VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (2024)

What is a VPN protocol?

A VPN protocol is the set of rules that govern how data moves between a VPN server and devices connected to it. Every VPN uses a form of encryption to achieve a secure, private connection, but the rules and procedures for creating this connection are established by a particular protocol, each with its own pros and cons.

VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (1)

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      The most common VPN protocols

      Some of the main VPN protocols include OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2P2, PPTP, WireGuard, and SSTP. Some protocols prioritize speed, while others emphasize ironclad security and privacy. While everyone needs a VPN to protect their privacy and security, especially on public Wi-Fi networks, which VPN is best for you depends on your most common online activities.

      Let’s look at the different types of VPN protocols you’re likely to encounter, and their strengths and weaknesses:


      OpenVPN is a cryptographic protocol that emphasizes security. It’s open source, so users can check for themselves that there’s nothing within the protocols that will compromise their security, and it’s even possible for tech-savvy users to make modifications. OpenVPN is a widely compatible protocol that offers multiple different configuration options.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (3)Pros:

      • Extremely secure: OpenVPN offers robust security protocols and supports strong encryption that will keep your data safe and secure.

      • Transparent: OpenVPN is open source, meaning users can read the source code and see exactly how it works — and reassure themselves that there are no vulnerabilities.

      • Versatile: OpenVPN is widely compatible and customizable, meaning that you can fine-tune it to your specific requirements.

      • Easy to bypass firewalls: Sometimes, firewalls can interfere with VPN network access, but OpenVPN is designed to avoid this kind of conflict.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (4)Cons:

      • Complicated to use: Setting up a VPN protocol as versatile and customizable as OpenVPN from scratch can be a challenge if you don’t use a VPN app.

      IPSec / IKEv2

      Internet key exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is often used in combination with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). IKEv2 forges a secure tunnel connecting the user to the VPN server, while IPSec provides the encryption and authentication.

      IKEv2 was developed by Microsoft and Cisco and is intended primarily for mobile, allowing mobile users to maintain a VPN connection even when switching networks or alternating between a secured Wi-Fi network and mobile data.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (5)Pros:

      • Fast: IKEv2 is among the fastest VPN protocols around, making it attractive for VPN users who prioritize speed and streaming.

      • Stable: IKEv2 is among the most dependable protocols, providing a strong connection to the VPN even when the internet momentarily drops, meaning you don’t have to constantly check if your VPN is working.

      • Mobile friendly: Because it offers swift reconnection during an unstable connection, IKEv2 is ideal for mobile usage, where the user might frequently switch networks.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (6)Cons:

      • Limited compatibility: Although some open-source versions are available for other platforms, IKEv2 was primarily designed for Windows users.

      • NSA controversy: Previous claims that the NSA has exploited flaws in the IPSec protocol to spy on encrypted communications have raised serious questions about IPSec’s security.


      Like IKEv2, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) connects a user to the VPN server but does not include encryption, so it’s often paired with IPSec to provide connection, encryption, and security all rolled into one. It’s a secure but slightly slower option that isn’t as mobile-friendly as IKEv2.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (7)Pros:

      • Availability: L2TP is supported by most VPN providers and computing platforms, making it a readily available option.

      • Approachability: L2TP is simple and easy to use.

      • Secure: Because it can be paired with various encryption protocols, L2TP is generally a secure option.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (8)Cons:

      • Slow: L2TP is on the slow side compared to other VPN protocol options.

      • NSA controversy: Like IKEv2, the L2TP VPN protocol is potentially compromised when paired with IPSec encryption, as the NSA has allegedly found a way to decrypt the protocol.

      • Struggles with firewalls: VPNs using the L2TP protocol struggle to bypass firewalls, meaning users might not be able to unblock websites or access certain systems.


      PPTP stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. It’s an older VPN protocol originally designed by Microsoft for dial-up internet connections in the ‘90s. PPTP is rarely used today, as there are far more secure options with stronger, more complex forms of encryption that keep data protected.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (9)Pros:

      • Speed: Its relatively simplistic security protocols mean PPTP offers a fast connection speed. This makes it a good option for users who are less concerned with security but who use a VPN for streaming TV shows or gaming.

      • Easy to set up: Thanks to its simplicity, PPTP is a breeze to set up and does not require any additional encryption software.

      • Compatibility: PPTP is supported by most platforms.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (10)Cons:

      • Not secure: Compared to modern VPN protocols, PPTP does not offer a high level of security. The protocol’s encryption can be cracked by a person with the right tools, leaving your data vulnerable.


      Like OpenVPN, WireGuard is an open-source VPN protocol. It’s a relatively new option with promising performance, but it’s still under development and is something of a work in progress.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (11)Pros:

      • Speed: Efficient encryption and high performance make WireGuard one of the fastest VPN protocol options available.

