Comparison of VPN Protocols

There are many threats on the internet, and a VPN is a sure way to stay protected. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your data, conceals your traffic, unblocks censored content, among other special features. However, VPNs use special protocols to provide these features. So, what exactly are these protocols?

In simple terms, VPN protocols are instructions that tell a VPN how to function. For example, some protocols make a VPN faster or more secure. Either way, VPNs need these protocols to function. However, depending on the VPN you’re using, you may get different protocols.

There are several VPN protocols available. You’ve probably heard about some and didn’t have any idea what exactly they were, or you’re wondering which is better. This article would shed some light on a couple of VPN protocols and highlight several factors to help you compare and decide what works for you.

Comparison of VPN Protocols

There are several VPN protocols, but we’ll be looking at six of the most common ones. We will compare them based on certain factors such as encryption levels, speed, compatibility, ports, and configuration. Let’s get to it:

1. OpenVPN

James Yonan developed the OpenVPN protocol for OpenVPN technologies as an open-source VPN. It uses different ports and encryption types to provide secure connections. Since its initial launch in 2002, OpenVPN has become one of the most utilized and secure protocols VPN providers use. Find below a discussion of its main features.

Security & Encryption

OpenVPN provides outstanding security for VPNs, thanks to its proprietary security protocol that uses OpenSSL for encryption. With OpenSSL, this protocol can implement several cryptographic algorithms, including Blowfish, RC5, and 3DES.  OpenVPN also implements AES 256-bit key encryption, 2048-bit RSA authentication, and a 160-bit SHA hash algorithm.

Speed

Apart from enhancing security, speed is another reason people use VPNs. OpenVPN helps to facilitate high-speed connection. In several cases, OpenVPN has been considered not to be as fast as PPTP, but with specific devices and configurations, you could get speeds that match the L2TP protocol.

Ports & Stability

With OpenVPN, you can use any port, either with TCP or UDP. Its ability to use any port makes it hard for connections to be detected and blocked by firewalls because it disguises VPN traffic as normal internet traffic.

OpenVPN is a very stable protocol for mobile, wireless, and other types of unreliable networks. TCP helps with its stability by implementing error correction. This means that every data packet would require confirmation before the next one is sent. The downside to this is slower connection speeds. However, with UDP, there is no need for confirmations, and this allows for faster communication.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

OpenVPN is supported on all major platforms such as Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux. OpenVPN is not a VPN, but installing client software is as easy as a breeze and takes less than 10 minutes. However, the manual setup could be a bit complicated, especially if you’re new to VPNs and their protocols.

2. L2TP/IPSec

Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP) is a popular VPN protocol developed by Cisco and Microsoft in the 90s. On its own, L2TP does not provide security and privacy, and that’s why it is paired with IPSec. Here are the specific features:

Security & Encryption

To make sure L2TP is secure, it is usually paired with IPSec protocol. L2TP/IPSec implements military-grade AES 256-bit encryption, which so far is still considered to be without any weaknesses. However, because of the U.S National Security Agency’s (NSA) involvement in the protocol’s development, people speculate that the government has found a way to bypass IPSec’s security.

Speed

L2TP/IPSec is not the fastest VPN protocol out there, but in some ways, it is considered to be faster than OpenVPN. However, the speed difference may not be noticeable to the average user. Furthermore, L2TP/IPSec is much slower than PPTP.

Ports & Stability

L2TP/IPSec runs on UDP on port 500. This is one significant flaw with this protocol. The problem with UDP on port 500 is that firewalls can easily detect the VPN connection and block you. Also, forwarding the port to bypass such blocks is possible, but you’ll need a complicated configuration to do so. The possibility of such blocks makes it obvious that you may not enjoy the most stable connections at all times.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

L2TP/IPSec is typically a built-in protocol in most computers and mobile devices, so you may not have to set it up manually. However, if you must, the manual setup is not a difficult process. Also, L2TP/IPSec is supported on major platforms.

3. SSTP

SSTP is another VPN protocol that Microsoft developed. It was launched as a built-in feature of Windows Vista and has since been installed into every Microsoft operating system. Unlike OpenVPN, this protocol is not open-source. This is how it fares in various points:

Security & Encryption

Overall, SSTP is a secure protocol. It is equipped with SSL encryption keys and also 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates. This proprietary technology is just as secure as other protocols such as L2TP/IPSec and OpenVPN.

Speed

In terms of speed, SSTP performs just as well as other VPN protocols. It is perfect for streaming, torrenting, and other activities that may require high-speed connections. However, it is not the fastest there is. Other VPN protocols like WireGuard and PPTP are a lot faster than the SSTP protocol. 

