VPN vs SSH – What’s the Difference and Which One Offers Better Security?

Venturing into the online landscape carries inherent risks, just like stepping out of your door into the world. Burying your head in the sand is not the appropriate response to the risks. However, this happens to be true when privacy becomes your highest priority, and you expect a good level of safety.

In this regard, VPN and SSH are strong competitors. Even though they were created to solve different problems and don’t operate in the same manner, both technologies improve your browsing experience by adding a layer of security and privacy to your online activity.

This raises the question: Which of the two technologies should you use, and when is the appropriate time to use it and why?

A brief look at SSH

SSH in full is Secure Shell. To fully grasp what a secure shell is, it is important that we begin with some basic definitions.

A shell refers to an application which enables you to communicate with your operating system’s core, usually through the command line interface.

A computer is not required to access a shell. You can access it from another computer using a shell account, which was commonplace in the past and was used to access news, emails, and other files.

HTTP is how a web browser communicates with websites. Shell accounts rely on a different protocol, hence SSH. Unlike Telnet and FTP, among other insecure protocols, SSH offers superior security because it makes use a public key encryption. SSH-1 and SSH-2 are the two primary versions of SSH used to access shell accounts.

The excitement doesn’t necessarily lie in what the technology does. SSH simply offers a way of establishing a more secure connection. Once this tunnel is open, you have more control over your security and it is at this point that the fun begins.

A brief look at VPN

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It mimics a physical private network such as a LAN, or local area network, within which all connected machines in a building can communicate. Wide area networks (WANs) are larger private networks in which networks across several buildings are connected.

At some point, laying down all the cable required to operate a physical private network becomes infeasible. An example of this would be a case where two offices situated in different countries needed to be connected. In this case, the existing Internet infrastructure would be most suitable for connecting the two offices. To do this, you would need to set up a VPN over a public network to mimic the functionality of a physical network.

Remote employees or those working from home would then use the VPN to access an organization’s LAN or WAN. Essentially, all employees would be on the same network despite being in different locations. The organization’s traffic is protected from unauthorized access, thanks to encryption.

There are companies whose primary service is offering VPN access to Internet users at a price. They typically have a vast network of servers spanning many countries. Internet users are drawn to VPN hardware from home for myriad reasons, most of which have little to do with accessing their organization’s infrastructure.

Which one should I use and when should I use it?

VPNs and SSH both make it possible for you to remotely access computers, although they achieve this in different ways. A VPN enables you to make a connection to a network, whereas an SSH links you to a given machine. However, it goes beyond that. Both VPNs and SSH provide users with an additional layer of privacy and security, which is the primary reason why many people have made them an integral component of their browsing.

Using SSH

SSH has a strong focus on the command line, which can be advantageous if you have a high level of technical expertise, unlike the majority of Internet users. The protocol allows you to pull up the graphical interface of your target computer, although it may need an additional syntax. For SSH, cutting off the connections usually terminates whatever application you have open.

The beauty of SSH is that with it, you can interact with specific machines without too much of a hassle, accessing whatever files you need right away. If you’re knowledgeable in scripts, you can develop a personal solution for syncing using rsync. Furthermore, you can access files using a browser.

On one hand, IT admins of organizations employ SSH for server management. On the other hand, developers often use the SSH protocol for testing mobile device software. Casual users can use the protocol to remotely manage their music or movie library.

It is even possible to mimic a VPN connection by configuring an SSH tunnel. Just keep in mind that this comes with additional limits. Nonetheless, it is not without its uses. For example, when you’re away from home, you can tunnel your passwords via a secure home network. Alternatively, you can use keys as replacements for all our passwords.

Using a VPN

VPNs provide an experience identical to that of a local network. As a result, you’ll have access to your files, and be able to communicate in a manner indistinguishable from that of someone working inside a cubicle at the office, yet you are in a different location. SSH does not support that type of activity.

You don’t have to be proficient with terminal commands to be able to use a VPN configuration. Some users have, however, reported that setting up a VPN client for the first time can be a bit daunting. Still, once they complete the procedure, regular users with little technical expertise can also use a VPN to safely connect to a public Wi-Fi network. While SSH, too, has a variety of potential uses, you can only avail it if you have a strong working knowledge of computers.

As mentioned earlier, VPNs are used for purposes that have not much to do with users being able to connect to their organization’s network. For most of them, the primary concern is security and privacy, both of which are important, especially if you frequently use public Wi-Fi.

It is imperative that you carry out adequate research when looking for a suitable VPN provider. Just by virtue that you’re using a VPN does not necessarily mean that your online traffic is private. Some VPN services can also reduce your connection speeds considerably. The best way of identifying the right VPN service is by reading experts reviews such as those written by VPN Base experts.

Finally, a VPN gives you access to certain online services that may not be available to users in your location. For example, online gaming using a VPN can help mimic the feeling of playing a multiplayer game over LAN. Therefore, rather than creating a personal network, the primary purpose of a VPN is to mask your identity and disguise your location.

Can I use both?

Even if you’re a regular Internet user with little technical expertise on how VPN tunnel works and you’re not overly enthusiastic about online privacy and security, you might as well use VPN because it is easy to use. However, if you’re extra savvy and interested in gaining much tighter control over your privacy and security, SSH might be a good option.

Although each technology serves different specific needs at different times, it is a good idea to have both tools in your privacy and security arsenal.