SSH is at its heart a secure shell. It was originally designed as a encrypted successor to telnet. It can, however, do so so much more! For your uses, you are specifically looking at dynamic port forwarding:
Dynamic port forwarding turns your SSH client into a SOCKS proxy
server. SOCKS is a little-known but widely-implemented protocol for
programs to request any Internet connection through a proxy server.
Each program that uses the proxy server needs to be configured
specifically, and reconfigured when you stop using the proxy server.
This is similar to local port forwarding to a server with squid ... cept SSH now takes care of running the socks proxy for you (cause its a boss).
Once both the SSH connection and your browser are setup correctly, you should be able to google
what is my ip and have it display the remote servers IP address. This means that all websites you visit will see you as having a browser open on that remote server.
can (should) also set Your Browser to use the DNS through that proxy, so even your DNS lookups are secure:
- Type in about:config in the Firefox address bar
- Find the key called "network.proxy.socks_remote_dns" and set it to true
VPN extends a private network across a public network by setting up a virtual network card and configuring it with an ip and gateway of the private network.
This means that you can use this to tunnel all of your software to make it appear if everything is running from your remote server (even programs that dont have native support for proxying). Again, you should be able to google what is my ip and have it display the remote servers IP address.
VPNs also tend to have more support for UDP (torrents / streaming software / gaming)
OpenVPN runs a custom security protocol based on SSL and TLS rather than support IKE, IPsec, L2TP or PPTP.
SSH does NOT use TLS/SSL, rather, it employs its own protocol see RFC 4253
Some people say that SSH is a poor mans VPN. I would strongly disagree, and say instead that SSH is a more surgical method of tunneling specific traffic for people who understand what they are doing. Whereas VPN is like tunneling with dynamite ... you will get a tunnel, but is sometimes the wrong tool for the job.
For example, lets say you are working remotely and want to VPN into your work network from home. Now lets say that you want to want browse reddit but you still want to keep your VPN connected so you dont miss any important emails. Well, all those cat memes you are browsing are routed through your work's network ... possibly blocked by works proxy/firewall.
Alternatively, if you have SSH access to your works network ... you can tunnel just your email and setup a socks proxy. This means that you can still get your email, and use one browser for business stuff (eg Chrome) and another browser for viewing cat pictures (eg Firefox).
Both tools can be useful, just depends on what you want to do.