Security should always be a big concern when working on any IoT project.

IoT projects handle a lot of sensitive data that could be damaging if they get into the wrong hands. Even the smallest IoT system can tell a hacker a lot about the real space that these devices operate in, or they could even access and control it themselves.

For this reason, multiple IoT projects have begun implementing security measures. One of the most popular solutions is implementing a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a network technology that extends a local area network to a public one like the internet. This process allows users to send and receive data across public networks as if their computers were directly connected to the private network.

In this blog, we will take a closer look at what a VPN is and does in order to find out if it is really the best solution for security in an IoT project. For this purpose, let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages that a VPN has when used for IoT devices. 

Pros of Using a VPN for IoT Devices

1. Hiding your Real IP Address 

A VPN is created when a point-to-point connection is established with tunneling protocols. This means that your project’s IP address, the number that identifies any device’s place in a network, can change to reflect the new one used with the VPN.

When connecting a device to the VPN server, a new IP address is assigned in order to leave the devices in the new virtual network. Just an IP address can give away a device’s real-world location, so hiding it (or changing it) by accessing a VPN, can change your real-world location to any place you wish to, giving you an extra bit of security.

2. Encryption

As VPN services need to send your data through the internet, a lot of providers offer data encryption.

Encrypting data means taking the plaintext and converting it into a ciphertext, usually by a randomly generated key. The information gets encrypted from one end, gets sent over the internet, and finally, it gets deciphered on the other end.

This means that even if your information was accessed by a hacker, it would be impossible to understand. Encryption is a great tool for guaranteeing the integrity and secrecy of your information.

Read more about IoT encryption in our blog, A Developers Guide to IoT Encryption Algorithms

Cons of Using a VPN for IoT Devices

1. Latency

VPNs are a networking technology. As a result, it’s bound to suffer from latency issues. This latency has reduced over time, however, this aspect is something that is both unstable and inevitable. 

So, why are there IoT latency issues? Well, using a VPN could mean connecting your entire IoT project to a server located very far away, and sometimes even in a different country.

All of these aspects can make all of your information take a few seconds more to be processed. That may not seem like such a big deal now, however, a few seconds every time can build up and become very annoying. Also, if the nature of your project demands as little latency as possible, this aspect can be quite troublesome.

2. Reliability

Reliability is also an aspect that can falter when using a VPN service.

This is because you’re using an external service. As a result, you have no way of controlling when a server might be down on their end or when traffic becomes particularly heavy. 

There are many reasons why a VPN service might not work exactly as you need it to. However, those reasons are of no concern to someone who is paying for a service and needs their project to be up and running reliably at all times. 

This issue should be given the importance it deserves because the last thing you want is to have your project not working at a pivotal moment. 

3. Price

The majority of VPN options have a paid business plan, this requires you to pay a yearly fee to use it.

What’s more, there are some options that appear free on the surface, but they may be making their money in a few sneaky ways, such as selling your data. Therefore, you have to make sure a VPN provider has a no-logs policy. 

4. Hassle

The last con is the amount of work that goes into finding a VPN that doesn’t fall into any of the con categories. 

You would have to do a ton of research in order to find a provider that:

  • Has low latency
  • Offers Strong encryption
  • Has a no-logs policy
  • Is reliable
  • Fits your budget.

5. Size of solution

VPN normally requires large amounts of code and the standard solutions out there are all based on higher-level operating systems like Windows and Linux etc.

In fact, there aren’t many – if any – VPN solutions for embedded RTOS or no-OS. In addition, VPN solutions normally require large amounts of memory and compute power, as the protocols were not made with embedded solutions in mind. 

The Alternative: Use a P2P IoT Connectivity Solution

As you can see, VPNs do have a couple of strengths. However, they also have some clear drawbacks that are hard to ignore. Thankfully, there is an alternative.

Nabto has developed an IoT connectivity platform that’s based on P2P for communication between end-user clients and IoT devices. P2P -or peer-to-peer – is a networking technology that allows devices to connect with each other directly, making each device work as both a client and a server. 

Just by using P2P technology, the disadvantages of using a VPN are no longer a problem:

  • Latency is reduced to a minimum since information does not go to a server and back between devices.
  • Reliability is not compromised since communication happens locally
  • P2P encryption from Nabto makes data illegible to hackers and keeps your information safe.

Bottom Line: P2P > VPN for IoT Devices

Using a VPN for IoT devices is a non-starter. It’s expensive, has high latency issues, and may even store and sell your private data. 

On the other hand, Nabto’s IoT connectivity platform is affordable, has low latency, and its decentralized design ensures none of your data dangerously passes through the cloud.

Want to learn more? Book a free consultation with one of our IoT experts today. 

Read Our Other Resources

We’ve also published a range of IoT resources for our community, including:

Find the right microcontroller by reading our Complete Guide to Microcontrollers for IoT

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