VPN WireGuard: What is it and how does it work? (2024)

What is the WireGuard VPN protocol?

WireGuard is a VPN protocol, a collection of rules that determine how data is encrypted and moved within a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs are digital tools that hide user IP addresses and protect internet traffic from unwanted exposure.

In a VPN, internet traffic travels along encrypted tunnels between your device and a VPN server. The speed at which it is encrypted and decrypted, and the level of security provided by the encryption, is determined in large part by the VPN protocol used.

WireGuard is notable for a few reasons. It works very quickly, provides a high level of security, and is written with relatively few lines of code. The lightweight nature of the protocol code is important, because it makes deployment and debugging easier.

In short, WireGuard is a faster, more effective way to protect and transfer data across a VPN. Now that you know what WireGuard is, how does it work?

How does the WireGuard VPN work?

A WireGuard VPN usually involves a client (the app on your phone, for example) and a VPN server. Like other encryption protocols, WireGuard communicates with the server and establishes an encrypted tunnel between server and client. When data moves between these two nodes on the network — the WireGuard client and the server — it is encrypted, scrambled into code that is indecipherable without the proper encryption keys.

So far, so much like every other VPN protocol. Where the WireGuard protocol differs is in the speed with which it connects the client to the server and transfers data. Unlike other widely-adopted protocols which use AES-256, WireGuard employs ChaCha20-authenticated encryption. ChaCha20 works with shorter cryptographic keys than AES-256, allowing for faster encryption and decryption.

Adding to its speed is the fact that the WireGuard protocol runs within the Linux kernel on WireGuard servers and Linux desktops. While other protocols have to switch between kernel storage and userspace for full functionality, slowing them down slightly, WireGuard can run fully from the kernel.

These technical advancements give WireGuard several advantages over other protocols.

WireGuard VPN protocol: advantages and disadvantages

Before a VPN provider implements WireGuard, they should consider both its advantages and disadvantages.

WireGuard VPN advantages

Let’s start with the many benefits of WireGuard.

  • Speed. The biggest advantage of using WireGuard is the speed it provides. VPNs inevitably slow down your connection, because an extra step is being inserted into the data’s journey between the client device and the internet. With WireGuard, however, that reduction in speed will be so minor that you will almost never notice it.
  • Minimal codebase. WireGuard consists of fewer lines of code than many other VPN protocols, making it easier to deploy and to troubleshoot. Wireguard VPN providers can find and resolve bugs quickly, because there is just less code to sort through when trying to identify problems.
  • High security. While other protocols might be able to improve speeds by compromising on security, WireGuard provides very strong encryption. This combination of speed and security makes it one of the best VPN protocols available.
  • Rapid reconnection. WireGuard can establish a new connection very quickly, allowing you to switch between networks and routers without waiting for your VPN to slowly reconnect. With other protocols, a network switch could result in a slow VPN reconnection.
  • Open source software. WireGuard is open source, meaning that anyone can audit and edit its code. Consequently, tech experts and VPN providers alike can examine the code, find and fix problems, and even build on it to improve performance.

WireGuard VPN disadvantages

WireGuard does have a few disadvantages, though these are largely outweighed by its many benefits.

  • Lack of obfuscation. WireGuard does not provide obfuscation, meaning that internet service providers (ISPs) can see when you are using it — although, of course, they can’t see what you’re using it for. This means that a WireGuard VPN won’t necessarily be able to help you bypass firewalls. However, some VPNs that support WireGuard (including NordVPN) provide obfuscated servers, allowing you to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN connection.
  • Not integrated into all VPNs. While WireGuard is being widely adopted, not all VPN providers have integrated it into their apps yet. It is still a relatively new protocol, after all. Major players in the space are adopting it, however, and NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol — which provides the fastest VPN speeds currently available — is built on WireGuard. It is also likely that more VPN providers will support WireGuard over time.

Is the WireGuard VPN protocol secure?

WireGuard is a very secure protocol. While it uses shorter cryptographic keys than some previous protocols, it still provides strong encryption.

A longer key takes more time to crack, but it would still take millions of years to brute force WireGuard’s encryption keys. In practice, these “shorter” keys provide more than enough security to keep your data safe.

