An overview of VPN tunneling

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, encrypts all data transmitted and received by your device and sends it via an intermediate server located between you and the internet. “Tunnel” is often used to refer to the encrypted connection between your device and the VPN server. While the VPN is operational, no third party, such as your ISP, government, or local IT administrator, can view the contents of your traffic or its destination.

This article will explain how VPN tunneling works, covering encryption, protocols, and why tunneling is required for security and privacy.

What is virtual private network (VPN) tunneling?

When you connect to a VPN for the first time, your device and the VPN server exchange handshake information and encryption keys. This guarantees that only the VPN server can decrypt data transmitted from your device, and that data sent from the VPN server can be decrypted only by your device.

Once connected, your device and the server may safely exchange data through the “tunnel.” Before any data ever leaves your device, it is encrypted using the key. When the data reaches the VPN server, it is encrypted and sent to its intended destination—a website, app, or streaming service, for example.

The procedure is reversed when data is received from the internet: data is transmitted from the app or website to the VPN server. The VPN server encrypts and transmits the data to your device, which decrypts it using the key.

The “tunnel” concept originates from the encryption used by the VPN. Although data may pass back and forth via the tunnel, there are only two endpoints where data is encrypted and decrypted—your device and the VPN server.

What to consider while selecting a VPN

The manner in which you want to use the VPN dictates which tunneling capabilities will be most beneficial. VPN tunneling may be used for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Unblocking streaming websites from overseas: Requires a VPN tunnel with a high data transfer rate and a steady connection. There are no leaks that may reveal your true IP address.
  • Accessing the internet from China: The VPN tunnel must be unobtrusive and safe. Obfuscation is often used to conceal VPN tunnels entering and exiting China in order to circumvent the Great Firewall. This also applies in countries where VPNs are banned, such as the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
  • Securing public WiFi: The tunnel should be completely sealed and free of leakage. A kill switch may aid in the security of this tunnel.
  • Torrenting: Both security and speed are critical in this case. A VPN should have a kill switch, be leak-proof, and ideally support split tunneling.
  • Private online surfing: When coupled with a no-logs policy and your browser’s incognito or private browsing mode, strong encryption in the VPN tunnel allows you to access the web secretly and anonymously.

Split tunneling

Split tunneling is a VPN feature that enables you to selectively route data via an encrypted VPN tunnel and over an unencrypted direct connection.

Split tunneling is a feature of a few VPN applications that enables you to select which apps utilize the VPN and which do not. Although whitelisting which applications utilize the VPN is the most frequent form of split tunneling, it may also be done on a device-by-device basis (at the router level), port-by-port basis, or by type of traffic.

Split tunneling is advantageous in circumstances when only certain activities require VPN protection. When torrenting, for example, you may configure your torrenting software to utilize the VPN while your web browser continues to access the public internet.

What are virtual private network (VPN) tunneling protocols?

A VPN tunneling protocol establishes the rules for communication between your device and the VPN server. Not all protocols are created equal, and each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Often, you may select between protocols in the settings of your VPN software.

The following are some of the most widely used VPN tunneling protocols today:

  • OpenVPN: is an open-source protocol that provides high security and moderate speed, and is often used in conjunction with third-party software. This is the most commonly used protocol in consumer VPN applications. SSL encryption is used.
  • Wireguard: a more recent open-source protocol that boasts fast speeds and reasonable security, but users’ IP addresses are by default kept on the server. Utilize ChaCha20 encryption and often need the use of a third-party application.
  • IKEv2: a medium-speed protocol that excels at rapidly reconnecting after signal loss, making it an excellent choice for mobile users. IPSec encryption is used. Numerous newer gadgets provide support.
  • L2TP: a medium-speed protocol that is pre-installed on a large number of major operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. IPSec encryption is used.
  • SSTP: is similar to L2TP but is only available on Microsoft-based platforms such as Windows.
  • PPTP: a lightweight yet insecure protocol that should be avoided due to documented security flaws.

Numerous VPN applications provide a variety of protocols. Some even have their own unique procedures, which are often based on those mentioned before. All instances of NordLynx by NordVPN, Lightway by ExpressVPN, Chameleon by VyprVPN, and Hydra Catapult by Hotspot Shield are instances of proprietary VPN protocols.

The best tunneling VPN

Certain VPNs provide quicker or more secure tunnels. PrivacyExplore analyzes and evaluates hundreds of VPNs to determine which one provides the greatest data protection while still providing fast connections and access to region-locked content from across the globe.

Our top recommendation for the most secure tunneling VPN:


NordVPN has a massive global server network and is the fastest VPN we’ve tested. It is available in China, unblocks Netflix and a plethora of other streaming services, and uses leak-proof encryption. Multiple devices may be connected simultaneously, with applications available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV, and Linux. On our website, live chat assistance is accessible 24 hours a day.

NordLynx (Wireguard), OpenVPN, and IKEv2 all support tunneling protocols. While split tunneling is not enabled, an application-specific kill switch will disconnect specified applications from the internet if the VPN connection is lost for any reason.

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