IPsec vs. SSL VPN: Which One Is Better for You? (2023 Update)
- Understanding VPN Encryption
- IPsec and How It Works
- SSL and How It Works
- IPsec vs. SSL VPN — Differences in Performance
- Best IPsec and SSL VPNs — Full Analysis (Updated in 2023)
- ExpressVPN — Multiple Protocols (Including IPsec and SSL) For Safe and Fast Browsing
- CyberGhost — Top Encryption for Safe Web Browsing Even on Public WiFi
- Private Internet Access — IKEv2 and OpenVPN Protocols for Secure Torrenting on Your Mobile and Desktop Devices
- Tips on Choosing the Best IPSec and SSL VPNs
- FAQs on IPsec vs. SSL VPNs
- Get the Best IPsec and SSL VPN Today
IPsec and SSL encrypt your data, but they do it differently. They’re both popular network protocols by consumer (and remote access) VPNs. The main difference in IPsec and SSL performance from the user’s point of view is the level of security and speed.
My team and I tested 70+ VPNs to find the best-performing IPsec and SSL services. IPsec-based tunneling protocols include IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, and SSTP, while OpenVPN uses SSL encryption. Most VPNs offer both protocols, allowing you to personalize the security settings.
ExpressVPN is my top choice for data encryption. It incorporates extra features to boost the performance of its IPsec and SSL protocols, including an extensive network of obfuscated servers to securely access the web. This service is also faster than other VPNs I tested and lets you stream in UHD with no buffering. You can test ExpressVPN risk-free as it's backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Understanding VPN Encryption
VPN encryption creates a secure line of communication between 2 or more connected devices. As each device transmits data, the VPN scrambles all the information into an unreadable format and assigns an authentication key to protect the transmission. Only the VPN host can decrypt it and relay it to the end user (recipient).
You can safely browse the internet (also on public WiFi) and do your online banking, thanks to a VPN. Hackers can't read your data even if they intercept the communication because it's chopped into random characters and cryptographically secured with private keys. So your sensitive information is well protected from snoops.
IPsec and SSL VPNs encrypt and tunnel data differently. The most significant differences include:
- The level and complexity of encryption
- Key authentication and exchange mechanisms
- Speed performance
- OSI layers where key exchange and data transfer happen
- The type of supported protocols and ports
- Ease of use
IPsec and How It Works
IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) provides advanced data protection, and is often used by businesses as well as consumers. It achieves this by encrypting IP packets sent over public IPv4/IPv6-based networks and verifying if the information source is secure. Sometimes, the encryption and verification process uses two-factor authentication (2FA) to enhance security, which requires a one-time code to log in.
There are 2 modes of securing data — transport and tunnel. The first one encrypts only the payload of an IP packet, while the second mode encrypts the entire packet (new IP header).
As such, IPsec offers high data confidentiality and integrity between the sender and receiver. It also supports network-level peer authentication, data origin authentication, and replay protection. Both users must install an IPsec client software (usually the VPN provider app) to make it work, which has to be regularly updated. For example, IPsec can be used between 2 routers to create a site-to-site VPN.
VPNs deploy IPsec-based protocols like IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, and SSTP for secure traffic tunneling. They were introduced in the mid-1990s as a part of the TCP/IP suite (maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force) when more remote users needed easy access to the networks. SSL solutions came later, in 1999.
SSL and How It Works
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a type of encryption used to protect communications between servers and web browsers or between email clients and email servers. On the consumer side, ExpressVPN’s WolfSSL is a great example of this, providing a lightweight solution to maintain speeds.
Browser-based protocols provide safe end-to-end tunneling whenever remote users access web applications and client-server apps. For example, when you want to access an online payment website on your browser.
The most popular protocol that uses SSL encryption is OpenVPN (OpenSSL library). It supports both UDP and TCP.
Pre-installed client software isn't required for SSL authentications, but the connected device should support browsers. This makes the SSL VPNs compatible with most phones, computers, and Smart TV devices. All major web browsers (such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) come with SSL support.
The browser must perform a successful TLS handshake with an SSL gateway server to initiate a communication channel. TLS stands for Transport Layer Security and is the alternative modern name for SSL (the industry-standard SSL’s successor protocol since 2015), which has so far undergone many improvements. Contrary to IPsec, TLS is incorporated by default in web browsers and many other applications.
