When selecting a VPN service, VPN protocol support will almost always be a deciding factor. When you utilize a VPN service, the protocol used by the VPN has a direct impact on your user experience in terms of speed, privacy, security, and reliability. As a result, you will profit significantly from gaining a deeper understanding of those VPN protocols.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) service is an incredibly popular method for contemporary individuals to preserve their online privacy and security. Simultaneously, since it works by creating a secure internet connection to mask the actual IP address and utilize a new one, it enables easy access to any region-restricted online resources.
What is a VPN protocol? Why is this important?
To comprehend the VPN protocol’s definition and operation, it’s necessary to first grasp what a network protocol is.
A “network protocol” is a set of established rules that govern how data is transmitted between devices connected to the same network.
As such, a VPN protocol is a collection of rules that govern how data is sent over a virtual private network, from the VPN client on a local device to the VPN provider’s network access server and then to the destination internet address, and vice versa. Throughout the procedure, all data is transferred through a tunnel dubbed the “VPN tunnel.”
The protocol is critical to a VPN since it affects not just how data is transmitted but also the encryption standard used. Different protocols undoubtedly have varying requirements and place varying emphasis on various factors, including privacy, speed, and security.
Ten VPN protocols you are almost certain to come across
Currently, many VPN protocols that remain in use will be thoroughly described. Once you’re familiar with them all, including their respective advantages and disadvantages, you’ll know exactly which VPN protocol to use in the future to ensure either streaming speed or online security.
The term “PPTP” refers to the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. This VPN protocol combines TCP and GRE to complete the encapsulation and transport of PPP packets. As a frontier-tunneling protocol created in collaboration with Microsoft, 3Com, and others and released in 1999, it lacks inherent security capabilities and relies on the Point-to-Point Protocol to provide encryption and authentication. Additionally, MPPE and IPSec may be used to enhance its security level, while PAP/CHAP/MS-CHAP v1/MS-CHAP v2/EAP can be used for authentication.
Due to this easily crackable encryption method, PPTV is not advised for online transactions involving sensitive and critical information. Each coin, however, has two sides. The lack of encryption in PPTS contributes to the quickest speed yet recorded.
IPSec/Internet Protocol Security is not a single VPN protocol, but rather an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard network protocol stack, or more precisely, a suite, that enables secure, encrypted internet communication. The protocol family is primarily comprised of the security protocols AH (Authentication Header), ESP (Encapsulating Security Payload), and SA (Security Association). They cooperate to authenticate the source and encrypt IP packets, thus establishing a secure connection.
IPSec is capable of functioning independently as a VPN service protocol. IPSec is often used in conjunction with L2TP or IKEv2.
The L2TP/Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol is intended to replace PPTP. Even yet, it quickly becomes an obsolete tunneling technology due to the lack of encryption. IPSec is often used in conjunction with SSL to enhance security. As a result, this protocol group operates at a slower rate than a single protocol, such as OpenVPN.
L2TP over IPsec is a simple protocol to configure. However, since it is not capable of circumventing firewalls, L2TP/IPSec is not the first option when it comes to unlocking any internet filter in a specific region. NordVPN, a well-known provider, has already stopped supporting PPTP and L2TP in late 2018.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a subset of the IPsec protocol suite described earlier. The unique MOBIKE functionality guarantees the VPN connection’s reliability by ensuring that it is unaffected by any network changes. As with the most recent version of IKE (developed jointly by Microsoft and Cisco), this VPN encryption protocol often protects communications by establishing a security association/SA between the VPN client and VPN server as part of the IPSec authentication suite. As a result, the phrase “IKEv2/IPsec” was coined.
Not only is there safety, but also a fast connection. As a result, many VPN applications have already been used, and more VPNs are expected to harness this protocol to provide fast and private online browsing.
Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is an acronym for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. This VPN protocol provides transport-level security by sending PPP communication via SSL/TLS. Additionally, support for TCP port 443 (default and configurable) enables traffic to get through the majority of firewalls and proxies successfully. Although it is generally considered a more Windows-friendly protocol owing to its proprietary nature, it is nevertheless accessible for Mac and Linux.
