Point to Point vs. Site to Site VPN


Point to Point vs. Site to Site VPN

Point to Point vs. Site to Site VPN

VPNs have become a multimillion-dollar industry as the need for security rises. With many types of VPNs appearing on the market, two terms that one is likely to hear are point to point and site to site VPN.

A point to point tunneling protocol usually connects to a remote access VPN to unblock websites or hide your identity. On the other hand, a site-to-site VPN is a connection between two networks. While one is used by the general public for privacy, the other is used by offices for cybersecurity.

In this article, you will learn more about the point to point protocol and its pros and cons. You will also learn why the site to site VPN is not what many assume it to be and its advantages and disadvantages. Finally, you will learn which one is best for you.

Point to Point VPN: A Brief Overview

Gone are the days of the internet’s infancy where anyone could view anything. The wild west of the world wide web was tamed by regulation and oversight, and while the United States allows freedom of surfing, many countries have actively started blocking content on the web. While these obstacles were getting introduced, a tunneling protocol emerged that allowed users to bypass the restrictions.

Let’s suppose you want to visit a gambling site in a country where only local gambling is allowed in a highly regulated capacity. The country’s ISPs are directed to block any visits to the gambling site actively. When you enter the gambling website, you get redirected to a ‘Website Blocked’ page. If you can connect to a remote server in a country where the said restrictions don’t apply, you can use it as a proxy to visit the website.

To connect to the remote server, you would need a secure tunnel. And to make this possible point to point tunneling was used. With the rise of remote VPN and web proxy use, the term PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) became a household tech name until the VPN market collectively discovered the protocol’s many flaws.

While using remote access VPN via Point to Point Tunneling protocol may be useful in bypassing certain restrictions, the protocol comes with baggage you must be aware of. As the protocol has its advantages and disadvantages, we saw it fit to go into both at length so you can make an informed decision.

Pros of Point to Point VPN

In this section, we will explore the advantages of using a remote access VPN via point to point tunneling.

Easily Available

At one point in history, there was only one iPhone in existence, not one model, one piece. Shortly afterward, thousands of phones got introduced to the market as iPhone’s first publicly introduced model. The point is that every technology begins with one unit, and as time goes on, more of the same is introduced to the market. Since Point to Point Tunneling is one of the oldest protocols in VPN’s history, it is available to almost anyone.

You can use this protocol by downloading a free VPN on your AppStore or play store. You can even use this protocol to unblock websites using a VPN add-on to Google chrome. By purely the law of supply and demand, this is one of the cheapest and most easiest VPN service protocols to leverage.

Fast Browsing Speed

Point to Point tunneling is not exactly your highest grade encryption. This means that the data does not have to pass a complicated encoding and decoding process from the point you are entering the commands to the point you are receiving the result. To understand how this affects speed, let’s compare this protocol to L2TP, which stands for Layer Two Transport Protocol.

The words Layer Two in the protocol title signify the fact that it encapsulates the data twice. The result of this is more secure data packets, but the movement of the data is slow. If you are watching a YouTube video and use Point to Point tunneling, the data will not have to slow down for extra encryption, and you will receive it at a better speed. The result of this will be a faster playback speed.

Bypass Website Blockages

There are two main types of website restrictions you will encounter. The first of these is imposed by ISPs. And the second one is imposed by a network administrator.

If your network administrator has imposed a restriction on surfing the web, it is by blocking a certain port. As long as that port remains blocked, you can’t visit websites, but you can still use Quickbooks or Outlook. Because you still have access to the internet, you can use point to point tunneling to surf the web. That’s because this protocol uses a different port than using the internet directly.

In short, even if your data isn’t very securely encrypted, you can still browse the internet with tunnel access to a remote server.

The way ISPs block certain websites is different. Your internet service provider can automate redirection away from the URL of the website you seek to visit. Whenever the command goes through your IP to visit a blocked website, it can get redirected to any page your ISP chooses. 

A customer’ website Blocked’ page is often created by ISPs specifically to redirect all blocked websites’ visitors to the banner. A point to point tunnel can give you access to an IP that does not automate redirection away from the website you wish to visit. So with a remote access VPN, you can unblock the website regardless of who imposed the web restrictions.

Cons of Point to Point Tunneling

Even though there are some benefits of point to point VPN usage, you have to be aware of the protocol’s flaws.

Least Secure Way to Use VPN

As mentioned earlier, the protocol is almost ancient. While this makes it very accessible and cheap, it also makes it outdated in terms of security. Have you wondered why apps, programs, and software, in general, require updates? Because software providers need to upgrade their security and path vulnerabilities and exploits consistently.

Point to point tunneling is straightforward but almost always leaks your real IP address. As a result, web owners may be able to identify your location, while data aggregators may even be able to pinpoint who you are by cross-referencing your IP address with all the sites that are selling them IP data. 

They can even get your web browsing data directly from your ISP. To avoid this, you don’t just need a VPN; you need strong encryption and a secure protocol that helps you access your remote VPN.