WireGuard VPN protocol vs other VPN protocols

WireGuard is just the latest in a long line of VPN protocols. How does it stack up against its predecessors?

WireGuard vs OpenVPN

While OpenVPN is the most widely used protocol at the moment, WireGuard is a better option across several fronts. For one thing, WireGuard’s smaller codebase makes it easier to implement and audit, with around 4,000 lines of code. Compare that with OpenVPN’s 600,000 lines, and you can see why WireGuard has an edge here.

WireGuard is also faster than OpenVPN for two reasons. Firstly, WireGuard uses the UDP transport layer to move data, while OpenVPN (despite being UDP-compatible) generally defaults to a slower TCP process. As previously discussed, WireGuard also employs shorter encryption keys, further boosting speed.

OpenVPN can be better for hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place, but if you use NordVPN’s obfuscated servers, you can use the WireGuard-based NordLynx profile while also obfuscating your VPN connection.

WireGuard vs IPSec/IKEv2

While IKEv2/IPsec could rival OpenVPN in several areas — offering better speeds and lower CPU-usage, for example — this older protocol really can’t compete with WireGuard.

WireGuard is faster than IKEv2/IPsec, offers stronger encryption, and uses a far smaller codebase. For most users, WireGuard will always be a better option.

IKEv2/IPsec might be your preferred option if you want to run legacy encryption methods. WireGuard supports a more limited selection of modern encryption processes. However, the majority of people looking for a VPN will be wanting the most up-to-date encryption possible, and on that parameter WireGuard wins.

Is the WireGuard protocol important?

The WireGuard protocol is important because it makes VPNs an attractive option to more people. Many internet users who could benefit greatly from using a VPN have previously been put off by the idea that these applications slow down their connection, but WireGuard’s remarkable speeds can change that.

WireGuard allows users to enjoy a fast, stable internet experience while simultaneously protecting their online privacy. The more people who end up using a VPN as a result of WireGuard, the safer the internet will be.

WireGuard is also important as a building block for even more powerful protocols. Because the code is open source, a large community of developers can now improve upon WireGuard, as NordVPN has done with the NordLynx protocol.

How to configure the WireGuard protocol

To set up WireGuard on your device, the simplest option is to download the NordVPN application and turn on NordLynx. NordLynx is a protocol founded on WireGuard, but with some added benefits to make browsing even more private and secure.

Follow these simple steps to get started with NordLynx, the fastest WireGuard-based protocol available:

    1. Download the NordVPN app.
    2. Log in to your account, or set one up.
    3. Open “Settings” and select “Protocol.”
    4. Choose “NordLynx” from the protocols available.

    Once this process is complete, your VPN will be configured to get all the benefits of WireGuard through the NordLynx protocol, and you’ll enjoy the fastest VPN speeds available.

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    VPN WireGuard: What is it and how does it work? (2024)


    VPN WireGuard: What is it and how does it work? ›

    WireGuard is an open-source communication protocol for setting up secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Using advanced cryptographic primitives to secure exchanged data, it seals it within an encrypted tunnel.

    How does the WireGuard VPN work? ›

    WireGuard relies on routing to direct network traffic. Each peer has a routing table that defines which packets should be sent through the WireGuard tunnel. This routing ensures that only intended traffic passes through the VPN connection.

    What are the disadvantages of WireGuard? ›

    Known Limitations
    • Deep Packet Inspection. WireGuard does not focus on obfuscation. ...
    • TCP Mode. ...
    • Hardware Crypto. ...
    • Roaming Mischief. ...
    • Identity Hiding Forward Secrecy. ...
    • Post-Quantum Secrecy. ...
    • Denial of Service. ...
    • Unreliable Monotonic Counter.

    Why do I need WireGuard? ›

    WireGuard is faster than IKEv2/IPsec, offers stronger encryption, and uses a far smaller codebase. For most users, WireGuard will always be a better option. IKEv2/IPsec might be your preferred option if you want to run legacy encryption methods.