      • Streamlined: Like OpenVPN, WireGuard’s code is available for users to scrutinize, but it’s considerably more streamlined, making it far easier for users to check for any weaknesses.

      • Secure: WireGuard offers a high level of security.

      • Compatibility: Whatever computing platform you use, it’s likely compatible with WireGuard.

      • Great for mobiles: WireGuard uses lower bandwidth, making it an ideal solution for mobile.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (12)Cons:

      • New: Because of its newness, WireGuard could benefit from further testing before users can fully rely on its security.

      • Problematic default: The default protocol leaves the user’s IP address static, which is a potential privacy concern.


      Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a Microsoft-developed protocol intended for Windows users. Its speed and security are on par with other popular VPN protocols, but its lack of compatibility means it’s less widely used.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (13)Pros:

      • Secure: SSTP offers strong security and encryption.

      • Hard to block: SSTP is good at getting past firewalls, so it allows access to sites that may be blocked in the user’s country.

      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (14)Cons:

      • Compatibility: SSTP is only compatible with a handful of computing platforms.

      • Closed source: SSTP code is not open source and cannot be viewed or audited, making it impossible for users to check for potential vulnerabilities.

      What's the best VPN protocol to use?

      The best VPN protocol to use really depends on your needs and preferences. Speed is a valuable aspect of a VPN protocol for streaming TV, movies, music, and other content and gaming. But users who do online shopping and banking would benefit more from better security. For mobile users, stability and low bandwidth are important factors to consider.

      Compatibility is another consideration. Windows users have a wider selection of options, but users of other platforms might want to choose an open-source VPN to avoid compatibility issues. Finally, not all VPN protocols are easy to use, so a novice selecting their own VPN protocol might be better off choosing one that is more user-friendly.

      IPSec vs OpenVPN

      Both IPSec and OpenVPN combine security and speed, with IPSec offering a slightly faster connection, while OpenVPN is considered the more secure option. IPSec wins for ease of use because it’s already built into many platforms, meaning it doesn’t require separate installation. But OpenVPN offers more powerful security and is the preferred VPN protocol for many of the best VPNs.

      PPTP vs OpenVPN

      PPTP has the advantage of speed but is otherwise inferior to OpenVPN due to weak security and a number of major vulnerabilities. For this reason, it’s considered obsolete and rarely used any longer, while OpenVPN offers excellent security and is widely used.

      IKEv2 vs OpenVPN

      IKEv2 and OpenVPN are both solid choices when it comes to speed, security, and reliability. IKEv2 has the edge when it comes to speed and is a better choice for mobile devices due to its stability. However, OpenVPN is the stronger option if security is the top priority, and it still offers a fast connection.

      L2TP vs OpenVPN

      OpenVPN is a stronger and more secure option than L2TP, which is tied to some security concerns and is somewhat outdated. OpenVPN has the benefit of greater speed and security, but users might find L2TP more user-friendly than the more complex OpenVPN.

      IKEv2 vs WireGuard

      WireGuard and IKEv2 are both ideal options for mobile users, as their stability allows users to change networks without causing the VPN to disconnect. WireGuard is a newer option that still has some issues to iron out, but as an open-source protocol, it’s more widely available than IKEv2, which has limited compatibility. Both options offer excellent speed.

      Which VPN protocol is the fastest?

      The fastest VPN protocol is PPTP, but this protocol is outdated, and its weak security could leave your data vulnerable. Unless speed is the only quality you require, PPTP is not recommended.

      WireGuard is a great option for users who value speed but also want to keep their data protected, and IKEv2 and OpenVPN are other fast options that offer good security. Bear in mind that the VPN server location can also influence speed.

      What is the most popular VPN protocol?

      OpenVPN is the most widely used VPN protocol. Although it can be complex for first-time users to set up, the majority of VPN client providers use OpenVPN, removing the need for the user to set it up from scratch themselves. OpenVPN is a popular choice thanks to its strong security and compatibility with most computing platforms.

      What is the most secure VPN protocol?

      OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol and the safest choice thanks to its near-unbreakable encryption, which keeps users’ data private even when using public Wi-Fi. Because it’s open source, users can check the source code for vulnerabilities and reassure themselves that there are no weaknesses in its security.