There are 2 different types of SSL VPNs. The first one is SSL Portal VPN which connects users to specific sites and acts as a portal to other web-based programs, like email or file-sharing apps. SSL Tunnel VPNs allow access to multiple sites (also the ones that aren’t web-based) through 1 port. Bear in mind that whenever you connect to SSL VPNs through your browser instead of through a dedicated app, your non-browser internet activity isn’t protected by the VPN.
In the wake of cloud-based networks and software, SSL is growing even more popular. This is because it's the most convenient and faster for web communications. The software is automatically upgraded on the server and doesn’t require user interaction.
IPsec vs. SSL VPN — Differences in Performance
There are a few differences between IPsec and SSL VPNs. Let's look closely at how these 2 perform and what their pros and cons are.
While both IPsec and SSL VPNs provide secure encryption, the structural differences determine how a hacker can potentially gain access to your data. You can get maximum online protection using ExpressVPN, which offers high-end authentication with all its protocols. Here is how the IPsec and SSL VPNs compare to each other.
The first key difference between IPsec and SSL is the layer where encryption and authentication happen. Based on the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model, computers communicate at 7 layers, namely:
- Physical layer
- Data link layer
- Network layer
- Transport layer
- Session layer
- Presentation layer
- Application layer
IPsec encrypts and authenticates internet traffic at the network layer and identifies communicating parties via their IP addresses. SSL operates at the transport layer and doesn't inspect IP packets.
The IPsec encryption is more resistant to DoS attacks than SSL/TLS because it operates at the lower network layer. Most of IPsec’s crucial security functions (like key generation) are done in the computer OS kernel, reducing cyber threat possibilities.
TLS may be easier to attack because encryption happens at the higher network layer. Also, the public cryptography used by OpenSSL/TLS systems makes them vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug that can even bypass multi-factor authentication.
Plus, SSL VPNs transport multiple circuits simultaneously — a separate circuit for each connection (contradictory to IPsec’s single tunnel circuit for all network interactions). A hacker can monitor the individual SSL circuits and get bits of data about apps or services the user is accessing. It makes this protocol more vulnerable to worm and Trojan attacks.
Key Exchange vulnerabilities
In IPsec connections, the client and server must generate a shared key (using a built-in authentication) before data transfer allowing secure verifications. However, if attackers gain access to the pre-shared key, they can eavesdrop on the information. Top VPNs take care of this problem using AES 256-bit encryption, which is virtually uncrackable and provides anti-replay protection.
SSL connections use public key cryptography (third-party integrations), so it's more difficult for attackers to find the keys. But, some VPNs don’t have secure client verification mechanisms and may even permit untrustworthy self-signed certificates. Also, SSL uses the lower DES 128-bit cipher key encryption by default.
Hackers may exploit these vulnerabilities and carry out man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on SSL VPNs. That’s why most SSL services integrate AES 256-bit encryption, besides 128-bit, to increase security.
All in all, IPsec has a slight edge over SSL on the security front. Web-based applications are generally more vulnerable to malware attacks. They require frequent updating and patching so hackers can easily exploit it.
Public network firewalls block threats by filtering out data packets traveling without port numbers. This is a significant advantage for SSL VPNs because they use port 443 — a safe HTTPS port recognized on most devices. Routers and hardware that use the NAT firewall can easily allow SSL traffic.
IPsec VPNs don't transport encrypted ESP packets with assigned port numbers. Firewalls can quickly flag down and block them. To curb this challenge, such VPNs encapsulate the ESP packets inside UDP packets so they can be identified with a UDP port number. The commonly used UDP port number is 4500, but it may not be recognized on most private networks.
In short, an SSL VPN is better for bypassing firewalls and geoblocks. However, most VPNs nowadays offer obfuscated servers that hide your traffic from detection. Others provide optimized servers for bypassing geoblocks on various content platforms, regardless of the protocol you use. So, an IPsec VPN might be as effective as an SSL one.
When comparing which protocol is faster (IPsec vs. SSL), it's essential to consider how each connects end-users. IPsec protocols securely connect users to IP-based applications and remote networks or resources, such as printers and centralized storage. On the other hand, SSL protocols are designed to offer safe connections to web-based applications and services.
IPsec VPNs might have better speeds for VoIP communications, streaming, or when accessing remotely connected devices, like printers and storage disks.
SSL VPNs are generally faster at negotiating server or web connections — for example, it takes a shorter time to log in to an online portal. Although, the IKEv2/IPsec protocol also has a reputation for negotiating connections faster, for example, switching from phone data to WiFi.