Unlike open-source protocols such as OpenVPN, SSTP denies any independent scrutiny. Additionally, this IP-over-TCP tunnel is often constrained by the possibility of TCP breakdown, and SSTP contributes to lightning speed only when the bandwidth is sufficient.
OpenVPN is a free, cross-platform VPN encryption protocol that is presently the most widely used. It makes use of the SSL/TLS encryption library provided by OpenSSL for key exchange, ensuring the security of any point-to-point or site-to-site connection. Additionally, it transfers data by encapsulating it in tiny packets.
OpenVPN supports two types of tunnels: TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol). Both provide an exceptional level of security and privacy.
Here, OpenVPN TCP unambiguously refers to the version that runs over TCP tunnel transport and ensures that all packets are delivered in sequence. Compared to UDP, which delivers packets in a stream, it has a slower speed (lags occur when the internet connection is unstable) but a higher encryption level, greater reliability, and the ability to circumvent extremely strict firewalls by being extremely difficult to detect and block, thanks to the 443 port, which sends data online in the same manner as SSL traffic, not VPN traffic. In other words, it is better suited to everyday internet activities such as web surfing, shopping, file transfer, and emailing.
OpenVPN TCP can operate properly only if the bandwidth available is adequate. Otherwise, the well-known TCP meltdown issue might manifest itself suddenly.
If you’re looking for a VPN service to unblock and accelerate online games, stream HD movies, and TV shows, conduct live chats and meetings, or download P2P torrents, OpenVPN UDP is an excellent choice because it generates significantly faster speeds than TCP while maintaining excellent security and anonymity. That is why many VPNs make OpenVPN UDP the default setting to provide customers with a better user experience.
There is no conclusion about the superiority of OpenVPN UPD vs. OpenVPN TCP. The best should constantly come down to what you need the most.
WireGuard is a secure communication and VPN protocol that is completely free. The open-source VPN protocol was designed to outperform popular IKEv2/IPsec and OpenVPN in terms of performance, simplicity, and power efficiency, and as a result, many people believe it to be the future of VPN protocols. Indeed, real-world testing has shown that WireGuard (which utilizes UDP) is much quicker than both OpenVPN TCP and UDP, with a lower ping value and lower latency.
Unlike previous generic protocols, WireGuard simply reassembles off-the-shelf encryption algorithms to accomplish a simpler, but still safer, encryption objective. Specifically, its cutting-edge cryptography implementations, such as the Noise protocol framework, ChaCha20, and Curve25519.
Originally launched for Linux, it has evolved into a cross-platform application that runs on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Nonetheless, it is still under development, which implies that some security concerns are an unavoidable part of the process.
Another open-source VPN project from Japan, SoftEther VPN, has been adopted as an in-built VPN protocol by a few VPN applications.
Lightway (from ExpressVPN only)
ExpressVPN, the industry-leading VPN service, works out Lightway to optimize its user experience by developing its own VPN protocol for a lighter, easier, quicker, safer, and more reliable VPN connection. It’s very “light” since it has just around 1,000 lines of code, compared to OpenVPN’s 70,000 and WireGuard’s 4,000.
To provide a secure connection, it makes use of wolfSSL (an integrated SSL/TLS library). Protection remains active in the event of a network change, churn, or failure. According to the official announcement, this best-in-class VPN protocol will expose its core library to increase transparency and conduct further security assessments.
Shadowsocks (to some degree)
Shadowsocks is a free and open-source encryption mechanism. You may notice this protocol since it is a specialized Socks5-based proxy protocol project that is mostly used in China to circumvent government restrictions through the Great Firewall/GFW.
Note: Shadowsocks is not an “academic VPN protocol,” but rather a proxy protocol intended to assist Chinese or other users interested in cracking the GFW. There are many additional names for this malware, including V2Ray and Trojan. These proxy protocols are insecure in comparison to VPN protocols, since they may expose your IP address and other critical information.