If you start shopping around for the best VPNs, you’ll often bump into the term VPN protocols. As you might expect, there are different VPN protocols. Each VPN protocol has its own upsides and downsides. It’s important to understand what a VPN protocol is, and the different VPN protocols that exist.
What is a VPN protocol?
A VPN protocol refers to the underlying technology used by the VPN to ensure a fast and secure connection. Typically, a VPN service like NordVPN, TunnelBear, and others encrypts your data by transferring it via encrypted tunnels to a VPN server that assigns your device with a new IP address. Understanding how VPNs work is important because they rely on VPN protocols that dictate how these secure “encrypted tunnels” are actually formed.
In more technical terms, a VPN protocol are sets of programs and processes. It’s also important to know that despite the different options available, no VPN protocol is perfect.
How many types of VPN protocols are there?
There are six different types of VPN protocols. These include OpenVPN, WireGuard, IPSec/IKEv2, Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), and L2TP/IPSec.
However, you will not find all of these in modern VPNs. Only a handful are actually in use – and even fewer are the most supported. The main VPN protocols that are currently used by VPN providers include OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2, Wireguard, and SSTP.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), and L2TP/IPSe are outdated protocols.
What is the best VPN protocol?
If you’re searching for the best VPN protocol, unfortunately, there isn’t one. The most important question to help you decide which VPN protocol is more appropriate is your needs. Every VPN protocol has its strong points and weaknesses. Best VPN protocols for streamers may not be the best for gamers, and so on.
So let’s dive into the different VPN protocols, highlighting the pros and cons of each.
Types of VPN Protocols
1. Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP)
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is one of the oldest (developed in the mid-90s) and was created by tech giant Microsoft. Sometimes you may hear someone refer to PPTP as Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption or MPPE.
PPTP was used for old Windows iterations, especially for dial-up connections. Over time, PPTP’s security has been loosening, rendering it not well-secured for present-day security risks. It featured basic security and was one of the first widely available VPN protocols.
PPTP is slowly fading away, and you’ll not frequently see it in VPNs. However, it’s still used today. Major use cases include streaming geo-restricted content because of its fast nature.
- Easily blocked by firewalls
2. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
In modern-day VPN services, SSTP has been heavily adopted. SSTP was also created by Microsoft hence also known as Microsoft Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (MS-SSTP).
It has proved more versatile over PPTP because it can be used on various iterations of Windows all the way from obsolete Windows Vista SP1. Notably, SSTP was also available on other platforms besides Windows.
It transports PPP traffic via an SSL/TLS channel. The use of TCP port 443 gives SSTP an edge allowing it to pass through virtually all firewalls and proxy servers.
- Secure with AES-256 encryption protocol built-in
- Can bypass firewalls
- Owned by Microsoft which may be an issue to some
- Not the fastest VPN protocol
3. Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP/IPSec)
L2TP is yet another tunneling protocol used by VPN networks. Separately, the Layer 2 tunneling protocol (L2TP) doesn’t have any encryption. For security, L2TP relies on other protocols. L2TP is an advancement that combines two tunneling protocols: Microsoft’s Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Cisco’s Layer 2 Forwarding Protocol (L2F).
Thus, L2TP is basically PPTP but incorporated with Cisco’s Layer 2 Forwarding Protocol or L2F. A major downside of L2TP is it doesn’t have an encryption technology of its own.
To ensure L2TP is secure, it usually works in tow with Internet Protocol Security protocol, commonly referred to as IPSec. IPSec uses standard 256-bit key encryption. Consequently, L2TP/IPSec is more secure than PPTP, which uses 128-bit encryption keys.
- Not the fastest VPN protocol
- Potentially compromised by the NSA.
- It doesn’t always bypass firewalls
4. Internet Key Exchange, version 2 (IKEv2)
At the low level, IKEv2 is a request-and-response encryption protocol that not only establishes but also handles the Security Association (SA) attribute.
This VPN protocol was developed by both Microsoft and Cisco. The key focuses behind creating IKEv2 was to offer a protocol that is fast, secure, and also stable.
But the major winning point for IKEv2 is stability. Although two tech giants created IKEv2, there also exist open source versions in the wild like OpenIKEv2, and Openswan – if you don’t want to associate with Microsoft at all.
IKEv2 is more secure than L2TP/IPSec. And like L2TP, IKEv2 also uses the IPSec encryption suite. One advantage of IKEv2 is that it has cross-platform compatibility – it can be used on Windows and even mobile devices.
IKEv2 is commonly used on mobile devices. However, it was internally built on Blackberry devices. In terms of speed, IKEv2 is the real deal and is fast than both L2TP and PPTP. If you want to stream content with a VPN, switching to IKEv2 will ensure you don’t see those lags.
As the name OpenVPN goes, it hints at one thing; open-source. OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol that is widely used in modern-day VPN services.
It is also touted to be the most secure, and efforts to make it highly secure and reliable are contributed by a vast amount of developers and companies because it’s published under a General Public License(GNU).
OpenVPN is based on two communication protocols that are used in transmitting the data between a client and a server: OpenVPN UDP and OpenVPN TCP.
OpenVPN UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is used for low-latency data transmission because of the lack of redundancy built inside. Using UDP is appropriate if you want high-speed data transmission.
On the other hand, TCP(Transmission Control Protocol) overlooks the faster transfer speed offered by UDP in favor of reliability. The most important thing to note, however, is VPN providers often offer both TCP and UDP so you can choose whatever you want depending on the use case.
- More versatile
- Can be hard to setup for beginners
Lastly, there is Wireguard which, currently, is still in its infancy stages. The new VPN protocol aims to deliver several improvements over the current popular standards. WireGuard is the new protocol in town with major advantages, including its ease of deployment, lightweight nature, better reliability, and faster connection speeds.
WireGuard also leverages cryptography for robust security. Its security is more robust than OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2, the current VPN protocol security champions.
Being a new player in the industry, WireGuard is yet to be embraced by many VPN companies. Only a handful use WiredGuard, even our list of best VPN apps for Android.
So far, Mullvad and TorGuard have already jumped on the early train but more providers are also adopting the new protocol.
Mullvad even vouches for WireGuard for its allegedly “state-of-the-art cryptography” and simplicity that surpasses both IPsec and OpenVPN.
Currently, the protocol is still in experimental stages.
- Robust security
- Open source
What is the fastest VPN protocol?
Wireguard is the fastest VPN protocol. Regardless of what you’re doing, streaming, downloading large files, or gaming online, Wireguard provides the most fastest speeds of all VPN protocols. The major downside is the protocol is not yet widely supported by modern VPN services.
What is the most secure VPN protocol?
The most commonly recommended VPN protocol for security is OpenVPN. It is open-source and employs robust encryption standards for security. OpenVPN includes 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard by default. Its strong encryption is the major reason why its own of the commonly used protocol by VPN providers.
What is the easiest VPN protocol to set up?
The easiest VPN protocol to setup by far is PPTP. However, thus is an outdated protocol and it’s lax security doesn’t make it suitable.