VPN is one of the most popular ways to protect your privacy, but not all of them work the same way. The different VPN services share some common ground in that they all re-direct your traffic through a secure tunnel and encrypt your data so it can’t fall into the wrong hands.
However, how they achieve this greatly depends on the connection protocol they employ. Several VPN protocols are on the market right now, each with its strengths and drawbacks.
The importance of having more than just one protocol to choose from is closely tied to compatibility and architecture. Some devices support most protocols, while others are more restrictive.
Furthermore, the way the VPN service is used also plays an important role: some users prefer a faster connection at the expense of security, while others don’t mind a slower connection as long as it stays airtight.
Undoubtedly, OpenVPN is one of the most popular protocols, seeing as most VPN providers use it. It’s highly secure and runs on either TCP or UDP Internet protocol.
OpenVPN (TCP) delivers your data entirely and in the correct order, while its UDP counterpart could sometimes skip data packets in favor of speed.
Most VPN providers that support OpenVPN allow you to switch between TCP and UDP protocols.
- Secure – Supports many popular encryption protocols
- Open Source – OpenVPN source code is public so anyone can check it for vulnerabilities and backdoors that could impact the security of host VPN apps
- Circumvents Firewalls – It can use any TCP or UDP port, which makes it harder to block by traditional firewalls
- Flexibility – OpenVPN is highly compatible with many encryption protocols and gives you plenty of configuration options
- Compatibility – Runs on a large number of platforms, including Linux, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and FreeBSD
- Perfect Forward Secrecy Support – Can generate new random keys during each data transmission
- Depends on Host Software – Not being built into a specific platform means that OpenVPN needs a client program to relay, encrypt and decrypt traffic
- Difficult to Configure – Setting up an OpenVPN connection from scratch is not as easy as it seems, which could discourage users
Developed by Microsoft and Cisco, IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange v2) works by establishing a stable, authenticated, encrypted connection to the VPN server quickly and securely.
Being a part of the IPSec Internet security toolbox means that IKEv2 relies heavily on other IPSec tools to ensure secure VPN traffic.
Thanks to its speed and security, IKEv2 is one of the most popular VPN protocols on the market.
- Strong Encryption –This protocol uses high-security ciphers to encrypt traffic to strengthen security
- Speed –MOBIKE support ensures fast data transfers
- Stability – IKEv2 is a highly stable protocol that lets you switch between Internet connections without fear of losing protection
- Automatic Reconnection – MOBIKE support makes IKEv2 resist network changes easily and restore dropped connections automatically
- Limited Cross-Platform Compatibility –Unlike other protocols, IKEv2 is not compatible with as many platforms
L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) is a VPN tunneling protocol that establishes a connection between a device and a VPN server.
This protocol is an extension to the PPP protocol and uses the best features of PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) and L2F (Layer 2 Forwarding Protocol) to create VPN connections.
It doesn’t offer encryption and authentication on its own, and depends on other IPSec tools for traffic encryption.
- Security – It supports a broad range of encryption protocols and can encrypt the authentication process as well
- Availability – Available on most modern systems, including mobile devices, which translates into ease-of-implementation by system administrators
- Speed –Depending on the configuration, L2TP can be almost as fast as a regular, non-encrypted Internet connection
- Synergy with IPSec – Usually merged with IPSec tools for encryption and authentication
- Easy to Block – The lack of firewall circumvention mechanisms means that L2TP connections, especially manually configured ones, are easy to block by firewalls
- Slower than IKEv2 – L2TP encapsulates data twice, making it slower than protocols that only encapsulate data once
WireGuard is a new, fast, open-source tunneling protocol, currently seen as a game-changer in the VPN and cybersecurity industries.
It uses bleeding-edge cryptography technology to outmatch popular VPN protocols such as IPSec/IKEv2 and OpenVPN.
Originally, WireGuard was released for the Linux kernel, but now it’s widely available on various platforms.
Since it’s under development, WireGuard is still considered experimental, but VPN providers are trying to iron out its vulnerabilities and implement it in their products.
- Speed – WireGuard is a fast, lightweight protocol; it consists of only 4,000 lines of code
- Security –This protocol uses state-of-the-art cryptography, combining VPN IP addresses with public encryption keys to strengthen security
- Open Source – Anyone can check WireGuard’s source code, making it easier to spot vulnerabilities and backdoors, but also debug, deploy or audit
- Configuration –This protocol uses public keys only, so it doesn’t need a certificate infrastructure, which means it’s easy to configure in host apps
- Compatibility – Supports most popular platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and Linux
- Early Stage – WireGuard’s implementation is still a work in progress, meaning the protocol on its own can’t yet give users complete anonymity without losing speed
- Lack of Obfuscation–The protocol doesn’t aim to avoid deep-packet inspection, so circumventing firewalls with WireGuard in its current form is impossible
Catapult Hydra, also known as Hydra, is a proprietary protocol developed by AnchorFree that powers numerous modern VPN solutions, including Bitdefender VPN.
This protocol is seen as one of the fastest in the VPN industry, and this trait has been observed mainly in gaming and streaming platforms, where speed is essential.
Hydra also gives you top-notch security, but lacks obfuscation capabilities. For the time being, certain government agencies can allegedly block Hydra, which is why it’s not an ideal choice if you plan to bypass geo-restrictions with your VPN.
- Speed – Catapult Hydra is deemed one of the fastest VPN protocols on the market
- Security –Strong privacy; makes VPN traffic appear as regular encrypted web traffic
- Lack of Obfuscation – Some reports say certain government authorities can detect and block Hydra
PPTP, also known as Point to Point Tunneling Protocol, was the first widely available VPN protocol. It was created in 1999 to tunnel dial-up traffic.
It’s no surprise that this protocol relies on weak encryption technology and comes with several security vulnerabilities, which is why modern VPN providers no longer embrace it.
- Speed – Given that it’s obsolete, modern systems run PPTP efficiently, but at the cost of security; PPTP is popular among home users who set up VPN connections only to bypass geo-blocking
- Compatibility – Almost all modern systems and devices support PPTP, which makes it highly deployable and easy to use
- Security – There is a plethora of unpatched PPTP exploits and vulnerabilities
- Can’t Bypass Firewalls – Modern firewall solutions easily block PPTP connections
Be cautious when choosing your VPN protocol
VPN services usually give you a list of supported connection protocols, leaving the decision up to you. If you’re not tech-savvy, you may want to stick with Automatic, which lets the VPN choose the best protocol for you, usually a balance of speed and security.
However, if you’re an advanced user and want to make the most of your VPN, don’t overlook privacy and security in favor of a faster connection.