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SDP vs. VPN: Advantages, limitations, and differences

As the president, would you ask for more protection on your way to the office or better security once you’re inside it? That’s the network security problem companies must solve when they have to choose between SDPs and VPNs. While VPNs provide a secure tunnel for your data, an SDP builds a stronghold around your resources. Here’s everything you need to know about SDPs and VPNs in your company.

SDP vs. VPN: Advantages, limitations, and differences

What is a software-defined perimeter, and how does it work?

A software-defined perimeter (SDP) is a security architecture that operates at the application layer as well as the network layer, creating a network for all of the company’s resources and protecting it from unauthorized access. Essentially, it hides the resources and applications from anyone without valid access permissions because users must go through authentication first.

SDP advantages and limitations

SDPs can work as standalone security tools or use VPNs as an additional level of security. Here are some of the main advantages and limitations of SDPs:

SDP advantages

Here’s how SDP can be useful:

  • pros
    Enhanced network security measures. Company resources are “invisible” by default and cannot be accessed without proper user authentication.
  • pros
    Adaptive access control. An SDP can automatically adjust access based on various factors, such as user behavior, device health, or location.
  • pros
    Remote work. Remote workers can connect to specific apps securely without exposing the network.
  • pros
    Reduced attack surface. Since unauthorized users can’t even see the resources, there are fewer opportunities for them to be discovered by attackers.
  • pros
    Scalability. They can easily accommodate a growing company’s needs.
  • pros
    Hybrid cloud integration. An SDP can integrate with hybrid cloud storage services to ensure secure access regardless of where data resides.
  • pros
    Multi-cloud storage security. For companies that rely on multi-cloud storage strategies, an SDP provides consistent user access controls across different cloud providers.

SDP limitations

SDPs have a few disadvantages, too:

  • cons
    Transition challenges. Transitioning to an SDP model can be expensive and time-consuming, especially for organizations with legacy systems.
  • cons
    Dependency on providers. SDP service downtime affects access to the organization’s resources.
  • cons
    Learning curve. As an emerging technology, SDP poses challenges in hiring or training.

What is a virtual private network, and how does it work?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that sends your data through an encrypted tunnel to prevent tracking and cyber attacks. While at their core, all virtual private networks work similarly, they differ in data handling, data security, additional features, and VPN protocols.

VPN advantages and limitations

We’ve already covered the pros and cons of VPN services, so here, we’ll only briefly mention the main points.

VPN advantages

VPNs offer a variety of benefits:

  • pros
    Online traffic security. Your online traffic is encrypted and routed through a secure tunnel, so nobody can track your activities.
  • pros
    Privacy. It masks your real IP address, helping you protect your privacy from trackers.
  • pros
    Changing IP address. A VPN replaces your IP with a new one. A new IP address allows you to change your virtual location, for example, to access your home content while you’re traveling.
  • pros
    Bypassing internet censorship. For activists, journalists, or anyone living in places where internet access is strictly controlled and monitored, a VPN gives access to the internet without restrictions.
  • pros
    No bandwidth throttling. Some ISPs tend to throttle your connection speeds based on your activity. VPN encrypts your online traffic and hides it from your ISP, preventing it from throttling your connections based on traffic type.
  • pros
    Remote work security. In general, when remote users need to access company resources from home, a VPN ensures that the connection is secure and data remains confidential. But you can use additional features, such as NordVPN’s Meshnet feature for remote access, to enhance the security further.

VPN limitations

A VPN may not always be the best tool:

  • cons
    Reduced speed. Encryption and data routing make your connection slower, even if just by a little.
  • cons
    Security and privacy. Some VPN providers collect user data, which may result in data being sold or stolen.
  • cons
    Regional restrictions. Some countries have banned VPNs or have strict rules regarding their use.
  • cons
    Compatibility.In general, a VPN can be installed on a wide variety of devices, but it may only offer limited functionality due to compatibility issues.
  • cons
    No protection against voluntary data collection. A VPN doesn’t prevent websites from collecting data you voluntarily provide, such as your social media posts and private messages.

Key differences between SDP and VPN

While both can provide secure remote access to cloud resources, the way SDPs and VPNs operate differ a great deal. Here are the main differences between these two services:

Basic principleZero-trust modelTunnel-based access
Security approachDynamicStatic
VisibilityResources only visible to authorized usersResources visible to anyone within the network
ScalabilityEasy to scaleCan be scaled but requires additional configuration
PerformanceOptimized for speedCan be slower due to encryption
SetupComplex setup, easy managementEasy setup, requires hands-on management
IntegrationEasy integration with modern appsMay need additional setup

Beyond traditional security: SDP, VPN, and the role of zero trust

Zero trust security relies on a “never trust, always verify “ principle as opposed to traditional security measures that place implicit trust inside a network’s perimeter. What does it mean for VPN and SPD users? A VPN represents standard security measures that require the user to go through a verification process. But then the service grants the user access to the entire network, trusting the initial authentication.

On the other hand, instead of merely providing a secure tunnel like a VPN, an SDP enforces identity verification at every step. Even if a user has the right credentials, the SDP checks the user’s context, such as their location and device, before granting access to a specific resource.

Combining a VPN and SDP offers a layered approach. While a VPN establishes a secure tunnel, an SDP ensures that each user and device is verified before granting granular access to resources.


Is SDP better than VPN?

No, SDP is not better than a VPN. Whether you should use an SDP, a VPN, or both depends largely on your needs. For example, you can use a VPN for broader network access and an SDP for controlling access to specific resources.

Is it possible to use SDP and VPN simultaneously?

Yes, it is possible to use both SDP and VPN simultaneously. A VPN provides a secure network connection, whether you’re working from the office or remotely, while the SDP ensures nobody can access network resources without permission.

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