In conclusion, both are fast, but IPsec has a fair advantage over SSL VPN because it delivers good speeds on both online and remote connections. The IKEv2/IPsec protocol can be relatively faster than SSL protocols. However, consider that a VPN's performance may be affected by many other factors, including server size, distance, and hardware quality.
When I did online speed tests, there wasn’t any significant difference between the IPsec and SSL protocols.
Ease of Use
SSL VPNs only require a web browser connection and don't need additional software configurations. Most internet-enabled devices already have client software for connecting to an SSL VPN.
On the other hand, IPsec VPN users must install client software or apps to initiate end-to-end communications via a shared security key. Special hardware may be required in large network operations. It can be costly to set up and administer the software through regular updates.
All in all, an SSL VPN is much easier to deploy and more low-maintenance than IPsec. However, as users can effortlessly log in from so many devices, there’s more space for various threats like viruses.
The question of when it’s appropriate to use IPsec vs. SSL VPN depends on what you want to use the VPN for. IPsec might have shortcomings where SSL works better, and vice versa — each has pros and cons.
To summarize, here are some technical feature differences between IPsec vs. SSL VPNs:
|Network Layer||Encrypts and authenticates at layer 3 of the OSI model||Encrypts and authenticates between layer 4 and 7 of the OSI model|
|Connectivity||Can connect end-point clients to remote networks, for example, office printers||Mostly used for connections on online platforms and apps|
|Key Exchange||Pre-shared key is generated using built-in authentication mechanism||Cryptographic keys are generated via public (third party) integrations|
|Transportation||May not (by default) transport data packets using port numbers||Transports data packets using port numbers|
|Implementation||Requires software installation||Doesn’t necessarily require software installation to work|
|Supported Applications||Works well with IP-based apps||Works well on browser-based apps, for example, email and file-sharing programs|
High-end remote access VPNs integrate IPsec and SSL encryption protocols, giving you the option to customize your security. They allow you to safely browse the internet, bypass geo-blocks using global servers and seamlessly stream online content with high-speed connections.
All the VPNs I’ve shortlisted have straightforward apps and permit multiple simultaneous connections. Each has a money-back guarantee too, so you can test them out with confidence.
Tested February 2023 Try Risk-Free for 30 Days
- Robust encryption protocols, including OpenVPN SSL and IPsec, for data protection
- Impressive speeds to stream and play online games without interruptions
- 3,000 servers in 94 countries for bypassing firewalls and content geo-blocks
- Can unblock: Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and more
ExpressVPN offers robust online safety with IPsec and SSL protocols. They are IKEv2, L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN (TCP/UDP). Military-grade encryption also scrambles your data to safeguard you from hackers and snoops. The AES 256-bit cipher is the highest level of encryption and is even used by the NSA. During ExpressVPN tests, the IPsec and SSL protocols worked seamlessly on my smartphones and desktop devices.
The encryption safety is enhanced with SHA-512 HMAC authentication. It generates secret shared keys between the sender and receiver to secure communications. This authentication is an excellent protection against man-in-the-middle attacks that aim to intercept users’ data.
Safeguarding your online privacy is crucial too. ExpressVPN has a kill switch to block internet access if your VPN connection suddenly drops (although it didn’t happen during my tests). Plus, IPv6/DNS leak protection feature masks your actual location. My personal details didn’t show during the leak tests using both IPsec and SSL protocols.
This provider is based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands, which don’t belong to the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances (countries sharing internet data of their citizens). The VPN follows a strict no-logs policy too, meaning your sensitive information, like browser searches, isn’t stored.
I got impressive speeds when I tested the VPN’s IPsec and SSL protocols. The US servers clocked at 47Mbps — only a 6% drop from my 50Mbps base connection. It allowed me to stream buffer-free UHD content and play online games lag-free. There’s also an in-house Lightway protocol, which uses the wolfSSL cryptography library, that provides excellent speeds without compromising security.
All servers are obfuscated, which helps to hide your traffic from detection by firewalls. The network is vast, spanning 94 countries, so it’s easy to bypass geo-blocks. I used the VPN to access my Netflix US account content while traveling abroad without issues.
Thanks to the user-friendly apps, installing the VPN on my PC and smartphone took me only 5 minutes. It's also straightforward to get assistance using 24/7 live chat if you encounter any problems. Besides, the VPN can be used on up to 5 devices simultaneously.
