As interconnectivity increases and remote access becomes essential, businesses find themselves in critical need of effective security solutions. The choice between hardware VPNs (a virtual private network) and software VPNs will arise. Both hardware-based solutions and software-based solutions have benefits and drawbacks.
VPN Hardware vs. Software
At Archon, we often work with government agencies, government contractors, and other entities that handle the transmission of classified or sensitive information. As such, we have dedicated our attention to the efficacy of VPN hardware vs. software systems. Our leadership in this space has resulted in an innovative solution: the GoSilent Cube. This is a hardware VPN, the results of which make a compelling case for the power of hardware-based VPNs. Even though using a hardware VPN is often the solution, it is important to see all available options.
Read on to learn what a hardware VPN vs. software VPN can provide, how they differ, and what the pros and cons are of each.
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VPNs protect devices at the edge, which simply means on the perimeter of a network. When work happens outside of the office, people physically outside the network need a way in, and vice-versa. The edge may even encompass the Internet of Things (IoT) or unmanned devices.
Hardware VPNs are physical devices that use server-side software, creating a connection to end-user devices. The data that travels between these two points is encrypted. Typically, there is also firewall functionality.
In contrast, software-based VPNs work through software installed both on the central network and end-user devices. A software VPN will encrypt the data that comes from the outside (an end-user device) to the inside (the main network).
There are pros and cons to each of these, as well as some case-specific uses that are worth considering.
Pros and Cons of Hardware VPNs
Pros to Hardware VPNs
- No software installations are required on end-user devices: This bypasses potential issues of compatibility and the requirement for regular updates. In fact, the Archon hardware VPN runs on a virtual machine, so it is agnostic of an OS, application, or central corporate network environment.
- Minimal setup: Hardware VPNs don’t exist on employee devices, but can simply be connected to them, which alleviates the burden of device maintenance and updates. This translates into time and cost savings for IT departments.
- Firewalls: One key distinction of a hardware VPN compared to a software VPN is that end users don’t touch the networks to which they are connecting. Hardware VPNs can act as firewalls, achieving optimal isolation and security.
- Obfuscation = smaller attack surface: Hardware VPNs minimize risk by reducing entry points for cybercriminals, and completely obfuscate your device from the networks it connects to.
- Works on most devices, even legacy ones: Especially in the acceleration to remote work, many businesses have a variety of devices and equipment, available to virtual employees. An enormous benefit of hardware VPNs is that they can be used to outfit almost any IP-enabled device and provide a secure connection.
Cons to Hardware VPNs
- Expense: software VPNs may be obtained in a subscription or as a managed fee. The initial cost of a hardware VPN may exceed that of a software VPN, but the lifetime value is often less expensive.
- Device capacities or limits: depending on the product itself, a hardware-based VPN may have inherent limits in terms of how many devices it is capable of connecting to. This is an important parameter to understand before you buy into this approach.
Hardware VPNs Are Best For
A hardware-based VPN is a great fit for some of these deployments:
- Department of Defense contractors
- IoT security
- Military communications
- Remote work environments
- Government agencies
- Supply chain security
Pros and Cons of Software VPNs
In an effort to make everything virtual, some companies are opting for software VPNs. This is one area in which a software-based system is categorically inferior to the hardware alternative. With a lot on the line, it is vital that CTOs, CITOs, and other department heads do their due diligence in researching whether this option provides sufficient security.
Pros to Software VPNs
- May be a lower initial expense: Compared to hardware VPNs, software VPNs may be a lower initial expense and simply be available as a monthly fee. In the long-term, they will probably cost more, but in the short-term, they can represent a smaller investment.
- Scalability: If your company or agency does not have a reliable provider for hardware VPNs, scaling can be a challenge. Especially for smaller companies, software VPNs may be easier to understand in terms of adding users and devices.
Cons to Software VPNs
- Reactive: Software solutions are able to identify bad things or breaches as they are occurring. This kind of approach means that threats are identified as the bad actor is carrying out their activities, and often too late to be prevented.
- Slow deployment and ongoing maintenance: IT departments or the VPN client will be responsible for deploying these systems at large and then maintaining them. As with any software system, ongoing patches and updates will be required.
- User responsibility and accountability: With software VPNs, users have to be trained for access and login and are responsible for using the VPN software solution correctly. It’s fairly easy to bypass this access step altogether, which users may do if it is too complicated.
- Interoperability challenges: A software VPN has to integrate with every other device, and operating system, as well as other software, in a network. This can create major challenges with interoperability.
Software VPNs are fraught with challenges. Even for companies without classified or sensitive information, user error can quickly undermine the security they provide. They also provide too little information, too late. When any company information is at risk, businesses and agencies would do better to deploy a hardware VPN solution that provides measurably better protection.
Archon GoSilent Cube: Effortless Deployment, Optimal Security
Hardware VPNs have numerous advantages, even beyond those enumerated above. For example, there is a potential for connection to multiple devices, a huge reduction in the risk of user error or misconfiguration, and far greater control over traffic flows. The Archon GoSilent Cube is an example of a hardware VPN that provides all of the benefits in one seamless system.
Any IP-enabled device, of any age, can be set up with near-zero configuration requirements. With Archon Security, you can be confident in top-level security: contact us to learn more.