SASE vs VPNs: Which One Should You Use in 2023?

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The complexities in network security brought by the shift to the cloud, remote work, and bring your own device (BYOD) necessitated the birth of a relatively new cybersecurity model, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). But what does that mean for traditional VPNs, which have been the go-to solution for remote access and data encryption for decades?

This guide compares SASE to VPN to explain their differences, which one is best for different use cases, and how to decide which one to select for your own needs.

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN is a service that encrypts a device’s connection to the internet and hides browsing and traffic data from other network devices.
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE): SASE is a framework that combines network and security as service capabilities and cloud native security functions to provide secure access to network resources from anywhere.

How SASE is different from a VPN

While both remote access solutions aim to achieve the same thing, SASE offers a more modern and versatile approach to network and security, making it a strong choice for organizations adapting to the evolving IT landscape. VPNs remain relevant but are better suited for more traditional networking needs.

Best for Organizations with a distributed workforce, cloud-based applications, and a need for scalable and integrated security.Smaller networks or those with specific legacy infrastructure requirements.
ArchitectureCloud-native, network, and security as a service.Traditional client-server setup.
SecurityIntegrated security stack, zero trust.Relies on network security policies.
Network complexitySimplified, global reach via cloud.Requires complex network setup.
AccessScalable, any device, any location.Typically site-to-site or remote access.
Management and maintenanceCentralized, easier to manage and update.Requires regular configuration.
User experienceOptimized for cloud apps, low latency.May experience slower speeds.
CostPay-as-you-go model for cloud services.May involve hardware and setup costs.
AdoptionEmerging technology in networking.Established technology for remote access.

What is a virtual private network (VPN)?

A VPN is a service that protects your internet connection and gives you anonymity over the internet. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic to ensure that sensitive data is not transmitted over a less secure network such as the internet, and it disguises your online identity, making it difficult for third parties to track your activities online. With a VPN, you can also access resources that might be restricted based on your location.

VPNs provide an extra layer of security when you’re using public Wi-Fi networks, as they prevent anyone on the same network from seeing what a VPN user is doing. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) gather a large amount of data about their users’ online activities, and VPNs enhance your privacy by preventing your ISP from monitoring your online activities.

How VPNs work

A VPN reroutes your traffic through a remote server, encrypting it in the process. Here is how you normally access resources online without a VPN connection — when you try to access a website, your ISP receives the request and redirects you to your destination. However, when you connect to a VPN,  your traffic is first sent to the VPN server before reaching its final destination.

When you use a VPN, your data is encrypted before it leaves your device and is then decrypted by the VPN server. This encryption is masked behind a virtual IP address, allowing you to hide your identity and location.

Pros and cons of VPNs

Protection in a hostile environment.VPN can be blocked.
Encrypt data and anonymize IP addresses.Slower internet speeds.
Affordable.Sudden drops in connection.
Access to geo-restricted content.
Safe data sharing.

Who should use a VPN?

VPNs are commonly used for various purposes, including security, privacy, remote access and bypassing restrictions. It is ideal for those looking for a safe way to browse the internet without losing their data to malicious actors. While VPNs can be useful to all internet users, the following categories of individuals may find it even more beneficial:

  • Remote workers: If you work from home, you can use a VPN to securely connect to your company’s network.
  • Privacy-conscious individuals: Those looking to keep their online activities private from ISPs, government surveillance, or potential hackers can use a VPN to encrypt their data and mask their IP address.
  • Torrent and file share: Those who engage in peer-to-peer file sharing can protect their IP address and maintain anonymity while downloading or uploading files using a VPN.
  • Accessing geo-restricted content: A VPN can help you bypass geo-restrictions, giving you access to content blocked or restricted in your region. Journalists and activists who work in areas where freedom of speech and online censorship are concerns can also use a VPN to bypass government restrictions and access restricted content.

What is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)?

Secure Access Service Edge, or SASE (pronounced “sassy”), is a network architecture that converges various networking and security technologies such as secure web gateways (SWG), cloud access security brokers (CASB), firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS), secure branch connectivity, and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN)

Gartner first described this cybersecurity concept in their 2019 report “The Future of Network Security in the Cloud” and has since gained widespread adoption with various network and cloud security vendors selling SASE solutions as a service.