How to fight this drawback: You must realize that though point to point tunneling is a way to access remote VPN, it is not the only way to do so. As long as you select a secure protocol and use a VPN service like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, your browsing activity is relatively safe.

You can take this three-step approach to make your remote access VPN use as secure as possible.

  1. Make sure you are not using a free VPN service as most free VPN providers can’t afford to make traffic on their networks secure enough.
  2. Switch from PPTP to another ‘type’ in the VPN’s settings. If a VPN does not allow any other tunneling, do not use that provider and find a different VPN.
  3. After you have connected to a remote access VPN and before you visit any website, go to a WebRTC leak testing site and check if your underlying IP address is leaking. If it is not, you are secure enough to browse the web with a VPN.

May Not Work With Geo-Restricted Services

One of the major reasons people use a VPN is to access services that are restricted by location. For example, if you want to watch British TV series for free on BBC’s iPlayer, you would need to register an account and be in the UK to enjoy many of the highly sought-after shows. 

You could use a British VPN server to get the access, but if you use a poor protocol like a point to point tunnel, it would be too obvious to BBC, and your attempt to view the British version of the iPlayer website would fail.

Similarly, you might get blocked from watching content on Netflix if you tried to sign up for a specific country’s Netflix while using an obvious VPN connection protocol.

How to fight this drawback: To make sure you can use a remote access VPN to access Geo-restricted services, you must invest in a premium VPN like ExpressVPN. You should also change your tunneling configuration from PPTP to L2TP so that your VPN-use remains undetected by the webmaster.

May Have Ad Interruptions

It is worth noting that it is not necessary that a point to point VPN service that allows you to unblock a site will necessarily have ads. Still, since the protocol is the default for most free VPN providers, you can expect it to come with advertising interruptions.

VPN providers have to maintain their servers, and that costs money. Smaller VPN operations that rely on Point to Point Tunneling often break even by providing the service for free but making money via advertising. If you think ads on the web are annoying, wait till you see ads from the VPN provider in addition to ads from web owners.

How to combat this drawback: The most straightforward way to use a VPN at high speeds without ads from VPN providers is by paying for a premium VPN. This comes with the added benefit of extra security and better connection protocols than a point to point tunneling one.

Site to Site VPN: A Brief Overview

One of the most common misconceptions about site to site VPN is that it is a VPN service that one is accessing by visiting a VPN provider’s website. This is not the case. The word site in ‘site to site’ actually implies a physical site. A site to site VPN is not a VPN in the traditional sense.

It is not meant to help you unblock websites or access specific services that are geo-restricted. Often it is not even internationally connected.

While remote-access VPNs allow you to connect your personal computer to a server in almost any country in the world, a site to site VPN is not even directly connected to your computer.

A site to site VPN is a way where two different private networks are connected via a tunneling protocol. In other words, if you have an office in Texas and an office in California, you can connect both your private networks via a site to site VPN. This will give you a range of benefits that are different from what you may have learned about VPNs in general.

Site to site VPNs are so different from the popular notion of VPNs that it is essential you understand the pros and cons of this type of VPN before you get one for yourself.

Pros of Site to Site VPN

While this type of VPN is different from the ones used to unblock sites and content online, it is very useful within certain contexts.

Makes Data Transfer More Efficient

If you have a network where all devices are connected to each other, you will realize that file transfer is much easier than when devices are connected individually to the internet. A site to site VPN helps make the data transfer more efficient and speedy between two separate offices or locations.

When you rely on the public internet to transfer files and communicate, you risk bandwidth getting saturated, and problems in transfer timing may occur. Still, if your devices are connected privately on two separate networks, and a VPN connection is made between them, you will be able to retain a high up-time and transfer files with more ease.

Cheaper in the Long Run

If you have a lot of data that needs to be accessed by two different networks, you have to make two separate copies and house them in two different servers on each site. But with a site to site VPN, you can have one server that can be accessed by devices on both networks. This reduces the time it takes to repeatedly copy files as well as the money that goes into maintaining two servers.

More Secure That Data Access Alternatives

Continuing with the instance of devices in two separate offices requiring access to the same content, let’s look at the security problems with the alternatives.

If your regional HR manager and your director of HR both need access to the candidates who have applied for a job listing, you can have the CVs stored on G-Drive. However, this is vulnerable to hacking. You can have the CVs emailed, but this is inefficient and also vulnerable to intrusion.

A commonly used solution is to host the files on a server and then access it using the internet. But any server that is internet-accessible in general is vulnerable to hacking. As you can see, accessing files from the same source is always going to have security risks. A site to site VPN is relatively secure because it connects the two offices without involving the broader internet.

Cons of Site to Site VPN

It is important to look at the disadvantages of the site to site VPN with the context of general VPNs.

Can’t Use It to Unblock Sites

If you want to use VPN to access restricted content, you are looking for a remote access VPN as opposed to a site to site VPN. A site to site VPN connects to networks and gives you little control over masking your IP or tunneling your way out of website restrictions.

Can’t Use It to Browse Netflix

If you have a site to site VPN, you just have a connection between two networks on different locations. You may have gleaned from this that you cannot really use this to visit a specific Netflix or unlock content available in a different country. After all, your connection is most likely between two networks in the same country.

