4 min

Both VPN and SSL serve your security when browsing the Internet. But the similarities between them are scarce. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is actually a deprecated technology, replaced by TLS (Transport Layer Security). TLS and VPNs can work independently of each other.

HTTPS is most often seen as a feature of webpages. The beginning of every URL is ‘http://’ or ‘https://’, though browsers hide it most of the time. Both acronyms signify the client-server protocol in use. The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for ‘secure’. Indeed, that’s the principal difference between them: HTTPS applies means of cybersecurity. So does a VPN. What are the differences between them?

HTTPS vs VPN – basic differences

None of the two technologies is definitely better. They’re just very different. Let’s break down their most important features.

  • Working principle. A VPN encrypts and redirects the user’s web request straight to the VPN server. It acts as an intermediary to the Internet. In HTTPS, the SSL/TLS protects communication from the specific website. It is implemented on the host server. The user’s browser communicates with it.
  • The main objective. VPN protects all the online connections of the end user of the Internet – you. HTTPS protects all the end users of a single website.
  • Altering the IP. It takes place in VPN only. Contrary to VPN, HTTPS doesn’t change your apparent IP address. Hence, only the former can be used to bypass geolocation block.
  • User’s perspective. VPN works as a subscription service. It either requires installing a separate app or is integrated with the operating system. It still needs to be configured to work with the specific supplier. HTTPS is a webpage feature, users can’t choose to use it. It describes how a website communicates with the browser. Every site uses either that or HTTP. Browsers mark HTTP with an open padlock and HTTPS with a closed one.
  • Management. With VPN, you’re the user. The provider runs the VPN server and (often) maintains an application you need to download. With HTTPS, the website owner sets it up on the webpage. A trusted third party certificate authority issues a cryptographic certificate, necessary to initiate a safe connection.
  • Costs. Both systems could be paid or free to use, depending on many details. The difference is in who covers the costs. A subscription to a VPN service is paid by you, the end user. The HTTPS is paid for by the website owner.

Web safety: HTTPS, VPN and other inventions

To understand which of the two technologies is more important, we need to dig into the subject of online security. The online threats are almost as old as the Internet itself. Disrupting communication for espionage, theft and malice, spreading viruses – these practices date back to the 1970s. Obviously, countermeasures were being developed. The first commercial antivirus was created in 1987. Email encryption was standardized in the early 1990s. And with the growth of the World Wide Web, more and more sensitive data was being stored online. This called for protection.

As a result, the HTTP protocol used for client-server communication was extended to HTTPS. This added cryptographic security methods for authentication, authorization and sustaining safe communication. It used to employ SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology, later superseded by TLS (Transport Layer Security). The SSL got deprecated, but the name is still used imprecisely.

Nowadays, over 81% of the websites use HTTPS by default. Its inherent protective measures make it supreme to HTTP. Still, there are many websites which don’t need or don’t care about security that much and rely on HTTP. But it’s very unwelcome. Google and other giants of the Internet care about safety very much. Search engines demote unsafe pages, so they’re simply more difficult to find. Also, all the popular Web browsers warn users if a displayed website doesn’t use HTTPS.

VPN – intention and applications

The Virtual Private Network (VPN) was an answer to a need. Companies used to store important, confidential data on the servers at the office. Employees could access it from the local computers, directly linked to the internal network. For security reasons, it was unavailable from the outside. VPN fixed that inconvenience. It acts as an extension of a private network to a remote device. The link between these two is called a tunnel. This application is still popular nowadays. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed remote work on a massive scale and saved many companies from going bankrupt.

The VPN system can also be set up as a two-element network: the user and the VPN server. The latter can act as a gateway to the rest of the Internet. Such is the architecture of a VPN service you can subscribe to. In this configuration, your IP address as seen from any other remote device is changed to the VPN server’s IP. So is your rough geolocation, because it is determined basing on the IP.

Is HTTPS enough?

As mentioned, most modern websites use HTTPS. This protocol, if correctly implemented, is considered safe to transfer any data. Luckily, website owners don’t need to be cybersecurity experts to implement it. Ready-made solutions can be integrated with websites via user-friendly plugins or creators. This reduces setup complexity to minimum. The issue is, not everything on the Internet is transferred via HTTPS!

HTTPS is one of the many communication protocols out there. In fact, dozens of protocols might be active right now inside the device you’re looking at. Every has its strengths, but also vulnerabilities. Those could be exploited with varying results, from harmless jokes to life-threatening military espionage.

VPN and its additional protection

VPN is not a protocol. It’s a system employing several protocols for its purposes. It redirects and encrypts all the communication of your device, regardless of the protocols applied. And that’s the point. With VPN enabled, your transfer is protected on the path to/from the VPN provider’s server. You don’t need to worry about using security mechanisms separately for your online activities: browsing, gaming, file sharing and others. 

So for full protection you could inspect every online-enabled program on your device, check its cybersecurity, monitor what protocols it uses and learn about their safety. It is complicated beyond the skills of any regular Internet user. Using a VPN is an easy way to hide all the online activities of your device inside a protective tunnel. Moreover, VPN providers simplify it as much as they can. Subscription model is plain and easy, VPN apps are user-friendly and autoconfiguring. Choose a VPN for you and browse safely!

BackNext article