VPN Protocols - Everything You Need to Know

VPN Protocols Explained & Compared (2022 Guide)

Last Updated: October 11, 2022
Not all VPNs were created equal. Depending on its VPN protocols, it can have different speeds, capabilities, or even security and privacy vulnerabilities. We’ll review the main VPN protocols to choose the best one for you.
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Not all VPNs were created equal.

Depending on the VPN protocols it uses, it can have different speeds, capabilities, or even security and privacy vulnerabilities.

VPNs are essential for creating a secure environment for your internet activities. It protects you from malware, viruses, ads, malicious files, ISP tracking, etc.

So how do VPNs achieve this?

They use a specific set of protocols to set up connections with servers and establish a secure connection.

Each protocol is defined with specific characteristics like speed, security, methods used for data transmission, etc.

Hence encryption works differently based on the characteristics of each protocol. As thick the protocol instructions bind the data, you will get more security.

But it may affect the network speed. Similarly, protocols with the least restrictions can move data packets faster but with less security.

It is important to check the protocols when you select the VPN for your requirement.

VPNs with specific high-speed protocols with good security features are the ideal choice.

We are reviewing all popular protocols used in the VPN. And we will choose the best VPNs that utilize these protocols at their best.

Let’s find out the best VPN protocols and their specialties.

Major VPN Protocols Explained & Compared 2022

Here we are going to explain common protocols based on various factors like security, network speed, etc. 

  1. OpenVPN Protocol
  2. WireGuard Protocol
  3. IKEv2 Protocol
  4. PPTP Protocol
  5. L2TP Protocol
  6. SoftEther Protocol

1. OpenVPN Protocol

OpenVPN Protocol

Perhaps the most secure protocol used in VPNs will be OpenVPN.

As the name suggests, it’s open source and free to all users. OpenVPN depends upon two transport protocols.

The first one is TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which sends data packet and wait for a confirmation before sending the next one.

TCP ensures reliability but makes the network transmission slow due to the confirmation requirement for every data packet.

The next transport protocol of OpenVPN is UDP (User Datagram Protocol), which transmits data packets back-to-back without waiting for receiver confirmation.

It speeds up the network but lacks reliability. 

OpenVPN community is 20 years old and has an active community that ensures source file credibility and makes it free from security issues.

OpenVPN works with 256-bit and 128-bit encryption. With a 128-bit smaller key, you can achieve faster speeds but with the cost of compromising security.

Since OpenVPN is based on the OpenSSL library, it can access most encryption techniques.

An open-source system allows you to customize OpenVPN according to your exact requirement.

Due to this flexibility, OpenVPN customer versions are used in many VPNs. However, you cannot use OpenVPN to escape from a deep packet inspection.

2. WireGuard Protocol

WireGuard

WireGuard is designed to perform much more efficiently than other VPN protocols in the market.

It is a 2019 product with 3 times faster performance than OpenVPN. OpenVPN uses 20% data while operating, whereas WireGuard uses 4% data additionally.

Hence it can be considered for minimal data usage. It operates on the latest ChaCha20 cipher that has proven to be better than the AES-256-bit encryption methodology.

When compared to the lines of code, WireGuard is made with merely 4000 lines, nearly 100 times shorter than other source codes like IKEv2 or OpenVPN.

Since it has a smaller code structure, it is easy to maintain and audit. 

Also, it is less prone to hacking attacks due to the slim code setup. However, VPN protocols can take a lot of time to gain the trust of their core customers.

We haven’t found any deep issues related to this protocol, but people are still monitoring the progress of it.

NordVPN accommodated WireGuard and created NordLynx, a custom VPN protocol on the WireGuard platform.

This is an innovative method to speed up network activity without compromising security.

Most of the top VPNs in the market have already started using the WireGuard protocol as their key VPN protocol.

3. IKEv2 Protocol

IKEv2 is a 1998 protocol developed with the joint participation of Cisco and Microsoft. IKE was earlier designed for acting as a factor to create an IPsec protocol security association.

It is the second version of IKE, which uses IPsec to move data from one place to another.

IKE is combined with UDP, a faster data transfer setup, and initiates the security association after data transmission started.

It transfers security setup to IPsec later and initiates IP packet interception and encryption/decryption appropriately.

A VPN with 128-bit or 256-bit supports IKEv2 and works smoothly with any version of AES encryption methodology.