According to Gartner, “SASE capabilities are delivered as a service based upon the identity of the entity, real-time context, enterprise security/compliance policies and continuous assessment of risk/trust throughout the sessions. Identities of entities can be associated with people, groups of people (branch offices), devices, applications, services, IoT systems or edge computing locations.”

How SASE works

SASE integrates various security services, such as firewalls and SWGs, and networking functions like SD-WAN into a single cloud-native platform. When you want to access an application, SASE will verify your identity and determine the specific application you want to access. It then routes your traffic through the most efficient and secure path to the application.

This process can involve using SD-WAN to optimize network connectivity and performance while also encrypting the traffic to ensure confidentiality. As the traffic traverses the network, SASE applies various security services according to the policies defined by your organization.

Pros and cons of SASE

Works well with Internet of Things (IoT) devices.Implementing SASE may require retooling technology teams.
Improves security as it combines multiple security features.It is still a new technology.
Cost savings.Requires both network ops and security ops to be on the same page.
Better network performance.
Flexible and highly scalable.

Who should use SASE?

The reason SASE is quickly becoming an enterprise favorite is because of the several benefits it brings to the table. These include:

  • Improved performance.
  • Reduced complexity.
  • Simplified management.
  • Increased scalability.
  • Enhanced security posture.

SASE is suitable for geographically distributed workforces, as it provides secure access to applications and data regardless of the user’s location. Organizations prioritizing cloud adoption and relying on cloud-based applications can benefit from SASE, as it helps to alleviate operational complexity. It helps you establish greater control by combining multiple security functions into a single, cloud-native service.

How to choose the right remote access solution for your business

Remote access solutions (RAS) promise users easy, fast, reliable, and secure access to the corporate network from any location. RAS like SASE and VPNs are widely used by businesses to enable their employees to access company resources securely. To determine the right solution for your company, you must first evaluate your current security and network architecture.

Based on SASE design, it can help you optimize network performance, while VPNs can sometimes introduce latency and bandwidth limitations. It is also essential to analyze the security features offered by both SASE and VPN. SASE includes comprehensive security features like firewall, anti-malware, and zero trust network access (ZTNA), while VPN primarily focuses on creating a secure tunnel for data transmission.

A SASE solution is much more scalable than a traditional VPN approach. If a company suddenly has to accommodate thousands of new remote workers, it can “switch on” more SASE services in the cloud, close to wherever those remote workers happen to be.

SASE is also likely to be quicker and less costly to implement, because there’s no need to rush out and purchase more VPN concentrators, VPN licenses, network access control capacity, and the like. That, in turn, also reduces network complexity. With the SASE security stack managed in the cloud by the SASE provider, IT staff also have less to configure, manage, and maintain.

In terms of cost, VPNs may seem cheaper from the get-go but SASE can save you more money over time by reducing the need for on-premises hardware and maintenance, though this can vary due to the many great enterprise VPNs now on the market that can be installed over-the-air as a service rather than hardwired into the server.

Will SASE completely replace VPNs?

While SASE offers a more modern and comprehensive approach to remote access and network security, it will not completely replace VPNs in all scenarios. VPNs may still be preferred for organizations requiring more granular control over network access or having specific compliance requirements. The choice between SASE and VPNs depends on your business’s specific needs and considerations.

Bottom Line: SASE is more secure than VPNs

SASE is identity-driven and inherently trusts nothing and verifies everything. VPNs rely on perimeter-based security, which assumes that they can be trusted once a user is inside the network. By converging the capabilities of various security models, SASE makes remote access to enterprise resources more secure.

Still, there may be some situations where VPNs are the preferred solution, especially in home or small office networks where the various additional elements of SASE are unnecessary.

If you’re ready to make the switch to SASE, here’s our review of the best SASE providers for various use cases.

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an experienced B2B technology and finance writer and award-winning public speaker. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook, and has written for various publications, including eWEEK, Enterprise Networking Planet, Tech Republic, eSecurity Planet, CIO Insight, Enterprise Storage Forum, IT Business Edge, Webopedia, Software Pundit, and Geekflare.

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