A minor con of the VPN is its pricey plans. The subscriptions start at $6.67/month. Luckily, ExpressVPN frequently offers generous discounts. I got 49% off and 3 months for free when I purchased the 12-month plan.
If you change your mind after buying the service, you can ask for a refund because it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee. I easily got my money back after messaging a support rep through live chat. The funds appeared in my PayPal wallet within 2 days.
- AES 256-bit encryption and IPsec/SSL protocols to protect you from cyber threats
- 9,753 servers in 91 countries for accessing geo-restricted content anywhere
- 7 simultaneous connections to cover your many devices
- Can unblock: Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and more
Like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost uses robust AES 256-bit encryption to scramble data transmitted to and from your device. This lets you browse online without worrying about hackers. While testing CyberGhost, I safely connected to public hotspots with the automatic WiFi protection feature. It launches the VPN before you connect to any network, or you can set it to ask whether you want to allow or ignore some of them.
Other security and privacy tools include a kill switch and IP/DNS leak protection. The VPN also follows a zero-logs policy, so it doesn’t store your activity data or other information that can be directly linked to you. It's based in Romania, which is privacy-friendly and doesn't share citizens' internet data with other countries.
There are optimized servers for streaming, gaming, and torrenting. So the VPN is ideal for high-bandwidth activities. The server network spans 91 countries, allowing you to easily access geo-blocked content.
Both IPsec and SSL protocols showed fast speeds for lag-free gaming. I recorded an average download speed of 45Mbps — a 10% reduction from my base speed. The additional WireGuard protocol also provides a good balance of speed and safety.
Configuring the VPN’s protocols is hassle-free on any operating system because of the intuitive design. Plus, 24/7 live chat is in place if you ever get stuck.
A slight drawback is that the monthly plans are expensive (and come with only a 14-day money-back guarantee). However, long-term subscriptions are very affordable, starting at just $2.19/month. They also have extended refund periods. I recommend the 2-year plan as it's the most pocket-friendly.
You can try CyberGhost for free, thanks to a tried-and-tested 45-day money-back guarantee. I conveniently sent a refund request via email to customer support, and my credit card was reimbursed after 3 days.
3. Private Internet Access — IKEv2 and OpenVPN Protocols for Secure Torrenting on Your Mobile and Desktop Devices
- Multiple security protocols for secure P2P file sharing
- 10 simultaneous device connections
- Fast speeds for streaming, online gaming, and downloading
- Can unblock: Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and more
PIA comes with several security protocols for safe P2P file transfers. Whether you’re connected on the SSL or IPsec protocol, the private keys are frequently changed to secure your browsing sessions thanks to the Perfect Forward Secrecy feature. Among the supported IPsec and SSL protocols are IKEv2 and OpenVPN. The default OpenVPN encryption is AES 128-bit (a bit faster), but I recommend AES 256-bit if security is your top priority.
I ran several leak tests on PIA’s US servers, and my actual location wasn’t revealed. The kill switch also prevents your IP address from getting exposed, even on unstable internet connections. There's a no-logs policy too, so your data can't end up in the wrong hands.
Just like CyberGhost, PIA offers ample global servers. They are spread across 84 countries, which makes it easier to access your geo-restricted accounts, like Netflix US, while traveling abroad.
The speeds are fast for activities like streaming and torrenting. I watched buffer-free content using servers in the UK and Australia. Both the IPsec and SSL protocols provide good connections.
If you’re new to VPNs, the many customization settings of PIA can be quite tricky. However, the default mode is preconfigured, so you don't have to tweak anything yourself. There's also 24/7 live chat support to get assistance at any time.
You can subscribe to PIA for just $2.19/month. Longer plans, like the 3-year option, offer the best value for money in the long run.
A 30-day money-back guarantee backs PIA. It's easy to get refunded if you’re not 100% happy with the VPN. I submitted a support ticket, and my bank account was reimbursed 4 days later.
Tips on Choosing the Best IPSec and SSL VPNs
I used rigorous testing criteria to compare and shortlist the best IPsec and SSL VPNs. If you want a dependable VPN, here are some of the top features you should consider:
- Strong security — A VPN with military-grade encryptions is safe for browsing, whether you’re using IPsec or SSL tunneling protocols. The other essential privacy features are a kill switch, IP/DNS leak protection, and a no-logs policy.
