VPN vs. HTTPS: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever heard of VPNs and HTTPS, you know that they offer a layer of security across the internet to encrypt your sensitive information. Instead of leaving your confidential details exposed online for just anyone on the internet to access, these security layers keep them encrypted and away from the prying eyes of internet predators.

However, these security measures are quite different, even with their similarities. How do you determine the unique differences between both layers of security to know which one is best? This article will address the essential differences between HTTPS and VPNs to help you decipher which of the two is more secure and effective for your online security.

What Is HTTPS?

HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, bridges the gap between a browser and a web server. It is the last and most stable variant of HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). It uses TLS (Transport Layer Security) encryption to safeguard data between your device and a web server.

It also prevents tampering by decrypting communications to avoid the risk of a Man-in-the-Middle attack (MITM) weakness. When you connect to a protected website, you get secure, confidential information. Any hacker or cybercriminal trying to access such a website will have to bypass the Transport Layer Security (TLS), which isn’t very easy.

That’s why it’s essential to check whether the website you use for online shopping uses HTTPS. 

Surfing the web without the extra security layer that HTTPS provides leaves your credit card details, banking information, passwords, and even regular communications, like court orders and other official records, vulnerable. In comparison to HTTP, HTTPS keeps you a lot safer through public-key encryption.

How Do You Know a Website Is Using HTTPS?

The easiest way to determine whether or not a website uses HTTPS is to make sure the URL starts with “HTTPS,” and a locked padlock (🔒) displayed to guarantee its security. Clicking on the padlock icon will include more information about the website’s HTTPS certification.

In Chrome and Firefox browsers, web pages that use proper HTTPS encryption (HTTP with a certificate or, in the case of CryptoAPI, SuiteB) are labeled with a lock. HTTPS is so important that Google uses it as a ranking factor.

How Does HTTPS Encryption Work?

HTTPS moves codes from website servers to the computer that sends the connection requests using asymmetric encryption. This is a form of encryption that uses a public and private key scheme that masks the data that your computer and a website you visit exchange.

HTTPS also ensures that data from the web server and your computer remains the same.

Is HTTPS Safe Enough for Online Transactions?

By encrypting data, HTTPS offers a safe browsing experience, making it much harder for internet criminals to steal information. This implies that HTTPS can keep valuable data secure and protect online retailers and their customers from identity theft, ensuring that each purchase is from the right person. 

However, there are still risks that can exist for web users who rely only on HTTPS encryption for cybersecurity. There are many fake websites, primarily set up to look like the legitimate counterparts. They exist to collect unsuspecting users’ personal information, even when they have the “HTTPS” indicator. 

HTTPS on websites does not guarantee 100% that a website is not run by fraudsters; it cannot protect whatever sensitive information you choose to fill in on the site. However, it remains far more secure than an HTTP site and drastically minimizes the risks you face on those sites.

It remains up to you to verify the authenticity of websites before you fill in your information, HTTPS-protected or not. 

Now that we have considered HTTPS, let us also examine what a VPN is and see the difference between the two.

What Is a VPN?

By creating a private network from a public internet connection, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity. A VPN masks your Internet Protocol (IP) address so that your online activities are essentially untraceable. Most importantly, a VPN also provides a great deal of online security by establishing secure and encrypted connections.

Organizations that depend on network communication to operate would only recognize you as linked to a VPN. Your IP address is hidden and replaced with a virtual one, making it difficult to trace your online activity back to you.

To add to this, appearing as though you’re in a different location helps you enjoy unrestricted internet access without limits. Using a VPN can help you remain anonymous and access content and websites limited to a geographic area.

How Does a VPN Work?

With the assistance of a VPN, you can conveniently surf the internet without restrictions. When using a Virtual Private Network or VPN, anyone looking to track you online will at best only see the virtual details provided by the VPN and not your real information. 

The VPN server processes the requests your browser makes, decrypts them, and then forwards them to the relevant web server. When the server responds, it takes the information and encrypts it, and then sends it to your browser. 

VPNs also mask your IP address. When you connect to a VPN, it gives you a bogus IP address. This prohibits the interception of any data by any website and prevents hacking and monitoring by cybercriminals and government agencies. Why is that important? Your IP address contains very confidential details that can expose your geo-location. Therefore, a VPN masks it to ensure you are not left vulnerable online.

A VPN’s ability to hide your real IP address and provide you with a virtual one comes with an additional perk. It means VPNs are also useful for bypassing geo-restricted sites. With your true geolocation hidden and your access to a new virtual location, you can appear as though you are in any country you prefer anywhere in the world. 

For example, if you wish to access the Japanese version of Netflix but live in the US, a VPN can give you a virtual location in Japan when you connect to a Japan-based server so that you can view shows restricted to Japan. 

Why Is A VPN Necessary?

Virtual Private Networks and the Protected Sockets Layer Protocol are two separate security platforms. They are not exact alternatives, so you cannot compare them on equal footing; however, they have a common goal; to make your online activities more secure.

A VPN becomes necessary because HTTPS does not give you full anonymity or foolproof security on the internet. It cannot help you navigate the internet space without any constraints or provide you with an anonymous IP address. For all these reasons, using a VPN is a necessity.

Still, a smarter option is to use a VPN to access HTTPS websites so you can have top-notch security while you surf the web. 

Are Free VPNs Secure?

Many free VPNs are available, but the vast majority of them may not provide tight security. A free VPN might keep your data and sell it to third parties for profit. Free VPNs also interrupt you with annoying ads, offer weak encryption, and may leak your actual IP addresses to cyber-frauds. Because of the many reasons listed above, it becomes necessary to be wary of free VPNs unless you are confident that they are trustworthy.

VPN vs. HTTPS: Similarities and Differences

VPN and HTTPS are created to protect your online presence and prevent hackers, malware, adware, and other kinds of viruses. But there are a lot of differences between them as well. 

Firstly,  a VPN encrypts all your activity on the internet, which is why it’s more reliable. HTTPS only encrypts browser traffic as it moves from your computer to the server and back to your device. VPNs will encrypt everything as long as you are logged on.

Secondly, a VPN uses more sophisticated encryption protocols. While any encryption can secure your files, a VPN offers top-of-the-line encryption methods. Most premium VPNs use the highest grade of encryption on the internet, the military-grade AES-256-bit standard that is impenetrable by hackers. 

HTTPS is vulnerable to certain forms of threats; its encryption is weaker than the one VPNs use. For instance, HTTPS cannot hold its own against a Root Certificate Attack, but VPN encryption makes a very stable alternative. When used together, these elements will build the right squad; that is, use a VPN but access only HTTPS websites.

VPNs allow for more than just safe data transfer. They update your IP, let you pick a different geographical location (which is perfect for viewing blocked content or getting more out of your Netflix subscription), and much more.

Conclusion

VPNs help you improve online privacy by obscuring your IP address, giving you online anonymity, encrypting your data with high-end encryption protocols, and much more. On the other hand, HTTPS helps you ensure that the websites you visit are safe and secure. For the best results, you should use a VPN but also stick to HTTPS websites. This doubles the power and makes the perfect security combo against online criminal elements and unwanted agencies’ prying eyes on the internet space.