SSH vs VPN: What is the difference?
While both the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol and a virtual private network (VPN) create encrypted tunnels for connection traffic, they serve different purposes. SSH is typically used to access remote servers, transfer files and execute codes on remote systems. Meanwhile, a VPN creates a secure connection over a network and encrypts your internet traffic.
Although SSH and a VPN may seem similar at first sight, they are quite distinct security solutions. Let’s take a closer look at both tools to understand better which one may serve your needs best.
What is SSH?
SSH is a cryptographic protocol that allows the secure use of network devices in an unsecured network. It uses the client-server principle and connects an SSH-supporting application to an SSH server.
SSH usually secures network services like command lines, logins, and remote commands. Users employ the secure shell to access remote devices and execute commands there, but they can also use it for secure file transfer.
SSH uses public-key cryptography for authentication. It is a secure method where only users possessing a private key can access the data. In this way, your data is protected from unauthorized access.
How does SSH work?
SSH works by establishing an encrypted connection between your device and a remote server using public key authentication. First, your device and a remote server have to generate public and private key pairs. The public keys are shared, whereas each party keeps its private key in secret.
Whenever you aim to connect to a remote server using SSH, the server checks your request that is signed with your private key against its public key. If they match, you are allowed access to the resources on the server.
What is an SSH tunnel?
An SSH tunnel is an encrypted tunnel created by an SSH protocol. By using this software-based approach, users can transfer unencrypted traffic over an encrypted channel, keeping the data protected.
Due to strong encryption, you can make an SSH client work as a SOCKS proxy. SOCKS is a protocol using a proxy server to route data packets from a server to a client. A proxy generates an arbitrary IP before your data reaches the destination. SOCKS uses proxies to form TCP and UDP protocol connections through IP addresses.
When you combine SOCKS with SSH, the traffic goes through the SOCKS proxy on your local system, and the SSH client routes it through an SSH tunnel, so your traffic appears to be coming from the SSH server.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a technology that encrypts your connection traffic and routes it through a remote server before it reaches the internet, changing your IP location at the same time. It protects your online privacy, ensuring that nobody can intercept your traffic, snoop on your data, or see your geolocation by checking your IP.
It has become an essential tool for online security in corporate and private environments. VPNs are easy to use, and most premium services provide their users with top-notch encryption and privacy protection.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN works by encrypting and routing your internet traffic through a VPN server before it reaches its destination. VPN clients can typically connect to VPN servers by using the dedicated apps of their VPN service providers. Once the user establishes a connection between their device and a VPN server, a VPN service encrypts inbound and outbound online traffic and creates an encrypted tunnel for that traffic to travel. Afterward, entities online can only see data coming from a VPN server, and your IP address becomes inaccessible to them.
What is a VPN tunnel?
A VPN tunnel is a secure and encrypted connection between a VPN server and your device. A VPN tunnel ensures that the online traffic stemming from your device would reach the internet without leaking any information about you or your activities to third parties. It also secures the internet traffic you receive.
SSH vs. VPN: Which is more secure?
The main difference between SSH and a VPN is that an SSH protocol works on an application level, while a VPN protects all your internet traffic. Because SSH and VPN are used for different purposes, comparing them as security tools belonging to the same category would be inaccurate.
If you’re searching for an everyday solution to boost your privacy online, a VPN is your go-to security solution. However, if you aim for secure access to remote computers or servers, you should consider using SSH.
What are the SSH pros and cons
If you’re considering SSH for a secure connection to remote applications, you should consider both the advantages and drawbacks of the protocol.
Below are some of the SSH benefits users value the most:
- Easy to set up on a server level for users who are knowledgeable in IT.
- Easy hosting control. As SSH supports remote server control, webmasters prefer SSH as a way to manage accounts on web servers.
- Easy permission and password sharing management.
However, an SSH connection may also have some downsides:
- Difficult to set up for inexperienced users.
- Encrypts applications rather than the whole traffic coming from your device. That means you have to configure each application separately for the SSH tunnel.
What are the VPN pros and cons
If you’re interested in securing your internet connection with a VPN, you should also be aware not only of its benefits, but what you should be cautious about.
Take a look at the advantages of using a VPN:
- A VPN automatically encrypts all traffic from your device or the whole network (if you implement it on the router level).
- VPNs are easily accessible to inexperienced users. A good VPN can change your IP and encrypt your internet traffic with a single click. For instance, NordVPN has the Quick Connect button, which can automatically find the best server for you.
- Legitimate companies operate premium VPNs, so there is more transparency, and you usually have round-the-clock customer service in case you need assistance.
When choosing a VPN, you should also be cautious about the following instances:
- May be hard to set up on a server level.
- If you choose a free VPN, it can be unreliable. Free VPNs can collect your data, pass it to advertisers or other third parties, and may not provide strong encryption. So, in the debate of a free VPN vs a paid VPN, the latter always wins.
In the race for better service, SSH and a VPN can both emerge as winners – it all depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a solution to safely access remote servers and applications, you should consider SSH. Though establishing an SSH connection may be a little complicated, it is a secure and easy-to-use solution in the long run. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in an everyday tool that would help you roam the internet safely, a VPN is what you’re looking for. Premium services like NordVPN offer high-quality encryption, accessibility, and a wide range of servers.
Can SSH be used as a VPN?
An SSH can be used to establish a VPN-like connection for local, dynamic, and remote port forwarding. However, these functionalities cannot replace specialized VPN solutions.
What is the difference between SSH and a VPN tunnel?
The main difference between SSH and VPN tunnels is that an SSH creates a tunnel between your device and a remote machine for file transfer and code execution, whereas a VPN establishes a tunnel between your device and a VPN server for secure connection through networks.
Why choose a VPN over SSH?
You should choose a VPN over SSH if you’re searching for a solution to use the internet with more privacy and security. However, you should pick SSH if you’re looking for ways to safely connect to remote resources.
What is SSH used for?
An SSH protocol is used to securely access remote servers and computers, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.