VPN Software vs VPN Hardware: What’s the Difference?

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Amid the pandemic, the need for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) has become more apparent than ever. Forbes reports that, in 2020, 1.4 million cases of identity theft were documented in the US alone, double the number of cases that were recorded in 2019.

There has also been a marked increase in cyberattacks on both small businesses and individuals, as the abrupt shift to remote work has resulted in more users working from unsecured devices and networks.

Consequently, even if you’re not that technologically literate, you should probably start considering getting a VPN. One common question people have is whether to go for a software or hardware VPN. Read on to learn more about these two types of VPNs, and discover which one best meets your cybersecurity needs.

VPN: a quick explainer

VPNs provide digital security by encrypting the data that travels in and out of your device. Encryption, in turn, is accomplished by rerouting the data through another server, changing your IP address completely.

Given all the talk on data encryption, it’s no surprise that most people’s first assumption is that the VPN comes in the form of software. Indeed, most VPNs are readily available for use as mobile apps, and some devices even have built-in VPNs.

On the other hand, a hardware VPN is a dedicated device for all the tasks that the VPN needs to perform. They’re built on embedded board arrays, which allow them to host different components, including processors.

Though this makes them more expensive to manufacture, the performance capacity added by the processors makes them perfect for large-scale operations, such as businesses, which require a broader cybersecurity net than the average user.

The gap between software and hardware VPN is not that clear-cut, however. The more sophisticated software VPNs become, the more they catch up with hardware VPNs.

A comparison between software and hardware VPNs

Here’s how the two measure up across various aspects of VPN performance:

Price, setup, and maintenance

As mentioned earlier, hardware VPNs are more expensive due to their sophisticated components. Entry-level models usually cost around $100, and higher-end models can hit $1000 and above. What’s more, paying for the device is completely separate from paying for its installation and maintenance, especially if you don’t possess the expertise to do so.

Meanwhile, software VPNs, which usually come with subscription plans, are definitely the way to go if you’re on a budget.

And given that most software VPNs come in the form of mobile apps, anyone who knows how to use a smartphone can master VPN installation without a hitch—and the apps update automatically, too!

Security

Although hardware VPNs are advertised as being more secure due to the fact that they’re dedicated devices, both types of VPNs more or less offer the same level of security. This may come as a surprise – since software VPNs are entirely digital and their services are shared between a large number of individual users, it’s easy to assume that they’re more vulnerable to being hacked.

That being said, it’s still safer to choose a software VPN that’s not free. This is because 38% of free VPNs contain malware and 72% track your online activity. In any case, VPN providers are always pressured to release patches when security issues are found, as they cater to several users.

Geoscaling and remote access

Geoscaling is the formal name for tricking sites into thinking you’re somewhere else. While this is a seamless process with software VPNs, which have servers in multiple countries, hardware VPN is not capable of doing this because the network it creates is tied to its physical location.

However, hardware VPNs outperform software VPNs when it comes to remote access, which happens if you want to access the network of your VPN from a remote location. But you still need advanced knowledge to set this up via an encrypted connection, so this is best done by companies with IT staff.

Summing up

While both types of VPNs have their strong points, hardware VPNs are more suited towards larger businesses, while software VPNs are great for personal use and smaller companies, like start-ups.

Felix Olsson

Felix Olsson is a VPN and web security expert. He is a tech enthusiast who loves testing VPN services and the latest developments in the cybersecurity world. You'll often find him either reading privacy policies or testing a new service or device.

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