- Fast speeds — Both IPsec and SSL VPNs have their pros and cons when it comes to speeds. However, a decent VPN delivers fast connections regardless of the protocol. This way, you can stream UHD content and play online games without interruptions.
- Global server network — Bypassing geoblocks is easier if your VPN offers many servers in different locations. They let you access multiple IP addresses to unblock content on your geo-restricted streaming accounts.
- Easy-to-use apps — Installing and connecting to servers should be straightforward on your device. Choose an IPsec or SSL VPN that doesn't require complex configurations, even when deployed for office or business use.
- Reliable money-back guarantee — Getting a VPN with a refund policy that actually pays out lets you try it with confidence.
FAQs on IPsec vs. SSL VPNs
Is SSL better than IPsec?
Each encryption has its pros and cons. SSL can do better with web-based platforms, and IPsec is recommended when connecting to remote networks. So, the best VPNs provide both SSL and IPsec protocols to meet your different needs. To choose the better VPN for yourself, check which one offers faster speeds or more secure connections.
Is IPsec faster than SSL?
Whether you use an IPsec or SSL protocol doesn't make a huge difference. Both can be fast, depending on what you use them for. IPsec may perform better in VoIP communications, but SSL is known to negotiate connections much faster. Top VPNs offer you IPsec and SSL protocol options, so you can pick either of them. Your VPN’s performance may also be affected by several other things, like server congestion and unstable connections.
Can SSL VPNs hide my IP address?
Yes, SSL VPNs use encryption and leak protection to conceal your actual location. However, only the best VPNs offer reliable IP security features. Premium services like ExpressVPN provide high standards of online privacy. You can try such VPNs with confidence because they’re backed by trustworthy money-back guarantees.
What are the pros and cons of IPsec and SSL?
IPsec has many protection layers, while SSL offers an easy way to connect to web apps. Both VPN protocols have high compatibility, though SSL is simpler because it doesn’t need many configurations. A VPN with multiple tunneling protocols balances the pros and cons.
If you’re deploying a VPN for use in an organization, it might cost more to use IPsec due to the extra software required and maintenance expenses. SSL is much easier to implement but doesn’t offer extra safety features. Unlike IPsec, which has a built-in authentication (with 2FA), SSL depends on public third-party integrations, which can be compromised. However, SSL might be better at bypassing firewalls, especially on router devices.
IPSec-based VPN protocols lack the open source code, which might be an issue for some users. According to Edward Snowden’s allegations, the NSA targeted IPsec with vulnerabilities that spies and hackers can exploit. However, VPNs come with other security and privacy features to keep your sensitive data hidden from snoops.
When should I use IPsec vs. SSL?
SSL VPN is recommended for web-based applications and IPsec for transmitting sensitive data. For example, SSL would be appropriate for email communications and IPsec when using a mobile payment app. Either way, the best VPNs cover up the flaws of IPsec and SSL protocols, so you won’t notice significant differences. You can safely use public WiFi or stream with no buffering.
When choosing between IPsec vs. SSL, you should consider factors like user or business needs, security requirements, and the available infrastructure and resources. Many remote workers and employers need a VPN to access a company's network. It can be set up by a managed service provider (MSP).
However, nowadays, many companies have both on-premise and cloud software that require the use of both types of VPNs. IPsec runs better with traditional on-prem applications, while SSL is recommended for SaaS (Software as a Service) cloud-based apps.
It’s also easier to restrict user access (for example, to the company’s data) with SSL if necessary. That’s because SSL VPNs work by accessing specific applications, not the entire network. Access control ensures only the right people can see sensitive information. So it’s great for clients and freelance employees. IPsec is a better option for remote office team members who need full access to company resources.
Get the Best IPsec and SSL VPN Today
When choosing between an IPsec vs. SSL VPN, it’s important to take a look into other features used to boost VPN performance. Both encryptions can be interchangeably used since there isn't much difference in security, speed, or ease of use. Most providers have optimized their VPNs to cover the flaws of each protocol so you get a good experience with either of them.
My recommended IPsec and SSL VPN is ExpressVPN. It has multiple protocols and military-grade encryption, giving you robust online protection. The servers are obfuscated too, allowing you to bypass geo-blocks and get around firewalls. Plus, it’s the fastest VPN I tested for UHD streaming. You can try ExpressVPN risk-free since it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
To summarize, here are the best IPsec and SSL VPNs
Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!
Your IP Address:
Your Internet Provider:
The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.
VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.