What Type of VPN Protocols are Available?

September 9, 2022

While contemporary VPNs are relatively easy to download and install, there’s a fundamental complexity to how they function and the technology that underpins them.

The functionality of VPNs is largely driven by so-called “protocols”, which describe variable sets of rules or instructions that determine how data is routed between your device and a remote server.

These rules are crucial to ensuring a stable and secure connection, while some of these (including the PPTP protocol that was historically integrated into Windows 95 and designed for dial-up connections) have been around for decades.

Below, we’ll take a look at three of the most common VPNs, while asking what sets them apart from other options and how they should inform your choice or private client.

What is a VPN Protocol?

We’ve already touched on the broad definition of a VPN protocol, but it’s interesting to note that each one offers variable benefits to users based on their different needs and wants.

For example, some may be built with privacy and network security in mind, and while this forms a fundamental foundation for all VPN protocols, there are others that also emphasize speed and ease of use.

As a result, VPN clients will incorporate a unique selection of protocols depending on the profile of their product offering.

At the same time, they’ll prioritize different protocols depending on the intended device and how this is likely to be used, whether you’re an avid traveler or someone who wants to stream unlocked content through sites such as Netflix.

A Look at the Most Widely Used Protocols

Now that you understand the concept of VPN protocols in a little more detail, the next step is to look at some of the most popular and widely-used options in the modern age.

We’ve outlined three of the best VPN protocols offered by most VPN services below while detailing their primary function and the benefits that they offer to users:

1. L2TP / IPSec

We’ll start with the so-called “Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol” (LT2P), which is considered to be the replacement of the aforementioned and now largely outdated PPTP alternative.

However, this protocol was still developed as long ago as the 1990s by Microsoft and Cisco, and while it is heavily integrated into today’s laptops and computers, it has arguably been superseded by more contemporary options of late.

However, this protocol is still relatively widely-used online, despite the fact that it fails to provide any encryption or privacy features that should be considered out-of-the-box. As a result, it’s often paired with compatible security protocols like IPsec, creating a robust and formidable set of rules that secure online network connections.

By itself, L2TP certainly isn’t capable of providing any kind of viable security encryption or privacy without collaboration, while it can also create significant lag and reduced connection speeds due to the protocol’s core components.

Because of this, the L2TP protocol (when used in combination with IPsec) should only really be used by security-conscious users or remote workers whose primary focus is securing their connection and safeguarding potentially sensitive information.

2. OpenVPN

Now we come to the single-most popular VPN protocol of modern times, namely OpenVPN. This is a key component of most paid VPN clients in 2022, while it serves as an obvious enhancement of the older SSL/TLS framework.

OpenVPN is an open-source protocol, which enables developers to access its underlying code. This is just one of the reasons that underpin the protocol’s immense popularity, while another is its use of the incredibly robust and virtually indestructible AES-256 bit key encryption.

The protocol utilizes this encryption alongside 2048-bit RSA authentication and a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm, the latter of which introduces cryptographic elements that help to create more heavily encrypted tunnels between devices and remote servers.

Ideal for high-security applications and users who rely on the efficiency, OpenVPN is highly appealing to a large number of virtual private network users in 2022.

But is there a downside to using OpenVPN? Well, it’s fair to surmise that compatibility can be slightly hit and miss when downloading the software, as you cannot install it natively on multiple device types to forge router-to-router VPN networks.

This means that performance can vary from one application to another, so this is something that you may want to keep in mind when comparing the market for available VPN products.

3. WireGuard

Last, but not least, is WireGuard, which is one of the newest and most recent tunneling protocols utilized by modern VPNs.

WireGuard is also widely used in combination with OpenVPN, with a quick glance at the Surfshark VPN review highlighting that this is one of many clients that feature both sought-after protocols.

WireGuard is considerably less complex than its rivals, while it’s also considered to be far more efficient and safer than IPSec and even OpenVPN.

In terms of functionality, the protocol relies on an advanced and highly streamlined code to optimize performance within a minimal margin of error. This contributes to particularly high levels of speed and performance, which is ideal for people who want to use VPNs to stream geographically restricted content or use their connection to work remotely.

However, we should also note that WireGuard remains in the stage of early adoption, which means that there may still be some potential security risks or vulnerabilities that have yet to be fully explored.

You may also struggle to find offices or employers using site-to-site connections based on WireGuard, although some unique and proprietary implementations of the technology are now beginning to be rolled out.

The Last Word

As we can see, there are different types of VPN protocols in operation, each of which offers variable strengths and advantages such as increased speed, enhanced security, or overall higher levels of performance.

What’s more, most VPN reviews highlight that paid clients tend to utilize multiple protocols in combination, in order to tailor the profile of their product offerings and create a unique selling point in the marketplace.

Your task as an end-user is to compare and contrast viable VPN clients on the market, paying attention to their combination of protocols and how they’re likely to impact your experience as a user.

We’d also recommend using VPN-free trials where possible, in order to sample products first-hand and determine how their VPN protocols work in practice.


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