Understanding SSL VPNs: Is an SSL VPN the Right Choice for You?

All VPNs use encryption protocols to secure your traffic. A protocol is a set of rules used to protect your online traffic against tampering while in transit. SSL VPNs use the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol — a specific set of rules that describe how to secure and transmit data over the web. 

You’ll often find SSL VPNs packaged as browser add-ons or portal websites, and organizations typically use them to control who can access private online resources. That’s because browser-based SSL VPNs are easy for employees to use, and they’re usually cheaper (per device) than VPNs that require app installations.

Want to learn more about SSL VPNs or decide if they fit your online privacy and security needs? Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about them. Once you understand the benefits and drawbacks of SSL VPNs, you’ll know whether they’re a good fit for you. First, though, let’s answer the most basic questions — what is SSL and what is an SSL VPN?

If you just want to encrypt your connection and mask your IP address, you don’t need to use a VPN that specifically supports the SSL protocol. CyberGhost VPN supports different VPN protocols, including the SSL-based OpenVPN, and uses strong encryption to secure all your data. The CyberGhost app lets you connect to VPN servers in over 100 countries and comes with added features like DNS leak protection and an ad blocker. 

What Is SSL?

Understanding SSL VPNs might seem difficult, but you’re probably more familiar with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption than you realize. You know the little padlock on the left-hand side of your browser’s search bar? Well, this familiar icon indicates SSL encryption and certifies when a website uses a secure HTTPS connection between your device and its web server. 

SSL was first designed by Netscape in 1995, and over the years it’s evolved into the new and improved transport layer security (TLS) protocol. You’ll often find that SSL and TLS are used interchangeably because of their intermingled history. 

TLS version 1.0 started as SSL version 3.1 but was renamed to show it was no longer connected to Netscape. It can be a little confusing, but even though SSL now operates on the TLS protocol, it still uses the original name — SSL. 

What Is an SSL VPN?

Similar to any other VPN technology, SSL VPNs encrypt and reroute your connection — except they use the SSL (TLS) protocol. You can set up SSL VPNs in a variety of ways. Many companies set up their own SSL VPNs as a portal gate (website) that employees can visit on the browser they’re using. SSL VPN providers, on the other hand, typically require you to install browser extensions or even client software.

Because these lightweight VPNs (typically) work in your browser, they aren’t restricted by device support and can handle a large number of simultaneous connections. For this reason, businesses often use them to control access to their internal networks and resources. Consumer SSL VPNs exist as well. The ones offering browser extensions provide a way for people who don’t want to install VPN apps to still get the benefits of a VPN while browsing.

CyberGhost also has browser-based VPN extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These are completely free with no sign-up required, but provide a limited offering compared to our VPN app. If you want to encrypt all your traffic, customize your VPN connection, and get access to more servers and additional useful features, you can download CyberGhost VPN instead. 

How Does an SSL VPN Work?

SSL VPNs set up an end-to-end encrypted connection between your browser and the SSL VPN server. They let you connect securely to websites or your organization’s network to access its internal resources and share files. SSL VPNs come in two main types that determine how you connect to the VPN network.

SSL Portal VPN

This is the option companies use most often. Once you log in on the VPN portal web page, it creates a single encrypted connection to a local network via a port set up on that network’s router. This limits what you can access on the network to what can be sent via the port. You can also only use resources that work via a browser, meaning anything that requires an app or other software won’t work via the VPN.

SSL Tunnel VPN

This type of SSL VPN requires that you install a type of client software, either an app or a browser extension. Tunnel VPNs reroute your connection to a VPN server, which acts as an intermediary between you and the websites you visit or your company’s network. This is a more popular option among VPN providers than companies, though, as it requires more setup and management than portal VPNs.

With SSL VPN browser extensions you’re not usually limited to a web server destination like with portal VPNs. Similar to portal VPNs, though, extensions still only encrypt your browser traffic and won’t let you access resources that don’t work inside the browser.

SSL VPN apps (or client software) provide more flexibility than both browser extensions and portal VPNs as they also support traffic that isn’t browser-based. These apps encrypt and reroute all the traffic leaving your device. Standalone SSL VPN apps (that don’t support any other encryption protocols) are often also called OpenVPN apps.


IPsec is a type of encryption protocol, like SSL, although it’s considered mostly obsolete now because it’s not supported by NAT routers (most modern routers). It’s still a widely used protocol, though, as it’s supported by mobile networks. Because of this, VPN providers typically bundle it with the IKEv2 protocol to make it even more secure and compatible with devices other than mobiles. Let’s quickly break down the main differences between SSL and IPsec VPNs:

SecuritySecures your web browsing using SSL/TLS protocols.Uses the IPsec protocol to encrypt your connection and determine transmission. Often gets bundled with another protocol, IKEv2, for added security.
AuthenticationMost use digital certificates to authenticate your connection when you log in.Uses encryption keys to create a secure communication channel between your device and the VPN server.
Device supportThe SSL protocol is mainly supported by browsers and SSL VPNs are typically browser-based. This means they’re not limited to specific devices and don’t require device support.IPsec VPNs are tunnel VPNs so require you to install client software (an app). These VPNs typically only support mobile devices because of the IPsec protocol’s limitations. Some VPN providers bundle it with other protocols to provide compatibility with more devices.

