Everything You Need to Know About SSL VPNs

Everything You Need to Know About SSL VPNs

Virtual Private Networks are one of the leading online security and privacy standards nowadays. Their encryption strength makes them an obligatory feature in a world filled with data privacy violations and furious cyber attacks that can lead to considerable damages and losses.

VPNs, as they are often called, create a virtual, computer-generated tunnel that serves as a secure channel for the user’s shared data and location information – their IP address – to travel. That way, the digital assets will be protected against hackers, cybercriminals, surveillance and intelligence agencies, online stores and advertising specialists, and even Internet Service Providers looking to collect and share data logs with any of the previous agents.

Protocols: technologies for encryption

To create the tunnels for the information to travel to remote servers – managed by the VPN company and not by the Internet Service Providers – these privacy and security-driven enterprises use technologies called protocols.

Nowadays, the most efficient protocols are OpenVPN (both TCP and UDP) and the Layer to Tunneling Protocol plus Internet Protocol Security (L2TP/IPSec.) However, the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) also has its fan base.

What is the SSL/TLS protocol?

The SSL security protocol makes sure that every bit of data shared between the user and the server remains private. Its certificates are known for preventing man in the middle (MitM) attacks by ensuring customers establish a connection to the right server.

SSL VPN can be a sizable upgrade to other protocols because it implements X.509 certificates in order to build secure data encryption. It also offers the added feature of making the establishment of remote-access network connections possible.

Other security protocols require the user to download and install a determinate client software or app. However, the SSL VPN only needs an ordinary web browser to provide encryption.

SSL Virtual Private Networks

Virtual Private Network brands that implement the SSL cryptography protocol are, therefore, known as SSL VPNs. Until a couple of years ago, all VPN companies implemented SSL encryption, but now, it has been substituted by the more efficient Transport Layer Security protocol or TLS.

People now use the TLS to encrypt data packets traveling from an Internet-powered device to an SSL VPN server. This is achieved because the SSL VPN offers E2EE (End to End Encryption) between the customer and the server managed by the VPN company.

Devices using the SSL/TLS encryption can enjoy safe browsing because third parties and external agents won’t be able to sniff or intercept the traffic generated. SSL/TLS prevents packet sniffing performed by governments, hackers, ISPs, and others.

The SSLv3 system was very popular not so long ago. However, it has been especially vulnerable to what is called the POODLE attack, so that has been slowly changing. As for advantages, the SSTP uses the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) 3.0 type of encryption, including the ability to use to TCP port 443 to evade censorship.

Transport Layer Security (TLS) – the latest standard in the industry

SSL’s vulnerabilities with the POODLE and DROWN attacks led to the protocol being virtually replaced with the improved, safer TLS. The situation led to SSL protocols, specifically the SSL 2.0 and 3.0, being deprecated by the IETF, which is the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Now, SSL VPNs use TLS, because SSL is no longer trustworthy when it comes to providing privacy and anonymity.

How are SSL VPNs classified?

SSL VPNs are classified in:

  • SSL Portal VPN: It allows a single SSL connection. It is a “doorway” that opens up numerous directions, allowing remote access thanks to an ordinary web browser.
  • SSL Tunnel VPN: It lets users enter numerous network services from a web browser, plus other protocols and applications off the web. It allows more freedom and configurations options to customers when compared to the Portal VPN, including Flash applications.

The Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)

The Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol, better known as the SSTP, help users creates a safe environment for data to flow from point to point (from the user’s computer and ending in the VPN server,) without no notable or critical flaws.

Tech giants Microsoft created the protocol to include it in their Windows Vista operating system. Naturally, it has native support for Windows, but also for Linux and BSD systems. In case the user has Android, macOS, and iOS, the availability may depend on third parties.

The SSTP protocol uses 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates for authentication and 256-bit SSL keys for encryption, which is why it is most secure and widely implemented in Windows devices.

The SSTP protocol is similar to OpenVPN because they both implement the same SSLv3. But since SSTP belongs to Microsoft, it can’t be audited, whereas OpenVPN, as an open source development, can.

OpenVPN: the most sought after protocol in the industry

OpenVPN is the most commonly adopted VPN protocol in our present reality. It is very safe to use, as it doesn’t allow any leaks of users IP addresses. It is highly configurable, and it can run on almost all known devices and operating systems without much issues. It has become the most convenient encryption protocol to have.

It is open source, which means that it continually feeds from contributions of the community, and can be audited. It is suitable to bypass firewalls and access blocked content around the world. Its unique encryption means that the users’ IP address will remain off-limits to anyone online, and that is why OpenVPN is perfect for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Kodi users.

The good thing is that OpenVPN implements a mix of other measures, such as SSLv3 and OpenSSL with the intention of providing the best possible performance. In fact, OpenSSL is the one that paves the way for implementing encryption to numerous other algorithms, such as AES, Blowfish and Camelia.

Most reputed VPN brands implement OpenVPN as their built-in protocol. TorGuard, which is one of the top companies in the matter, lets users choose which type of OpenVPN protocol they want to activate, TCP or UDP.

Why is SSL/TLS a secure protocol?

Thanks to the TLS handshake, the data channel is protected because it can detect alterations and make sure the data stays confidential. OpenVPN UDP and TCP, on the other hand, can be vulnerable without the TLS encryption.

With SSL/TLS, users can have peace of mind because it will make sure to be connected to the right VPN server. Also, the protocol performs an encrypted key exchange to foster a safe connection.

SSL advanced features

  • Endpoint Security Compliance
  • Source IP/Date/Time restrictions
  • Cache cleaning
  • Virtual sandbox user environment

Top SSL VPN brands

There are many VPN options in the market that offer OpenVPN encryption as well as the SSTP protocol (TorGuard can provide both, for example.) However, these are the most popular SSL VPN companies:

  • Cisco SSL VPN
  • F5 BIG IP
  • Check Point SSL VPN
  • Pulse Connect Secure
  • Citrix NetScaler Unified Gateway
  • Microsoft UAG
  • Symantec VIP Access Manager

In conclusion, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a strong security protocol that offers incredible encryption and is the foundation of how numerous top VPN brands work, in the form of the Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) and the OpenVPN one.

SSL VPNs are most commonly used as a remote access security solution: a single SSL VPN gateway (server) acts like an entry point and allows numerous SSL VPN clients to successfully access a corporate network.

It has both enterprise and individual users and applications and is a perfect environment to foster the secure exchange of data from end to end. It can be used, therefore, as a tool for preventing unwanted third parties and external agents from sniffing traffic shared in the network. It is very adept at avoiding Man in the Middle attacks.

Ali is a freelance journalist with 5 years of experience in web journalism and marketing. He contributes to various online publications. With a master degree, now he combines his passions for writing about internet security and technology. When he is not working, he loves traveling and playing games.

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