Expensive Up Front

When you use a regular VPN, you are getting access to a list of servers you can use to browse the web while masking your IP. This is a standard service and does not require customization. 

But if you were to use the same VPN provider like NordVPN to get a site to site VPN connection, you would have to pay a higher fee to get a team from NordVPN to create an encrypted tunnel between two of your LAN networks. While this would decrease your storage costs and reduce file-copying time, it would definitely be expensive upfront.

Can Be Sub-Par in Security

Earlier, we mentioned how Point to Point tunneling was one of the least secure ways to connect to a remote access VPN. The same protocol/tunnel can be used to connect two networks.

In other words, you can use a point to point tunnel between two physical networks to create a site to site VPN. This means the vulnerabilities of PPTP would carry over to your site to site connection.

How to fight this drawback: To make sure your data and connections aren’t vulnerable, make sure you talk to the professional who is implementing this for you and specifically asks not to use point to point tunneling protocol in the implementation of a VPN connection between the sites.

What Should You Use?

Now that you have learned about what point to point tunneling protocol is and what a site to site VPN is, let’s talk about the use of each one and whether one is better than the other.

Whether you use a point to point tunnel to a remote access VPN or use a site to site VPN between your offices depends on the end goal of setting up a VPN connection. You can use both at the same time as well, so it is not an either-or question. Therefore, we have divided this section by end-goal.

Who Should Use a Point to Point VPN?

If the following descriptions seem to fit you, you may want to use a remote access VPN via point to point tunneling protocol.

You Want to Unblock Websites

If you are interested in bypassing the simpler restrictions that ISPs and webmasters rely on to block your access to a certain site, you can use a point to point tunnel and connect with a VPN server anywhere. As long as the remote server is not subject to the same restrictions, you are free to visit the websites you want to surf.

You Aren’t Hiding Your Activity Online

Sometimes you just want to visit a website and don’t mind if your ISP knows about the fact that you visited the website. However, the site is restricted based on your IP address. If you use a Point to Point tunnel to a different server, you will be able to access the site, but because a point to point tunneling protocol is not that secure, your real location may leak. You can avoid this by opting for a more secure remote VPN like ExpressVPN.

You Aren’t Entering Passwords or Payment Information Online

If you are using a VPN to access a website that has to do with your finances, you are risking your financial well-being. Similarly, if you are entering your credit card number on a website, you might have your information stolen.

Since some people use VPNs to buy games cheaper by masking their location and visiting geo-restricted marketplaces, they are especially vulnerable to getting their information stolen if they use Point to Point tunneling.

But if you are just unlocking a website to watch some content or read articles, you aren’t risking your personal passwords, login details, and credit card information. In that case, it is okay to use a free VPN to unblock the content. But if you log in to a website while connected to a VPN, make sure you are using a reliable VPN like ExpressVPN, which has over 195,000 ratings collectively across multiple platforms.

Who Should Use a Site to Site VPN?

A site to site VPN is not the kind of VPN you may be familiar with, so look at the following and make sure they accurately describe your requirements before opting for a site to site VPN.

You Own a Business and Have at Least Two Offices

A site to site VPN connects to LAN networks, and for that to be an optimal solution, you need to have two separate networks in the first place. If you have a personal laptop that you want to connect to a VPN, looking for a site to site VPN is like looking for a carpenter to fix your jewelry. The purposes of both are completely different.

You Want to Speed up Data Transfers Between Offices

Is your business content heavy? If you are involved in film production, for instance, getting two different studios to transfer huge files could even be impossible. At a few hundred GBs, almost all transfer services no longer facilitate sending files. Instead of relying on not secure cloud storage, simply establish a site to site VPN so your employees can send files without having to use the general internet.

You Want to Secure Data Transfers Between Branches

Data transfer here encompassing anything from a simple file transfer to any communication. After all, communication is the transfer of information. When two branches communicate over the internet, hackers can decrypt the data by squatting in the middle. This isn’t as easy if you create a direct VPN connection between the two locations. Just make sure that you use a secure tunneling protocol and not Point to Point method.

You Want to Avoid Paying for Multiple Servers

If you have fifteen branches, the last thing you want is to have huge servers on each site. Not only does this cost a lot of money to set up, but you will also have to pay for upkeep as well. 

And if you want to avoid that, you can create a site to site VPN connection between a key location like your headquarters and each branch. For fifteen branches, this would be a total of fifteen site to site VPN connections, but the central branch would be the only one that would require a server.

Conclusion

A Point to Point Tunneling Protocol is a relatively cheap, often free, way of connecting to a remote server via a VPN provider. While this can unblock some websites and content online, it is not very secure, and you should opt for a premium VPN with at least L2TP or better protocol.

If you have two networks that you want to connect for speedy data transfer securely, it is ideal that you get a customized site to site VPN, which is going to create a tunnel between the two networks. This is great if you have multiple offices.

Sources

Mark Lewis

Security nerd with a Data Privacy First mindset!

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