      Summarizing the differences between VPN Protocols

      Here’s an overview of the main VPN protocols’ key features:






      Very strong


      Very high



      Very fast








      Very fast



      Very strong

      Very fast






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      VPN Protocols Explained and Compared (2024)


      What are the differences between VPN protocols? ›

      Summarizing the differences between VPN Protocols
      OpenVPNVery strongFast
      IKEv2StrongVery fast
      PPTPWeakVery fast
      2 more rows
      Sep 22, 2023

      What are the 4 main types of VPN explain each VPN? ›

      Remote access VPNs — for remote employees accessing the company network; Site-to-site VPNs — for company networks accessing each other; Personal VPNs — for individuals who want to safely access their home network; Mobile VPNs — a VPN that you access from the client app on your phone.

      What type of protocols are used in VPNs? ›

      The most common VPN protocols are OpenVPN, WireGuard, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2/IPsec, PPTP and SSTP. These protocols offer different trade-offs between security, speed and compatibility, so the best option will depend on your specific needs.

      Should I use WireGuard or IKEv2? ›

      Based on these findings, if you're looking for the fastest secure tunneling protocol, you should go with NordLynx (or WireGuard). The second fastest will be IKEv2, which can confidently hold its own even when connecting to the other side of the world.

      What is the best VPN protocol to use? ›

      OpenVPN: Best-in-class security, but slower speeds. IKEv2/IPSec: Great for switching between Wi-Fi and mobile data networks. L2TP/IPSec: A VPN protocol intended as an improvement over PPTP.

      Is IKEv2 better than OpenVPN? ›

      The main difference between IKEv2 and OpenVPN is that IKEv2 is a standard protocol that is natively supported by many operating systems and offers faster and more stable connections, while OpenVPN is an open-source protocol that requires third-party software and offers more flexibility and security options.

      What protocol does always on VPN use? ›

      It uses Windows 10's built-in VPN client and the Internet Key Exchange version 2 protocol. IKEv2 is a reliable and secure protocol that provides robust authentication and encryption standards, making it a viable choice for Always On VPN.

      What is the difference between WireGuard and WireGuard TCP? ›

      By default, WireGuard uses UDP only. However, Proton VPN has adapted the protocol so that it can now run over TCP in our Android app (with support on more apps to follow). WireGuard TCP is more resistant to censorship than WireGuard UDP, but is not as effective as our custom Stealth protocol.

      What is the IKEv2 protocol? ›

      Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is a tunneling protocol, based on IPsec, that establishes a secure VPN communication between VPN devices and defines negotiation and authentication processes for IPsec security associations (SAs). Various VPN providers refer to this combination as IKEv2/IPsec, or IKEv2 VPN.

      What is the tunneling protocol of a VPN? ›

      A VPN is a secure, encrypted connection over a publicly shared network. Tunneling is the process by which VPN packets reach their intended destination, which is typically a private network. Many VPNs use the IPsec protocol suite. IPsec is a group of protocols that run directly on top of IP at the network layer.

      What is the protocol architecture of a VPN? ›

      The industry standard protocol for a VPN is an architecture called IPSec. The IPSec architecture is outlined in RFC 2401, and its implementation encompasses RFCs 2402, 2406, and 2407 (there are various others, but those are the big three). There are some similarities between IPSec and TLS.

      What are the 3 most common VPN protocols? ›

      The 3 most common VPN protocols are OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and IKEv2/IPsec.

      What's the difference between VPN protocols? ›

      All VPNs use encryption, but the quality of the encryption depends on which VPN protocol is used. OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP support AES encryption, considered the gold standard, while WireGuard uses ChaCha20, which is also secure. PPTP uses the least secure encryption standard, MPPE.

      Is A VPN UDP or TCP? ›

      TCP is more reliable, but there are many uses where UDP is preferred and this is usually the default protocol on most VPN services.

      What is the difference between TCP and UDP VPN protocols? ›

      UDP is mainly used for online streaming and downloading. TCP is more reliable but also slightly slower than UDP and is mainly used for web browsing.

      Does VPN protocol matter? ›

      A VPN protocol is the backbone of any VPN service, and its importance cannot be overstated. It's the linchpin that determines how your data is encrypted, transmitted, and ultimately secured. Choosing the right protocol is crucial as it directly impacts factors like speed, security, and compatibility.

      What is the difference between OpenVPN and IPsec VPN? ›

      Security level

      IPsec defines several encryption algorithms but the most often used one is AES with a 256-bit key. OpenVPN uses the OpenSSL library for encryption and in theory supports any encryption algorithm provided by OpenSSL. However in practice AES with a 256-bit key is usually used.

      Which VPN solution is more secure, IKEv2 or IPsec? ›

      Which VPN solution is more secure, IKEv2 or IPsec? IPsec, because IKEv2 does not perform does not perform any encryption. IKEv2, because it operates at Layer 4, encapsulating all lower-layer headers. They are not comparable; IKEv2 operates in conjunction with IPsec to create secure VPN tunnels.

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