    Is WireGuard a safe VPN? ›

    WireGuard is considered by many to be one of the safest, most secure VPN protocol options available today. Simplified design using less code equals fewer bugs and security vulnerabilities, while WireGuard's faster state-of-the-art cryptography employs superior default security settings.

    Can WireGuard be detected? ›

    UDP: WireGuard uses UDP as its transport protocol. There is no standard port and typically WireGuard is detected through heuristics.

    Does WireGuard hide your IP? ›

    As explained above WireGuard does not allocate a dynamic IP address to the VPN user. And, it indefinitely stores user IP addresses on the VPN server until the server reboots. So, there is no anonymity and privacy in WireGuard.

    Does WireGuard cost money? ›

    Cost and Licensing

    Since WireGuard and OpenVPN are free software, there is no expense associated with using them. Though there are some free solutions, you'll still need to pay for a VPN subscription.

    Can WireGuard be hacked? ›

    VPN protocols are sets of rules that define how data and traffic are routed between your device and the VPN server. Protocols such as OpenVPN, WireGuard, or IKEv2 have no known vulnerabilities and are considered secure.

    Is WireGuard free to use? ›

    Is WireGuard free? WireGuard is originally open source and can be used for free, absolutely.

    Is anything better than WireGuard? ›

    Verdict on Security

    There are no known security flaws in either protocol. If security is your topmost priority, the conservative option is OpenVPN. It has simply been around much longer than WireGuard, gone through more third-party security audits, and has a far longer track record than WireGuard.

    Is WireGuard the same as NordVPN? ›

    NordLynx is NordVPN's revolutionary technology built around the WireGuard® VPN protocol. It helps you connect to NordVPN servers faster and improves your VPN connection speeds without compromising security or privacy.

    Who uses WireGuard? ›

    Here are the best VPNs with WireGuard:
    • NordVPN. Apr 2024 works with wireguardTested Apr 2024. ...
    • Surfshark. works with wireguardTested Apr 2024. ...
    • CyberGhost. works with wireguardTested Apr 2024. ...
    • IPVanish. works with wireguardTested Apr 2024. ...
    • Private VPN. ...
    • Private Internet Access. ...
    • StrongVPN. ...
    • Perimeter 81.
    Mar 28, 2024

    Which is safer WireGuard or OpenVPN? ›

    While WireGuard is generally faster, OpenVPN provides heavier security. The differences between these two protocols are also what make up their defining features. We've taken a closer look at each so you can really understand how they work for you.

    How private is WireGuard? ›

    WireGuard employs modern cryptographic protocols. Without delving too deeply, this means it uses the latest encryption methods to ensure your data is scrambled in the most secure way possible. Even if someone manages to capture your data, deciphering it would be a monumental task.

    What is the difference between VPN and WireGuard? ›

    SUMMARY: OpenVPN offers greater freedom when it comes to encryption and security, but WireGuard is easier to audit and has a smaller attack surface. Both protocols are very secure, but less tech-savvy users may prefer to trust the experts at WireGuard, rather than take matters into their own hands.

    How is WireGuard different from VPN? ›

    SUMMARY: OpenVPN offers greater freedom when it comes to encryption and security, but WireGuard is easier to audit and has a smaller attack surface. Both protocols are very secure, but less tech-savvy users may prefer to trust the experts at WireGuard, rather than take matters into their own hands.

    Is WireGuard better than OpenVPN? ›

    Key takeaways from testing WireGuard vs OpenVPN speeds: On average, WireGuard was about 3.2 times faster than OpenVPN across all the locations we tested. WireGuard's performance advantage over OpenVPN is greater with nearby (low latency) servers in comparison to long-distance (high latency) server locations.

    Does WireGuard change your IP? ›

    During this process, the client creates a new key pair and uploads a new key to the server, and we provide the client with a new IP address. The new key is distributed to our servers and the client switches to using it and the new IP address. This is designed to be completely transparent to the user.

    Do you need a VPN with WireGuard? ›

    WireGuard is an extremely fast yet secure VPN protocol that can also be used as a standalone VPN. In fact, it's considered the fastest VPN protocol available today, making it a better option than IPsec/IKEv2 or OpenVPN when you're looking for speed and performance.

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