Although they may seem intimidating to some at first, VPNs are fairly straightforward and easy to use. Typically, users will open up their VPN app, choose a location, click ‘connect’, and start surfing the web. That’s all there is to it, right? Well, there is actually another level to VPNs that is slightly more complex and not even noticed by the majority of users. We’re talking about VPN protocols. When browsing different VPN services you may have seen VPN protocols such as OpenVPN and WireGuard mentioned once or twice. But what actually are these protocols and why do they even matter?
By understanding the function of VPN protocols and identifying the advantages and drawbacks of each, you can use your VPN to its full potential. Depending on whether you’re looking for unbeatable security, super-fast speeds, or unmatched privacy, the VPN protocol you use will make a massive difference. Keep reading to find out what a VPN protocol is and learn the different types of VPN protocols to discover which is best suited to you!
What are VPN protocols?
You probably already know that a VPN (Virtual Private Network) works by transmitting online traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a remote server. Well, VPN protocols are sets of rules and processes that determine how the tunnel is formed and how user traffic will be sent over the private network. VPN protocols use authentication to ensure that a user’s device is communicating with a VPN server, and encryption to make sure user data is indecipherable to cybercriminals and third parties.
All VPN services use a selection of different VPN protocols and let users choose one depending on their own needs. Each VPN protocol has a specific purpose and has either been designed to emphasise speed, security, or anonymity. Depending on what you want to prioritise when using a VPN will affect which VPN protocol is best for you.
The different types of VPN protocols
There are 5 common types of VPN protocols, with each having its own unique attributes, benefits, and drawbacks. It’s key to understand the differences between each protocol to ensure that you’re making the most of your VPN.
WireGuard is one of the newest VPN protocols around and so far offers the best connection speeds, outperforming many of the older protocols. WireGuard is also light on CPU resources which will extend your device’s battery life, meaning it’s a great option to use on phones, tablets, and laptops. This VPN has a few drawbacks, however, and sometimes struggles to bypass internet firewalls that are used in highly-censored countries.
Pros – WireGuard is completely free and open source which means anyone can inspect its code to check for any bugs or vulnerabilities. This protocol also manages to connect and reconnect quickly, so it’s perfect for when users are roaming across various networks.
Cons – As this protocol is so new, it still lacks the same level of anonymity and obfuscation that other popular VPN protocols provide.
Best for – WireGuard is best when you want to prioritise speed, so use it when you’re streaming, torrenting, or online gaming. WireGuard currently supports Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux.
Point to Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) was designed in 1999 to tunnel dialup traffic and was one the first widely available VPN protocols. PPTP is one of the most common and easy-to-use protocols but is now well-known for its abundance of security issues, which is why it’s no longer supported by many VPN services.
Pros – Although PPTP offers minimal security, it is an incredibly fast protocol. PPTP is also easy to configure and use by even users with limited knowledge.
Cons – This protocol is now outdated so numerous exploits and vulnerabilities have been discovered. Although most of these have been patched, PPTP is just not as secure as other VPN protocols and is even much easier to block through firewalls.
Best for – As PPTP is so fast, but offers minimal security compared to offer VPN protocols, it’s ideal for streaming geo-blocked content and other activities where security is not essential. PPTP is compatible with the majority of desktop and mobile operating systems.
Internet Key Exchange Version 2 (IKEv2) is another newer protocol that is the successor of IKEv1 and is most commonly used on mobile VPN apps. This is because whenever there is an interruption with the VPN server, this protocol will automatically reconnect you, allowing users to seamlessly switch between mobile data and WiFi.
Pros – IKEv2 is fast, highly stable, and simple to set up, which is why it’s such a popular VPN protocol among VPN services. It’s also the only VPN protocol that is currently supported on Blackberry devices.
Cons – As IKEv2 is closed source, it raises a few security concerns and has also been known to be blocked by some firewalls.
Best for – IKEv2 is ideal for when you’re using your phone on the move or if you want to participate in an activity that requires fast and stable connection speeds such as online gaming. This VPN protocol is compatible with all major platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux.
OpenVPN is the most widely used VPN protocol that perfectly balances security, speed, and reliability. OpenVPN is used by most VPN servers as the default VPN protocol and is extremely versatile, meaning it’s well-suited for most situations as it can be configured for various uses.
Pros – OpenVPN is highly configurable and open source, making it a trusted VPN protocol for situations where security is a must-have. This protocol can also swiftly evade firewalls and filters, so it’s also suitable for users in highly censored regions.
Cons – Due to its versatility, OpenVPN can be fairly complex to set up which may be daunting for less experienced VPN users. OpenVPN is also known to consume much more bandwidth than other common VPN protocols.
Best for – OpenVPN is the go-to protocol for most VPN users. Whether you’re after fast speeds, top-notch security, or a reliable connection, OpenVPN shines in all areas. This VPN protocol is compatible with all operating systems including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux.
Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol (SSTP) is a VPN protocol that was created by Microsoft. SSTP uses 256-bit SSL keys for encryption and 2048-bit certificates for authentication, making it a highly dependable and secure VPN protocol. Although AES256 encryption has a reputation for being slow, SSTP is still an impressively fast protocol
Pros – This VPN protocol can easily bypass most firewalls without disrupting the user’s connection. It is also fairly easy to configure and use, making it suitable for any type of user.
Cons – SSTP is a proprietary protocol which means it’s not open source and there cannot be inspected for vulnerabilities. This VPN protocol is also currently only available on Windows, Android, and Linux devices.
Best for – As SSTP is secure and can circumvent firewalls it’s ideal for users who want to stay private when online and bypass geo-restrictions without any issues. Additionally, since it’s a Microsoft product, this VPN protocol is fully integrated with every Microsoft OS, which is why it’s so popular among many PC users.
If you’re looking for unbeatable speeds, then either OpenVPN or WireGuard are the best options for you. If you want to stream or download content, play games, or participate in any other activities that require fast speeds and no lag or buffering, then you’ll need either one of these VPN protocols.
OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol due to its compatibility with a range of encryption ciphers (AES-256, Blowfish, 3DES, ChaCha20). This VPN protocol also has no known vulnerabilities, is open source, and has been audited by multiple experts, so it’s undoubtedly one of the best options for users looking for robust security.
IKEv2 is the best VPN protocol for phones thanks to its auto-reconnect feature and fast speeds. This protocol is also not too heavy on CPU resources, so you won’t find your battery draining when connected to a VPN server.