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VPN Protocols: What Are They And What’s The Difference?

VPN Protocols: What Are They And What’s The Difference?
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Apr 7, 2022
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When looking at different VPNs, you’ll find standard references to different protocols. Knowing what they are and the differences between these VPN protocols can be tricky. To help you out, this article will go through everything you need to know about these different VPN protocols.
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Berktug Mutlu
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VPN Protocols: What Are They And What’s The Difference? - FastVPN
The internet is not a secure environment as well as it is mostly controlled by the governments. That is why using a VPN is inevitable today. Before deciding which VPN you should use, let’s learn the technology behind all the VPNs.

What Does VPN Protocol Mean?

A VPN protocol is a method for establishing secure communication between two devices across an untrusted network. There are a number of popular VPN protocols in use today, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’ll take a look at the most common VPN protocols, and see how they stack up against each other.
When looking at different VPNs, you’ll find standard references to different protocols. Knowing what they are and the differences between these VPN protocols can be tricky. To help you out, this article will go through everything you need to know about these different VPN protocols.

Most Popular VPN Protocols?

There are a number of different VPN protocols in use today, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are some most common VPN protocols currently in use.
  • OpenVPN
  • WireGuard
  • SoftEther
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • IKEv2/IPSec
  • SSTP
  • PPTP

What Differs Between VPN Protocols?

Different VPN protocols can change depending on these factors:
  • Speed – The amount of code used by a VPN protocol varies. Smaller, more efficient codes are lightweight, resulting in much quicker results. Newer protocols are usually faster, but there are a few exceptions.
  • Security – Protocols make use of different methods of encryption. These different encryption styles differ based on the complexity of security, requiring more/less effort when cracking the codes.
  • Connection Types – VPN protocols use both UDP and TCP connections, which differ in their use. UDP is usually faster and less reliable, while TCP is slower and more reliable.
  • Ability to Bypass Blocks – Some VPN protocols rely on a small number of ports. These VPN protocols are much easier to block, making them less useful for browsers or applications that dislike VPN usage.
  • Operating System Usage – Not all protocols work across all operating systems. Some of these mobile or desktop systems only support a small number of VPNs.
Keep reading below to find out how these differences apply to a range of VPN protocols.

Seven VPN Protocols You Need To Know About

#1: OpenVPN

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Being an open-source VPN protocol, OpenVPN protocol is among the world’s most popular protocols. It uses military-grade 256-bit encryption, making it nearly impossible to crack. While third-party audits have some low-security concerns, OpenVPN is 100% transparent and trustworthy regarding any issues. Which makes it very secure and reliable.
OpenVPN is not the fastest VPN protocol available. However, there is no extreme elements of slowdown. As a result, it is an effective tool for streaming and torrenting, often used in restrictive countries that do not allow the spread of unwanted thoughts.
It emphasizes an open-source framework, encouraging third parties to utilize and take a closer look at it. Because of this, OpenVPN works across all major operating systems. You can even install it on the less popular Linux operating system.
You can also find OpenVPN working across routers. It is compatible with these firmware types:
  • DD-WRT
  • OpenWrt
  • PfSense
  • Teltonika
The only issue they have for most people is that it isn’t the quickest option. Despite this, OpenVPN persists with continued updates, meaning this issue is on the radar.

#2: WireGuard

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WireGuard is the fastest tunneling protocol in the VPN industry. Those who use it complement it for significant speed boosts. In some cases, it can overcome many of the bandwidth throttling issues internet service providers impose on their users.
Wireguard brags about its use of state-of-the-art cryptography. It uses many modern security methods that include the following:
  • Curve25519
  • Cha
  • Cha20
  • Poly1305
  • BLAKE2
  • SipHash24
  • HKDF
It matches (and exceeds) the AES-256 connections you see as standard for the industry.
Another industry standard aspect includes its release across all major operating systems. This release date does include numerous Linux distributions, making it a widespread option for security-conscious individuals.
Alongside solid encryption, it follows many of the same aspects that make OpenVPN popular. This includes n open-source framework where you can download their source code.
However, its relatively new release date (compared to other VPNs) makes it less popular. WireGuard is still coming out of an experimental phase, making it a bit more chaotic and less reliable. While it isn’t known for continuous disconnections, many VPN services don’t use this protocol.

#3: SoftEther

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SoftEther is the newest VPN release on this list. Like other VPNs, it is an open-source platform that advertised itself as an alternative to OpenVPN. It is an academic project from the University of Tsukuba, A Japanese-based university.
Compared to other VPNs, its release was only a few years ago (2019). Even when looking at WireGuard, SoftEther is still in its baby steps. As a result, people using this software are still in the adoption phase.
Despite this, it has taken many of the same steps as more popular VPNs:
  • Open-source
  • Cross-platform across many operating systems
  • It relies on powerful AES-256-bit and RSA 4096-bit encryptions
SoftEther, which stands for Software Ethernet, is also a potent aspect of remote access. So if you are looking for a secure alternative to some of the less secure site-to-site or client-to-client connections, this VPN can help.
Given its early stages, no popular VPN  services support this unique protocol. To use it, you’ll need to download it from their website. However, because it is a student-run freeware project, its users have some trepidation.

