When it comes to online protection, VPNs and HTTPS are two of the most standard and effective. But what are the differences?
The goal of each is to give users privacy and protection while using the internet. However, while they both fall under the online security umbrella, pitting VPN vs. HTTPS is like comparing apples to oranges. Their functions are quite different, which is why there’s a whole lot more to the story than merely asking, “Which one is better?”
Today, we’re going to explain what VPNs and HTTPS do and why you should use both.
But if you want to get straight to the point, here’s the short answer.
What you need to know about the HTTPS vs. VPN debate is that this contest makes no sense. Both offer vital internet protection, but they protect users differently. There is no conflict between using both a VPN and HTTPS–only benefits. If you’re serious about online privacy, you should have both of these in your arsenal.
What is a VPN?
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are a popular tool that allows users to become private and secure while using the internet. The VPN acts as a tunnel of sorts that you use to access the internet to avoid connecting to your Internet Service Provider or ISP. Users must manually install them.
Lots of people think of encryption when they think of VPNs, which is true. As you bypass the ISP, the VPN encrypts all the data you send. It also employs numerous security measures to protect your privacy. Tracing activity, intercepting data, or hijacking information are tough to do when using a VPN.
Additionally, all your traffic is hidden from your ISP and third parties; the only thing they can see is that you’re using a VPN. And some people use them to hide their location. The VPN masks your real IP address with one in another country, making it seem like you’re somewhere else when you’re actually at home.
What is HTTPS?
While most people have at least a basic understanding of VPNs, not everyone knows what HTTPS is. HTTPS stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure,” a protocol that web browsers use to communicate with websites.
If you’re wondering what the difference between HTTP and HTTPS is, the latter was developed for secure data transfer between web browsers and websites–hence the “secure” part of its name. HTTPS uses a more advanced TLS encryption protocol than its predecessor, which keeps the data shared between users and websites secure.
The most vital function HTTPS performs is authentication to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. In other words, it makes sure that both sides are who they say they are and verifies that the data being shared has not been altered.
How to Check for HTTPS
All reputable websites, regardless of purpose, should use HTTPS. Unlike with VPNs, it’s up to the website owner to ensure HTTPS is enabled. They have to install an SSL certificate on the website server, which is a digital file that verifies the website or the company’s identity.
No installation or configuration on the user’s side is required, but you do have to check to see if the site you’re browsing is using HTTPS. When HTTPS is enabled, there’s usually a green lock icon on the browser bar. When you see the green lock, you can use the site with peace of mind–in other words, it’s safe to input your credit card information or login credentials.
If the site is not HTTPS enabled, you should avoid sharing any sensitive information, as third parties can easily intercept it.
Does HTTPS Provide Enough Online Security?
In a word, no.
Some websites still don’t use it, and even those that do are not immune from all attacks. HTTPS is vulnerable to specific threats, such as Root Certificate Attacks, which VPNs do provide protection against.
VPN vs. HTTPS: What’s Similar and What’s Different
After all this discussion, you’ve probably grasped that the VPN versus HTTPS debate is not an either/or question. Still, it’s vital to understand what’s similar and what’s different between them to know when to use them.
Both VPNs and HTTPS provide encryption, though they do this differently.
With HTTPS, encryption is end-to-end. In other words, it only encrypts what a browser sends to a server and back. On the other hand, VPNs encrypt all the traffic between your device and the VPN server. It also generally uses more advanced encryption to give users maximum security.
VPNs offer quite robust privacy protection. They hide your identity and browsing activity from unwanted third parties and hackers. HTTPS is less about providing general privacy and more about encoding sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, that you input on websites.
The web browser has no direct control over HTTPS, as the website owner is responsible for adding this security feature with an SSL certificate. All you can do is check to make sure a website is HTTPS-enabled, while a VPN is a tool you can turn on and off as needed.
VPNs offer much more versatility than HTTPS does. The latter is primarily good at encryption; the former has several useful features. People use VPNs to change their IP address, bypass government censorship in certain countries, change their location (critical for accessing streaming services abroad), and use public WiFi networks safely.
When it comes to protecting against all attacks, HTTPS falls a bit short. As we mentioned above, HTTPS is vulnerable to Root Certificate Attacks. However, using a VPN is an excellent way to protect against these attacks. By combining both HTTPS and a VPN, you can boost your protection.
However, neither a VPN nor HTTPS will protect you against malware or scams. It’s up to you to use your best judgment when you run across a suspicious website. A VPN also won’t protect the information you share willingly on an unsecured browser page. Always make sure to check the site before inputting your credit card number or typing in your login credentials.
Given the sheer number of options, finding the right VPN is easier said than done. If you’re still searching, here’s some information about what are, in our opinion, the three best VPNs.
Note that although there are some excellent free VPNs, all of these recommendations require you to pay. With a paid subscription, you can avoid dealing with the unavoidable restrictions–that are often highly limiting–in free versions.
NordVPN is one of the biggest names in VPNs, delivering true all-around value and some of the fastest speeds available. With more than 5400 servers in 59 countries, NordVPN is an ideal option for the security-conscious user. It offers outstanding protection, all kinds of privacy perks, and highly reliable service.
Some features include custom DNS settings, two different kill switches, and zero logs collection. NordVPN’s apps are intuitive, and they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. Though the service is a bit pricey, opting for a long-term plan is an excellent way to enjoy this VPN, as the price comes down significantly.
Surfshark is another highly reputable name in the VPN world. With more than 3200 servers in 65 countries, this VPN stands out for its easy-to-use interface and excellent value. Aside from several unique protection features, users also get unlimited simultaneous connections. This perk alone makes it a popular option for homes with lots of devices.
Other features include split tunneling, double encryption, and kill switch protection. Plus, the CleanWeb security suite is a handy ad blocker that prevents malware, and Surfshark’s NoBorders mode adds extra obfuscation settings. It’s slightly below NordVPN in terms of quality, but you still get a premium service that won’t make your wallet bleed.
Our third and final recommendation is ExpressVPN, a VPN favorite with more than 3000 servers in 94 countries. And you can’t go wrong with ExpressVPN–it delivers big on a variety of needs, such as browsing, streaming, and torrenting, making it an excellent all-around choice. It’s also effortless to use, even if you’re a VPN newbie.
Features include 256-bit encryption, DNS leak protection, split tunneling, P2P connections, and a kill switch. It also has a robust MediaStreamer feature that blasts through geoblocks so you can watch streaming services with no issue. Users choose ExpressVPN to access all the popular streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer. The service also consistently bypasses the Great Firewall of China.
Though it’s an expensive option, there’s so much to love about ExpressVPN that it’s worth the high price tag. Users are entitled to a thirty-day money-back guarantee, but you likely won’t need it.
As you can see, VPNs and HTTPS are two different things. You can use a VPN without HTTPS and vice versa, as they accomplish distinct goals. The most critical takeaway is that there is no actual HTTPS VPN battle–instead, together the technologies work in excellent synergy. And if you’re serious about privacy, you should use both of them.