IKEv2 is the fastest VPN protocol that can be used in a VPN. Hence the presence of IKEv2 in every prominent VPN is considered mandatory.

This VPN protocol is best suitable for mobile device users since it can support automatic reconnection during an accidental connection drop. 

If you are a frequent traveler and you are using a mobile phone, you might have noticed network coverage fluctuations due to 3G-4G changes.

IKEv2 works efficiently to cover up the network drop and manages to maintain a stable connection throughout the session.

4. PPTP Protocol

PPTP is one of the oldest VPN protocols available on the market. It was developed by Microsoft in 1996.

The current situation of PPTP is not so good compared to other VPN protocols. It has become outdated and unsafe for VPN-related purposes.

However, if you are still trying to use the protocol to understand the functionalities, let’s get to know about it.

PPTP is faster compared to many protocols since it can only use a 128-bit encryption key. PPTP is not compatible with the present strongest encryption method on 256-bit AES.

There are reports that hackers can easily get into PPTP within minutes, showing its vulnerability. 

According to experts, NSA has exploited the downs side of PPTP and hacked many user details during this period.

PPTP is only usable for a device with nothing to hide from others. It cannot protect your private details or device-related details.

Hence, we recommend avoiding PPTP under any circumstances.

5. L2TP Protocol

L2TP cannot stand alone with encryption methods to secure your data. Hence it is associated with IPSec to keep encryption active.

There are mixed feelings about Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol in the VPN market. Some experts doubt its integrity since NSA created the IPSec in the US.

But this theory hasn’t been proven by anyone yet.

IPSec encapsulates the packets while passing through L2TP, and this way, it covers the already encapsulated packets to make them secure throughout the transmission.

L2TP can be blocked by firewalls if you are not using a VPN with a port forwarding feature.

A strict tunneling protocol which helps in data transmission from one network to another.

L2TP/ IPSec is mostly associated with AES-256 bit or AES 128-bit. It has also other options to offer like AES-CBC, AES-GCM, TripleDES-CBC, etc.

L2TP doesn’t offer its encryption package. It often gets paired with an encryption protocol in the VPN.

L2TP has control packets and data packets in which control packets manage connection and tunnel accessing, and data packet works with UDP to deliver data packets faster.

Since the data packets are delivered without checking, we cannot guarantee a reliable connection using L2TP.

L2TP has upgraded to its latest secured version named, L2TPv3, with new features.

6. SoftEther Protocol

SoftEther was introduced in 2014 and offers top security along with decent network speed.

It is an open-source protocol that supports RSA-4096 and AES-256 encryption technologies. According to reports, SoftEther can work 13 times faster than OpenVPN.

Although the VPN protocol was exposed to 11 security issues, they updated the code and released new security patches later to tighten the security.

The encryption setup is based on OpenSSL. So, firewalls and censorship authorities cannot block SoftEther since it uses Port 433.

Hence, SoftEther is perfectly developed to overcome web censorship.

One thing that you should always keep in mind is to tick the “Always Verify Server Certificate” box in the VPN settings menu.

SoftEther is used in a few VPNs and does not support native operating systems.

SoftEther works well to overcome firewalls and censorship but doesn’t provide direct compatibility with any VPN.

Which Are the Best VPNs that Provide Top VPN Protocols?

  1. NordVPN – 🏆 Winner!
  2. Surfshark
  3. Atlas VPN

1. NordVPN

NordVPN

NordVPN is the top VPN in our recommendation list. It has a customized protocol named NordLynx, a derivative of the WireGuard protocol.

Since WireGuard is built upon merely 4000 source code lines, it is simple and easy to audit. WireGuard has proven to be the best VPN protocol in terms of speed and security.

However, NordVPN went to the next level by customizing the VPN protocol to ensure complete user data privacy by creating NordLynx.

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NordLynx ensures total protection and never keeps any user data backlogs in its system. 

NordVPN also uses IKEv2/IPsec, which works with the IKEv2 latest version.

IKEv2/IPsec adds security with network stability without compromising network speed. The usage of top crypto algorithms makes it perfect for NordVPN requirements.

Another protocol used in NordVPN is OpenVPN.

You can utilize TCP or UDP in OpenVPN. OpenVPN source code is available to everyone, and it ensures regular code optimizations without compromising security.

OpenVPN stays transparent and versatile with the support of top security algorithms like 4096-bit key and AES 256-bit GCM encryption.

