SDP vs VPN – What to Choose for Your Cybersecurity Posture


When setting up a new network or server, you first need to define your security posture. An excellent place to start would be by determining what type of threat model you want to protect against, as well as who might attack you. For example: Do you head a fintech company that has access to sensitive data? Or maybe yours is a small business owner trying to keep the personal information private from prying eyes. In either case, there are certain things you can implement in order to make sure your system stays safe.

In this article, I’ll look at two popular types of cybersecurity solutions – Software-Defined Perimeter and Virtual Private Network. I’ll also shed light on their use cases so that you’re better equipped to make the right choice for your business requirements. 

What is Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP)?

First brought to the limelight by Cloud Security Alliance in 2013, SDP refers to an approach where all devices within a given perimeter are managed through software rather than hardware. The idea behind it is simple; instead of having physical barriers between networks, we have virtual ones defined by software.

Here’s how Cloud Security Alliance puts it:

“The SDP aims to give application owners the ability to deploy perimeter functionality where needed. SDPs replace physical appliances with logical components that operate under the control of the application owner. SDPs provide access to application infrastructure only after device attestation and identity verification.”

So basically, if you were running a web app like Facebook, Google Docs, etc., then you could define a set of rules around which IP addresses should be allowed into your network. If someone tries to connect to one of those IP addresses, the firewall/router checks whether the user’s credentials match any known accounts associated with them.

SDP Use Cases

There are many ways in which SDP can help improve cyber resilience. Here are some examples:

1) It allows organizations to create more granular policies based on risk profiles. Instead of using a blanket policy across the board, you can apply specific rules depending on the nature of the traffic being sent out. So, say you have a high-risk profile, then you’d expect stricter controls over outgoing connections. On the other hand, if you have a low-risk profile, then fewer restrictions may be applied.

2) You can easily scale resources without worrying about hardware limitations. With traditional firewalls, adding capacity means buying additional servers. But with SDP, you just add more licenses.

3) By separating applications from the underlying operating systems, you get greater flexibility. Say you wanted to run multiple versions of Microsoft Office 365 simultaneously. That wouldn’t work with traditional firewalling because each version requires its own license key. However, with SDP, you don’t even require separate OSes. All you need is a single Windows Server instance, and you’re ready to go!

4) Application isolation is another benefit of SDP. Since everything runs inside containers, malicious code cannot escape unless it gets past the container itself. And since every container is isolated, no matter how much damage occurs outside the container, nothing happens inside.

5) Securing hybrid and private cloud environments is also easier when compared to traditional methods. For example, let’s assume you want to secure two data centers connected via WAN links. Traditional approaches would involve setting up IPSec tunnels or VLANs at either end. Both these solutions come with drawbacks such as increased complexity and cost. In contrast, SDP offers a simpler solution. Just configure the appropriate settings in the SDP service provider.

What is Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A virtual private network is an encrypted tunnel between two points. The main purpose of this technology is to protect sensitive information by encrypting all communications within the tunnel. A VPN connection uses public networks such as the Internet to securely transfer data through encryption.

More profoundly, a VPN works by creating a secured link that connects remote sites. When used correctly, VPNs provide security against eavesdropping, packet sniffers, man-in-the-middle attacks, and denial of services. They also offer protection against viruses, malware, spyware, phishing attempts, and identity theft.

VPN Use Cases

There are many ways in which VPN can help improve cyber resilience. Here are some examples:

1. The most common use case for VPNs involves connecting employees’ computers to corporate intranets. These intranet connections often include web browsing, file sharing, email access, instant messaging, VoIP calls, video conferencing, etc. Employees connect to the company’s internal network via a firewall/router combination device called a gateway.

2. Another popular use case for VPNs is to enable mobile workers who frequently travel to remotely access business-critical files while away from the office. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets typically lack native support for accessing enterprise content stored on local hard drives. To overcome this limitation, companies deploy VPN gateways to bridge the gap between the user’s home Wi-Fi network and the organization’s internal network.

3. Organizations may choose to implement VPN technologies to create “secure zones” where certain types of traffic are allowed, but other types aren’t. An example might be allowing only specific IP addresses to communicate over the Internet, thereby preventing hackers from using your computer to launch distributed denial of service attacks.

4. Administrators sometimes need to establish temporary VPN connections to test new software before deploying them into production systems. By establishing a VPN connection, IT administrators can quickly verify whether any potential vulnerabilities exist prior to releasing the application to customers.

So, SDP or VPN for Your Cybersecurity Posture?

The choice between SDP and VPN depends largely upon your organizational requirements. If you’re looking to build out a robust cybersecurity posture, it makes sense to consider implementing a comprehensive set of tools designed specifically to address each threat vector. However, if you have limited resources available, then choosing one tool over another isn’t necessarily going to make much difference. Instead, focus on building a strong foundation first. Then, once you’ve established a solid base, add additional layers of defence as needed.

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