Is CyberGhost VPN an SSL or IPsec VPN?

CyberGhost VPN is a tunnel VPN that supports both the SSL protocol (via OpenVPN) and IPsec protocol (IPsec/IKEv2), as well as WireGuard®. These protocols aren’t available on all the devices we support as not all devices support the same encryption protocols

As an example, our VPN apps support IPSec/IKEv2 on Windows, macOS, and iOS. IKEv2 is also the default protocol setting on our iOS app because iPhones don’t support OpenVPN. You’ll find OpenVPN on our Windows, Android, Linux, and Fire TV apps. 

If you have any questions about which VPN protocols or devices our apps support, you can reach out to our 24/7 Customer Support team.

What Is an SSL VPN Used For?

Many companies also use these VPNs as a way to control which web-based assets specific employees can access. Outside of business, people use VPNs for a variety of reasons, including to improve their online privacy and security, and to overcome geo-blocks. Some people prefer using SSL VPN browser extensions on devices that don’t support VPN client software. Some also use SSL VPNs over VPNs that support other protocols out of personal preference.

Benefits and Drawbacks of SSL VPNs

As with any type of technology, SSL VPNs have advantages as well as limitations. Before you decide to go for an SSL VPN, it helps to know what you’re in for. Here’s an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of SSL VPNs. 


Since SSL protocols are already built into all modern browsers, they offer the advantage of being easy to set up — you won’t need to install any software unless you want to use an SSL tunnel VPN.

For businesses, they offer the ability to control access to company resources and allocate which web pages specific people can see. They let you selectively assign permissions to each user based on their role in the organization. 

SSL portal VPNs are also less expensive than tunnel VPNs per device. They’re easier to manage if you plan to connect a lot of devices to the VPN and can cater to organizations of all sizes. 


The main disadvantage of SSL VPNs is they only work within a browser. They won’t protect traffic from other apps on your device unless you use a tunnel VPN client. You’re also at risk if your browser has security patches or vulnerabilities and the VPN stops working when you close your browser.

Need more comprehensive VPN protection? CyberGhost VPN uses the fastest and most secure encryption protocols to prevent cybercriminals from spying on all your traffic. CyberGhost has apps for most major operating systems and our VPN is easy to install and use. You only need 1 subscription to connect up to 7 devices simultaneously. 

Understanding SSL: Round Up

If you came here asking “What is an SSL VPN?” or “How does an SSL VPN work?” then hopefully you got your answer. In short, SSL VPNs use the SSL protocol and typically only secure your browser traffic. Organizations often prefer using SSL VPNs to control remote access to private assets.


Can an SSL VPN be blocked?

Yes, an SSL VPN can be blocked. As with any VPN, if websites identify the IP address to be associated with a VPN, they may block it. 
If you want to avoid IP address blocks or bans while using a VPN, consider using a Dedicated IP address. A personal IP address drastically reduces the likelihood of having your VPN connection blocked. Since nobody else will be using the same IP address, it’s next to impossible for services to know it’s associated with a VPN. 

Is SSL as good as a VPN?

Comparing SSL to a VPN is a bit apples-to-oranges. SSL VPNs use the TLS protocol and typically secure your web browser sessions via a portal page or browser extension. SSL VPNs are great for browsing and controlling access permission within organizations, and offer comprehensive online security. 
Tunnel VPNs are VPN apps that can support SSL but typically support other protocols like WireGuard®. Using a high-quality VPN app like CyberGhost VPN provides more flexibility and privacy than browser-based SSL VPNs as they secure all your device traffic.

What are the disadvantages of an SSL VPN?

The main disadvantage of SSL VPNs is their limited scope and the fact that they’re only for web browsing. This means traffic from other apps on your device won’t be encrypted and your ISP will still be able to see that traffic. 

Can an SSL VPN be hacked?

SSL VPNs are vulnerable to VPN hacking, but they’re generally secure. Weak passwords, outdated software, or vulnerabilities within the SSL protocol can put you at risk.

What’s the difference between an SSL VPN vs a regular VPN?

An SSL VPN uses the SSL/TLS encryption protocol and typically secures your browsing traffic via a portal web page or browser extension. They’re ideal for accessing specific sites securely. Tunnel VPNs are what you might consider “regular” VPNs as they’re a popular consumer VPN option. 
With a tunnel VPN, you’ll normally have to download client software (an app). These apps can support a variety of encryption protocols, and encrypt all the internet traffic to and from your device. Tunnel VPNs offer broader security for all your online activity than SSL portal VPNs.

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