Virtual private networks protect your privacy and security in the online world. But to get the best experience, you should select a VPN protocol based on your needs.
VPN protocols are how VPNs secure data transfers between your devices and the websites you visit. And when it comes to VPN protocols, you have many options. Below are the most popular ones and their pros and cons to help you choose the best one for yourself.
Keep in mind that not every VPN service allows you to choose which VPN protocol to use for your connection. Sometimes it depends on the device you use too. For example, if you use NordVPN, WireGuard is only available on Linux, while macOS users can choose between IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN. So it’s worth it to know how the protocols differ so you’d choose the right one when you have that option.
OpenVPN is the godfather of all VPNs. It’s a well-designed and reliable open-source software that forms the backbone of many VPN services. It’s flexible so that one can use it on different types of network ports.
It also supports a large number of encryption algorithms, including AES-265-CBC— the golden standard in cryptography. Both average users and those who are highly security-conscious will find OpenVPN useful.
- It’s open-source
- Works with many types of encryption
- Very secure
- Can be configured and customized for individual needs
- Bypasses firewalls
- Setup process requires expert help
- Needs third-party software to operate
- Robust desktop functionality, but needs better mobile support
IKEv2/IPsec is another secure VPN protocol. Microsoft and Cisco teamed up to create the standard. You can find it on Windows 7 and newer devices along with Linux, Blackberry, and other platforms.
IKEv2/IPsec’s greatest strength is consistency. Even if you switch networks or servers, it will hold your VPN connection. It includes even internet drops. It’s also high performing and stable while offering support for mobile.
- Highly secure and support many encryption tools
- Stable even during connection changes
- Easy to set up
- Very fast
- Limited platform support
- Some firewalls can block it
- Can become vulnerable if poor key management occurs
WireGuard is the future of VPN protocols. It’s innovative and not only more secure but much more lightweight. Also, it is easier for developers to integrate it into the software.
It’s so fast and secure it outshines the industry leaders — IPSec/IKEv2 and OpenVPN. But it’s not quite ready yet. There’s no stable release, however. And if you want to implement it, it may not be as secure as other protocols.
- Lightweight and simple architecture
- Highly secure
- Extremely fast
- Likely to become the VPN standard of the future
- No stable release
- Not as flexible as other VPN protocols
- Right now, only Linux users can effectively integrate
Microsoft developed SSTP (secure socket tunneling protocol) and introduced it with Windows Vista. SSTP is mostly Windows-only, but since it’s integrated into the OS, it’s very stable. Likewise, SSTP usually pairs well with AES encryption. It makes it a secure option, especially when compared to the older PPTP protocol (discussed below).
SSTP relies on secret keys to authenticate traffic between each side of the connection, also boosting its security. The only partial downside to SSTP is that Microsoft owns it. It means there haven’t been full verifications of whether it has backdoors or not.
- Bypasses most firewalls
- Highly secure
- Integrated into Windows
- Microsoft support
- Easy to use
- Microsoft entirely owns and maintains SSTP
- Only works on Windows
- Not audited by third-parties
PPTP (point-to-point tunneling protocol) was one of the original web security standards. Microsoft developed the protocol as the standard for VPN connection during the era of dial-up internet. Even though it’s old, it is still a popular choice since many platforms and devices already have it built-in.
It’s also straightforward to set up, efficient, and doesn’t need additional software. With PPTP, you can establish a secure connection with only a username, password, and server address.
But many criticize PPTP for not being secure enough. While it’s not great, it has been upgraded to feature 128-bit key encryption. Though NSA and other security agencies have hacked it. It’s outdated but can be useful for bypassing geo-blocks or tasks that are not too security-focused.
- Very fast
- Built into many platforms
- Easy setup and configuration
- Firewalls can block it
- NSA has compromised the encryption
Which VPN protocol you use depends on your needs. For most users, the OpenVPN protocol is suitable for the majority of everyday activities, from securing financial transactions to streaming media and more.
Sometimes you can choose or customize the protocol you use for different purposes. For example, if you use an iOS device, your best option is IKEv2/IPsec, while SSTP is excellent for Windows. Finally, be sure to keep an eye on WireGuard because it may become the VPN protocol of the future.
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