Ports & Stability

SSTP is a better choice than L2TP/IPSec because it uses efficient ports that can get past firewalls without detection. Also, you don’t need to go through a complicated configuration process to set up the ports. Once connected to any SSTP ports, you enjoy stable connections.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

Although SSTP is a Windows proprietary protocol, it is also supported by Linux and BSD systems. It is also available on Android, iOS, and macOS via VPN applications. SSTP is further compatible with Winlogon and smart chips. Its configuration is simple, but setting it up manually is more complicated than other protocols like OpenVPN.

4. IKEv2/IPSec

Microsoft and Cisco also developed the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) protocol. Like L2TP, it is paired with IPSec for security. IKEv2 is a tunneling protocol that implements a secure key exchange session, while IPSec facilitates encryption and authentication.

Security & Encryption

IKEv2 uses AES 256-bit encryption and other algorithms such as 2DES, Camellia, and Blowfish. It also implements the IPSec encryption suite. This protocol is considered to be highly secure like other VPN protocols. Still, there have been indications that the NSA could take advantage of IKEv2’s flaws to undermine IPSec’s secure traffic.

Speed

IKEv2/IPSec is faster than OpenVPN, but several factors affect its speed, such as device type and connection nature. Since it’s faster than OpenVPN most of the time, IKEv2/IPSec could also be faster than L2TP/IPSec under the right conditions.

Ports & Stability

IKEv2 uses UDP 500 for the initial key exchange, protocol 50 for the IPSEC encrypted data, and UDP 4500 for NAT traversal. IKEv2 is also easier to detect and be blocked by firewalls than OpenVPN because it doesn’t switch its ports.

However, IKEv2 provides a very stable connection. It can quickly reconnect you to a VPN server if your network drops for a short time or you’re switching connections. This is one of the reasons why mobile VPN services mostly use it.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

IKEv2 is not supported on many platforms, but Windows, macOS, and major mobile platforms have built-in support for IKEv2/IPSec. With Linux, it is possible to have open-source implementations, but you’ll need third-party apps to run this protocol on Android. Although IKEv2 is quite easy to set up, it has a more complex configuration than OpenVPN.

5. WireGuard

WireGuard is a newer open-source VPN protocol that is very fast and built with top-grade cryptographic tools. It offers a more secure and efficient VPN technology because it’s more recently developed. Using the metrics below, WireGuard fares thus:

Security & Encryption

WireGuard implements state-of-the-art cryptography technology such as ChaCha20, Curve25519, Poly1305, BLAKE2, SipHash24, HKDF, and Noise protocol framework. Also, WireGuard uses crypto key routing to control access and manage network connections.

However, WireGuard uses static IP addresses rather than dynamic IP addresses, which means a VPN provider may store some of your data.

Speed

WireGuard protocol combines high-speed cryptographic primitives and functions from the Linux kernel, which gives it very high speed. Its small size also contributes to its speed. WireGuard is reasonably faster than OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and others.

Ports & Stability

WireGuard can be easily configured to use any port because it implements the UDP protocol. Its connection is more stable than OpenVPN and is capable of handling server switches without breaking the connection. You can also switch your network without any interruptions.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

WireGuard is supported on Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. It is also compatible with embedded interfaces and containers like Docker and other high-performance devices. The protocol is easy to set up on Linux, but other platforms may require third-party apps. However, the setup process is easier than IKEv2 and OpenVPN.

6. PPTP

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is one of the oldest and most basic VPN protocols. It was initially launched in 1995 as a built-in protocol on Windows 95 for Microsoft’s dial-up networks. This protocol doesn’t exactly have encryption or authentication features. PPTP does not offer so much to make it a top choice among users. Here are the features PPTP has:

Security & Encryption

When PPTP was developed, internet security was far from the level it is at today. Data traffic is encrypted by Microsoft’s Point-to-Point Encryption protocol (MMPE), facilitating the RSA RC4 128-bit encryption. These days PPTP encryption can be easily cracked, making it the least secure protocol there is.

This protocol is vulnerable to dictionary and bit-flipping attacks. Because of its weaknesses, Microsoft even suggests that users upgrade to IPSec to protect their confidentiality. 

Speed

Although PPTP’s encryption poses a security risk, the quality of encryption makes it the fastest protocol. Other protocols have more complex or bulky codes that make them considerably slower than PPTP.

Ports & Stability

PPTP uses TCP port 1723 and GRE (Protocol 47). Firewalls can easily block this protocol because of the GRE protocol. This protocol is very unstable and unreliable because many websites and other online services have upgraded their systems.

Supported Platforms & Configuration

All versions of Windows and other major platforms like macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux have built-in support for PPTP. No setup may be required in many cases, but it is a very easy process if you have to set it up. All you need is a username, password, and server address.

Conclusion

Like we’ve highlighted, a couple of VPN protocols outperform others in different categories. However, seeing as the whole point of using a VPN is for privacy, security, and efficiency, you should never compromise on that. Always take note of the protocol a VPN provider uses before subscribing to their service.