VPN Protocols Compared

VPN Protocols Compared

The use of a VPN connection is becoming more commonplace. This is understandable, given the increase in (mass) surveillance, hackers and online chase by advertising companies. The use of VPN services is no longer only reserved for computer technicians, but to make the best use of your VPN connection, choosing the right VPN protocol is very important.

What is a VPN protocol?

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic before it is sent to the VPN server. For this encryption there is a choice of different methods, so-called encryption protocols. Every VPN protocol has its advantages and disadvantages. The most common VPN protocols are:

  1. OpenVPN with UDP
  2. OpenVPN with TCP
  3. PPTP
  4. IKEv2
  5. L2TP / IPSEC

To make a choice between the different VPN protocols, it is important to know the differences.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN logo

OpenVPN (which stands for open source virtual private network ) is the most famous VPN protocol. OpenVPN owes its popularity to the strong encryption and Open-source code. OpenVPN is now supported by all known operating systems, including Windows, MacOS and Linux. Mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS also support OpenVPN.

The purpose of a VPN protocol is to provide strong encryption. This protocol is very good here. OpenVPN uses 265-bit encryption via OpenSSL. In addition, there is a lot of separate VPN software available that supports OpenVPN.

OpenVPN supports the use of two protocols, TCP and UDP. 
OpenVPN-TCP is the most used and most reliable protocol. Each sent data package must first be confirmed by the receiving computer before a new package is sent. This makes the connection very reliable, but slower. 
OpenVPN UDP is a lot faster. The data packets are sent without the need for feedback of receipt. This leads to a faster VPN connection at the expense of reliability.

Advantages and disadvantages of OpenVPN

  • + OpenVPN is very secure
  • + Support by most software
  • + Usable on almost all operating systems
  • + Frequently tested for safety
  • – Often need extra software

PPTP VPN protocol

PPTP Protocol Point to Point Tunneling Protocol

The Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is one of the oldest VPN protocols. PPTP was the first protocol that was supported by Windows. The NSA has cracked the protocol so that it is no longer safe. PPTP is very fast due to weak encryption. The difference can be noticeable, especially on slow computers.

PPTP is the most supported protocol due to its age. Firewalls that try to block VPN traffic have little difficulty recognizing PPTP.

Advantages and disadvantages of the PPTP protocol

  • + PPTP is very fast
  • + is easy to use
  • + works on almost all operating systems
  • – offers very weaker encryption
  • – PPTP traffic can be easily recognized and blocked
  • – hackers often abuse the weaknesses in PPTP

L2TP / IPSec

L2TP Protocol Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol

The Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) is a tunneling protocol for setting up a VPN connection. L2TP itself does not encrypt internet traffic. That is why L2TP is almost always combined with IPSec for encrypting the data.

IPSec stands for I nternet P rotocol Sec urity and takes care of the end-to-end encryption of the data in the L2TP tunnel. The L2TP / IPSec combination as a VPN protocol is a lot more secure than PPTP. A disadvantage of L2TP / IPSec is that firewalls sometimes block this connection. L2TP uses UDP port 500 and some providers and companies block this port. In terms of speed, L2TP is very fast, but that is due to the lack of encryption. Adding IPSec increases the load on the computer and can decrease the speed of the connection. OpenVPN is faster than L2TP / IPSec.

Advantages and disadvantages of L2TP / IPSec

  • + Better encryption than PPTP
  • + directly supported in many operating systems
  • – slower than OpenVPN
  • – According to Snowden, L2TP / IPSec was cracked by the NSA
  • – L2TP can be blocked by firewalls

IKEv2 VPN protocol

IKEv2 stands for  I nternet  K ey  E change  V ersion  2. As the name implies, IKEv2 is the successor of IKE. When using IKEv2, internet traffic is first encrypted using IPSec. A VPN tunnel is then built in which the encrypted data is sent. Just like L2TP, the IKEv2 protocol uses UDP port 500, which means it is sometimes blocked by firewalls. Because of the use of IPSec, IKEv2 is considered as often as equally safe as L2TP / IPSec. When using a weak password, IKEv2 is extra sensitive to hackers. IKEv2 is a very fast VPN protocol.

Advantages and disadvantages of IKEv2

  • + IKEv2 is very fast
  • + fairly strong encryption
  • + can restore lost connections
  • + IKEv2 is easy to use
  • – can easily be blocked by firewalls
  • – possibly cracked by the NSA
  • – unsafe when using a weak password
  • – less supported protocol compared to OpenVPN and L2TP / IPSec

summarizing

It is important to choose the correct VPN protocol. Every VPN protocol has its own advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, OpenVPN is the best choice. PPTP is almost never wise to use due to weak encryption. If OpenVPN is not supported or does not work properly, L2TP / IPSec or IKEv2 can be considered.

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