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VPN vs. HTTPS: What’s the Difference?

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A VPN offers blanket online security, allowing you to change your IP address. Meanwhile, HTTPS secures the data between your browser and the website you’re visiting.

But that’s not the only thing that sets the two apart.

I’ll take you through detailed breakdowns of VPNs and HTTPS, how they work, the differences, and the use cases where each is needed.

     VPN HTTPS
Security & Encryption A VPN hides and encrypts ALL DATA HTTPS protocol only encrypts data sent between a web browser and a server
Speed & Performance It affects internet speeds due to heavy encryption It doesn't impact speeds very much
Cost The best options have premium subscriptions No cost to the end user
Use Cases Encrypting internet traffic, bypassing restrictions & hiding IP addresses Securing passwords and sensitive browser data.

What Is a VPN?

what is vpn vpnalert infographic

A VPN is a technology that allows you to securely connect to a private network over the internet. It passes user traffic through an encrypted tunnel, protecting the user’s data from being intercepted by third parties like hackers, government agencies, or ISPs.

The VPN pulls this off through a combination of secure protocols and technologies to authenticate the user’s device and encrypt the transmitted data.

What Is HTTPS?

what is https vpnalert

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, a protocol used to secure communications on the internet between the browser and a website.

It primarily uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) to encrypt the data transmitted between a web server and a client’s browser.

Anytime a user connects to a website using HTTPS, the browser and the server establish a secure connection using an SSL/TLS Handshake. This process involves the browser and server agreeing on a set of cryptographic protocols to use and the server sending the client a copy of its SSL/TLS certificate.

The browser then verifies the certificate, and once it determines its validity, it uses the certificate to create a unique session key. This session key encrypts all data transmitted between the browser and server from that point onwards, ensuring it can’t be intercepted and read by third parties.

Comparison of HTTPS and VPN

Having established what VPNs and HTTPS are and how they function, how do they compare? Here’s a breakdown based on four key features.

Security & Encryption

When it comes to security, both VPNs and HTTPS provide encryption and authentication from both ends to protect data from interception. However, how each achieves this is slightly different.

A VPN encrypts all the data transmitted between a user’s device and the server.

This includes data you may not intend to encrypt (unless the VPN allows split tunneling). On the other hand, HTTPS encryption focuses only on the traffic data transmitted between the web browser and a server. However, compared to a VPN, this data may still be at risk once it reaches the server.

Speed & Performance

Most VPNs impact internet speed because the data has to be encrypted and decrypted as it travels through the VPN tunnel. This adds a small amount of latency to the connection and can affect overall performance.

Furthermore, the impact on speed is also affected by the quality and location of the VPN server, the VPN provider, and the user’s base internet connection speeds.

HTTPS, on the other hand, encrypts only the data transmitted between the browser and the server. That has a minimal impact on speed and performance. Sometimes, the SSL/TLS handshake process can add minimal latency. But this depends more on the website in question. Websites not optimized for speed will be slower with or without HTTPS.

Cost

VPNs come in two groups, free or premium. Paid VPNs are recommended more than free VPNs because the latter comes with limited features and restrictions on basic functionalities. The average cost of premium VPN services ranges between $2 and $15 per month.

However, HTTPS has no known cost to the end user. The websites that use HTTPS have to shoulder the cost by obtaining and maintaining the SSL/TLS certificate.

The cost depends on web host providers. At no point will the user ever need to pay for HTTPS privileges.

VPN & HTTPS Use Cases

Individuals and organizations often use VPN providers for maximum protection against interception by third parties. They protect the user’s identity and location and bypass geo-restrictions from anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, secured websites use HTTPS to protect communication between the web servers and the user’s browser. It mainly protects the user’s personal information, login credentials, and financial data when accessing specific websites using specific browsers.

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FAQ

HTTPS can’t be used to access region-restricted content. It only encrypts the communication between a website and the user’s browser. It cannot bypass geographical restrictions since most websites identify the user’s location through their real IP address. HTTPS can’t change the IP address of the user. To access region-restricted content, you need to use a VPN.

You can use VPN and HTTPS together to get an additional layer of internet security and user privacy. All the private data you transmit and receive on the internet will be encrypted twice. Your data getting intercepted with these two operating simultaneously becomes harder. This combination is useful if you use unsecured networks, like public Wi-Fi, as hackers can easily breach such networks.

However, due to added encryption, your speeds may drop.

Which Is Better: VPN or HTTPS?

Both VPNs and HTTPS are built around security. Thus, it’s best to use both if you can. 

The bare minimum is always to ensure you only open HTTPS-secure websites if you can’t afford a VPN service. The presence of a padlock icon in the search bar can verify this.

Keep reading more on how to keep yourself safe online.

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