#4: L2TP/IPSec

L2TP, or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, is specifically made to produce a secure tunnel. L2TP provides no encryption, so this protocol integrates with IPSec (IPSecure), which offers encryption features.
Unlike many more popular protocols on the market, L2TP breaks the trend by not being open source. This is mainly because its developers include two of the world’s biggest tech companies: Cisco and Microsoft.
Modern iterations of L2TP use well known and trusted security elements that include the following:
  • SHA1
  • AES
  • ChaCha20
  • RFC 3526
Because IPSec includes a complete security suite, the security you use varies a bit. However, it does have the potential to be faster than OpenVPN because of its reliance on PSKs (Pre-Shared Keys)
L2TP relies on an older iteration of the Diffie-Hellman (DH) key sharing interface. This is concerning because the NSA (National Security Association) has inserted a backdoor into these connections. This means that some versions of DH are compromised, making L2TP/IPSec a bit less trustworthy.
Nothing is saying that this protocol is above reproach. However, far more secure protocols are available that don’t have the same sorted history. You also won’t find this protocol on anything but Windows and Android devices.

#5: IKEv2/IPSec

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IKEv2, or the Internet Key Exchange, is a development of the Internet Engineering Task Force (EITF), which created the IPSec protocol suite. The Internet Society (ISOC) owns the EITF, which is well known as a non-profit organization that believes in the internet of opportunity.
Both protocols have gone through numerous updates, making solid choices that rely on the same robust protocols. You’ll find this protocol most often on Apple devices, but some VPN services make use of this protocol.
IKEv2 is a bit faster than OpenVPN and maintains stability through that speed. Its unique reliance on mobility and multi-homing protocols let you maintain connections amongst protocols (a big deal on mobile devices).
The major drawback of this comes from a lack of compatibility across devices. It is less prevalent on Windows and Linux, making it not ideal for those users.
Those who know IPSec already (read above) also know their past connections with Microsoft, Cisco, and the NSA. So it is a bit sketchy as a prime target supported by major companies. However, it has less history compared to L2TP/IPSec.

#6: SSTP

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is a later release of PPTP. Given its later release, it is considered a relatively stable form of VPN protocol. As you might imagine, it improves upon the protocol regarding speed and security.
Its most beneficial aspect comes from an ability to bypass firewalls. These firewalls to bypass are primarily of Windows origin. It all starts to make sense once you realize that SSTP was created by Microsoft.
Its creation by Microsoft means it works mainly on Windows devices. You won’t find it elsewhere, but this might not be bad. Its design by Microsoft implies that there is no third-party auditing. This can be concerning since the protocol was made by a company that loves to collect data.
Despite this, it does rely on AES-256 encryption, meaning that it is comparable to other VPNs. So if advertising says nothing, you will be protected from pesky invaders.

#7: PPTP

PPTP, or Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol, is likely the fastest VPN protocol on this list. However, you might think twice about using this security method, given that it is considered out-of-date software.
While it is better than nothing, hackers who recognize PPTP won’t take much time to overcome it. Despite this, PPTP is still in use on some windows computers. You can find it persisting through Windows 10.
In more business applications, Microsoft discontinued its use on Windows Server around 2012. However, it did go through an upgrade n 2003 to boost up to 128-bit encryption.
Since the standard is literally double this, using it is a waste of time. Despite being incredibly lightweight, it’s about as secure as putting a sticky note on your currently running car that says “don’t steal.”
It was also made by Cisco and used extensively for Microsoft. So if you want to use a more secure VPN protocol, pick literally anything else on this list.

What Is The Most Secure VPN Protocol?

The most secure VPN protocol is likely a tie between WireGuard and OpenVPN. However, the edge goes to OpenVPN because they have tried and tested their long-term durability. After all, people who live in restrictive data countries (like Russia or China) use this VPN to overcome blocks.
So if you were to pick a secure protocol based on proven effectiveness, OpenVPN is the best overall. However, the security features offered by your VPN service might also be a factor.
Also, you’ll find that IKEv2/IPSec might be a bit more secure on mobile devices. This is because they have specific protocols for mobility and security as connections change.

What is the Fastest VPN Protocol?

The fastest VPN protocol (that doesn’t drop security) is WireGuard. Those who use WireGuard find it meets and exceeds encryption standards while maintaining speed on your internet traffic. VPN providers continue to adopt the technology behind this because of its reliability.
PPTP is also incredibly fast, but you’ll find that sacrificing security in exchange for speed is a bad idea. Avoiding security vulnerabilities should be your number one priority when selecting a VPN.
IKEv2/IPSec also maintains the speed potential for a mobile VPN Connection. However, OpenVPN does beat them all out when it comes to flexibility.

Conclusion – What is the Best VPN Protocol?

In this case, the most popular VPN protocol is comparable to the best. In all cases, you’ll find that OpenVPN does provide the best overall package. However, your answer might change depending on your priorities.
Finding out the different aspects and behind-the-scenes performance is one way to confirm these security protocols’ claims. So being an open-source protocol is incredibly important, significantly as transparency needs grow.
Ideally, this means avoiding VPNs with known vulnerabilities and not choosing to support significant companies. So protocols that don’t work across any VPN client are often not excellent. That being said, being able to set up your VPN manually can be a good feature.
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