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Understanding VPN protocols: Which one is the RIGHT one for you?

While VPN technology is complex, using a VPN all is just the opposite – without a few clicks, you can download a VPN app and enjoy the perks of having a virtual private network.

But we will not talk about the Why-s in this article. Instead, we’ll focus on How, and more specifically - which are the best VPN protocols and when to use them.

However, before we begin, we need to mention that each VPN protocol offered by PrivateVPN, has their utility. If it wasn’t the case, we would simply stop offering it to our customers.

Comparison table between the most used VPN protocols

VPN protocol Encryption Algorithm Security Level Speed Performance
PPTP 128-bit MPPELow Fast
L2TP 256-bit AES Medium Fast/Moderate
IKEv2/IPSec 256-bit AES High Fast
OpenVPN 256-bit AES Very high Moderate
WireGuard ChaCha20 HighUltra fast

VPN protocols and their features

Let’s go through the main VPN protocols and their advantages and disadvantages

PPTP

The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) stands as a pioneering networking standard that seamlessly interweaves distinct Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Conceived by the technological giant Microsoft, PPTP reigns as one of the earliest manifestations of VPN architectures, boasting a rich and storied lineage. But being one of the legacy protocols, it isn’t perfect.

Pros:

  • It’s very usable
  • Low cost of setting up
  • Compatibility with operating systems

Cons:

  • Performance issues, since it’s old
  • Security woes

L2TP

The Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) represents an advanced iteration of the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), devised to empower internet service providers (ISPs) in the deployment of robust virtual private networks (VPNs). To guarantee the utmost security and safeguard user privacy, L2TP necessitates the utilization of a sophisticated encryption protocol, ensuring the safe passage of data within the virtual tunnel.

Pros:

  • Additional security
  • Thanks to its relation to PPTP, it has great compatibility
  • Very stable

Cons:

  • Eavesdropping is possible
  • Can be cracked by NSA

IKEv2/IPSec

Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is a sophisticated protocol designed to establish a secure connection, known as a security association (SA), between two network entities. Often used alongside IPSec, an authentication suite, this pairing is commonly referred to as IKEv2/IPSec by VPN providers. Developed by Microsoft and Cisco, IKEv2 is renowned for its enhanced stability, robust security, and efficient setup compared to alternative protocols.

Pros:

  • An amazing option for mobile devices
  • Strong in preventing MITM attacks
  • Quick and reliable speeds

Cons:

  • It’s proprietary (owned by Microsoft and Oracle)
  • Might be detected occasionally by firewalls

OpenVPN

OpenVPN stands as a dominant open-source encryption technology utilized extensively across the industry. Employing a top-tier security protocol, it leverages SSL/TLS for secure key exchanges, establishing protected point-to-point or site-to-site connections. OpenVPN operates over both User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) tunnel transports, ensuring web traffic remains virtually indistinguishable from conventional HTTPS over SSL traffic, and thus, exceptionally challenging to detect and block.

Pros:

  • The ultimate security offered
  • Users can pick between faster speeds or better protection
  • Easily bypasses firewalls

Cons:

  • Not ideal for mobile devices
  • Setting up might be a bit harder

WireGuard

WireGuard represents an innovative open-source VPN protocol, utilizing cutting-edge cryptographic techniques to surpass the performance of established protocols such as IPsec and OpenVPN. Initially launched for the Linux kernel, WireGuard has since expanded its reach to become cross-platform and broadly applicable. Despite its ongoing development, WireGuard has already cemented its position as a highly secure, rapid, and user-friendly solution within the VPN technology space.

Pros:

  • The fastest speeds available
  • Perfectly optimized to deliver great security and top speeds, without draining data
  • Cross-platform support that isn’t lacking anywhere

Cons:

  • Not the best option for bypassing censorships
  • WireGuard stores your IP address on the VPN server

Is there such a thing as the best VPN protocol?

We’ve got plenty of experience delivering high-quality services, so labeling one as “the best” protocols is not the answer you would receive. Why? Because there are a variety of operating systems to run PrivateVPN on, and even more activities that you can do.

Let’s see the unique use cases and the best options for each of them.

  1. Privacy
    If privacy is an issue for you, we advise you to stick with OpenVPN. While some specialists online could advocate for WireGuard, we don’t believe it’s worth the risk. In addition – if you live in a country with restricted access to social media or different websites, then we advise you to check this article, and particularly the question “Does PrivateVPN Have Stealth VPN?”

    It’s one of the best options to hide your real IP address and more importantly – hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. However, we don’t recommend using the feature in all cases, as it might decrease your network speeds.
  2. Gaming
    It's important to note that while using a VPN for gaming can help improve security and protect your online privacy, it can also introduce additional latency and potentially affect your overall gaming experience. That being said, choosing a VPN protocol that prioritizes low latency, such as WireGuard or IKEv2, can help mitigate this issue.

    In addition to selecting the right protocol, choosing a nearby server location can also help reduce latency and ensure a smoother gaming experience. It's also important to consider factors such as server load and network congestion, which can impact latency and overall performance.
  3. Streaming
    When we talk about streaming, PrivateVPN is proud to say that we’re among the leaders on the market. But that’s not what we’ll discuss here. When you’re streaming, you would the best balance – speed isn’t enough, as streaming providers have become too stringent on VPNs.

That’s why, we advise you to pick one of the 3 options - OpenVPN in UDP mode, IKEv2, or WireGuard. While the latter shows great speed, it’s still questionable how reliable it is, so if you want to be “on the safe side”, then go with OpenVPN.

Key takeaways from the article

  • WireGuard is the most versatile VPN protocol
  • OpenVPN is the most secure protocol and the only viable option for bypassing censorship
  • IKEv2 is the way to go on iPhones and Android devices
  • Depending on your web activities, you can pick different VPN protocols