere Access’ component. Currently, the two are co-existing and finding takers in the market. In future, with the increase of web-based applications, the SSL VPNs may take over.


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