VPN vs HTTPS Difference Explained: Which Is Better?

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Which of those two is better – HTTPS or VPN – is an interesting question to ask. While both  technologies are suitable for securing your connection, their usage, purpose and capabilities are different. To answer this we need to take a deeper look on what exactly HTTPS and VPN can actually do and what they are.

What is HTTPS

HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure – which is the main protocol for communication between the client and the webserver, aka, your browser and the website. It ensures the authenticity of the website, encrypts and protects the data from man-in-the-middle, phishing and data manipulation attacks.

Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS

To better understand the context, let’s take a look at the difference between HTTPS and its predecessor HTTP. These two protocols are basically the same, but with one huge difference – HTTP is not secure. Back in the days, HTTP was used by a web browser to communicate with the websites, but this way of transferring data was vulnerable to data manipulation and man-in-the-middle attacks that allowed to see the data in plain text. Login credentials, personal information, credit card numbers and so on were all exposed when HTTP was used, therefore a secure version called HTTPS was created. It became the new communication standard and currently is used by most reputable websites to protect their visitors from getting hacked.


How Do You Know a Website Uses HTTPS?

It is easy to tell if the website uses HTTPS just by looking at the URL – it either starts with “http” or “https”. In all modern browsers such as Firefox, Chrome or Safari this is indicated by the lock symbol next to the website address field.

Indication In Chrome Browser of Secure HTTPS Connection
Secure connection indication on Chrome browser
Warning In FireFox Browser of Secure HTTPS Connection
Secure connection indication on FireFox browser

How Does HTTPS Work?

It is important to know, that HTTPS has to be configured on the server that hosts the website. It is up to the website’s owner to set it up and install a certificate that is later used to secure the connection. This protocol protects the internet traffic to and from a website using SSL/TLS encryption algorithms. 

HTTPS uses asymmetric key cryptography principles to ensure the integrity and authenticity of the transferred data. Once a connection with a server is established, all the internet traffic is encrypted and can only be decrypted by the website and your browser. Any data manipulation and editing would invalidate the connection and trying to sniff the traffic would be useless since the attacker could only see the gibberish data.

Since the HTTPS security certificate can only be installed on a website by its owner, therefore a regular user has no control over it. Unlike with VPN, the website visitor can not choose to connect securely, if a web server is not configured properly. Now, let’s take a look at what can VPN do.


How Does a VPN Work?

Just like HTTPS, a VPN also encrypts your connection to the website, but it does it in a different way. VPN creates an encrypted VPN tunnel and instead of directly connecting to the website it routes your connection to the VPN server first. This way all your data that is encrypted by a VPN protocol stays hidden from your ISP and third parties.

VPN works on the whole system level, it encrypts all your traffic that comes from your device, meaning your torrenting, DNS requests, and other application traffic will be hidden and securely routed to a VPN server. Besides strong encryption, a VPN also hides your true IP address and masks your location making it difficult for the websites to tell who you really are. Changing your IP address and location allows this service to unblock geo-restricted content and bypass internet censorship.

Grapth on how VPN connection works

HTTPS vs VPN: What’s the Difference?

Having a general overview of both HTTPS and VPN, let’s sum it up. Here’s a list of similarities and differences between HTTPS and VPN:

  • HTTPS secures only the connection made from a browser, while VPN encrypts all internet traffic from the device (torrents, apps, downloads, DNS requests)
  • HTTPS certificate is installed by a website owner on a server, therefore you have no control over it while having a VPN app you can choose to connect securely and privately
  • VPN changes your IP, masks your location, can unblock content and circumvent censorship and, while HTTPS can not do any of those
  • VPN hides your visited websites from third parties and ISP; HTTPS does not do that at all.
  • Both encrypt the connection making it secure and protected from hackers, eavesdroppers and data manipulation attacks
  • VPN together with HTTPS provides you double protection when accessing HTTPS websites, and when only VPN is used it secures HTTP connections

Which Is Better: HTTPS Or VPN?

Now when knowing about those two technologies to tell which is better should not be a question. The purpose for each of them is different and, in fact, they complement each other very well. HTTPS ensures the authenticity of a data and secure connection, while VPN is used as an additional layer of security on top, that also handles corner cases and other connections that are coming not only from your browser. This includes various application traffic such as gaming or torrenting, DNS requests and others.

There are still many websites that do not use security certificates and thus are vulnerable. In case there’s no HTTPS set up on the website using a VPN is the best idea to keep your connection private and protect your data from eavesdroppers.

Conclusion

As the differences explained, the question which is better should not be asked, since these two technologies are used for different purposes. Using both techs together gives you double protection – HTTPS ensures a connection and data is not modified, while VPN allows hiding the traffic from ISP, secure vulnerable connections and, by changing your IP and location, unblock any content.


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