2. Surfshark

Surfshark

Surfshark VPN has 3200+ servers worldwide. It allows a fast network without any compromise in data security.

The RAM-only server management blocks any attempts to collect user data from acquiring servers as it wipes out all information from the server immediately.

Surfshark has WireGuard as its main VPN protocol to provide you with a sleek and secure internet experience. The IKEv2 VPN protocol is famous for its mobile device support.

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And OpenVPN is a reliable VPN protocol that has the backup of most routers.

Surfshark has a strict no-log policy which was publicly audited and approved.

 Public audits are the best non-biased method to understand the quality and security of a VPN. We have found that Surfshark has passed multiple public audits to prove its integrity.

We also tested Surfshark to find out whether it leaks any DNS or IP data while connected to the network. Gladly, Surfshark passed all DNS, IP, and WebRTC leak tests.

3. Atlas VPN

Atlas VPN

We found Atlas VPN the best in the segment due to some unique features. It has a free version that offers limited servers and features for beginners.

If you want to find out how VPN works and doesn’t want to spend money, try Atlas VPN.

It has plenty of servers (not as plenty as the rest of the VPNs on the list), and available servers are located evenly to get maximum network speed.

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  • Atlas VPN is the best free VPN
  • Privacy Pro servers
  • 750 servers in 40+ locations
  • Unlimited simultaneous device connections
  • Great for: people seeking a freemium VPN
  • Compatible with: Windows, MacOS, Android, iPhone & iOS, Android TV, Fire TV Stick

Atlas VPN utilizes IPSec/IKEv2 VPN protocol which has a proven test record. It also provides WireGuard support to compete with the best VPNs in the market. 

WireGuard allows Atlas VPN to speed up the network using its simple source code.

Many experts in the VPN market believe WireGuard will be the most trusted VPN protocol in the world.

If you want to enjoy all benefits of the VPN, we suggest purchasing a premium Atlas VPN subscription.

How to Choose the Best VPN Protocol

Before purchasing the VPN, you should check whether the VPN provides the best protocols or not.

If you buy a cheap VPN that operates on an outdated VPN protocol, you are putting your data in danger.

We found many VPNs that provide the option to change the VPN protocol within the settings menu.

Since you have got a detailed idea about VPN protocols from this article, we suggest you pick the best one based on your requirement from the VPN settings menu.

However, sometimes, VPNs don’t provide a specific option to choose the VPN protocol.

In such cases, you can try configuring a VPN with an alternative VPN protocol manual installation.

You can install the IKEv2 VPN protocol in NordVPN by manual configuration. You can install the desired VPN protocol if the VPN supports it.

FAQs

What is a VPN Protocol?

VPN protocols are some set of rules created for routing the data transmission between your devices and VPN servers.

An ideal VPN protocol will ensure your safety and maintain network stability.

What Is the Best VPN Protocol?

It is difficult to point out a specific VPN protocol as the best of the rest.

However, based on various tests, we find OpenVPN and WireGuard to be the best in the market.

What Are Proprietary VPN Protocols?

Certain VPNs customize the VPN protocols for getting more security and network stability.

They might choose open-source VPNs to do that. NordVPN uses NordLynx, a derivative of WireGuard.

Similarly, ExpressVPN uses Lightway, and Hotspot Shield offers Catapult Hydra.

In Summary, the best VPNs in 2022 are;

Conclusion

We tried to provide you with a good picture of the major VPN protocols available.

Like any other service, VPN protocols also have their strong and weak points.

The best way to choose a VPN is by checking its protocols from the features list. If you are looking for a stable open-source protocol, try OpenVPN.

OpenVPN allows to customize it based on user requirements.

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L2TP is fast, but it gets blocked easily, and SSTP can overcome firewall-related blockings but fails to TCP-related issues.

WireGuard is another top protocol that you can consider while choosing a VPN.

NordVPN provides WireGuard customized NordLynx, a perfect VPN protocol that promises stability, speed, and security to users.

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Written by Trevor Cooke

The only safe internet is a private internet. You’ll see me at parties talking about cybersecurity, privacy, and VPNs. Yes, I’m that guy.

Latest Stories

Last Updated: October 11, 2022
Not all VPNs were created equal. Depending on its VPN protocols, it can have different speeds, capabilities, or even security and privacy vulnerabilities. We’ll review the main VPN protocols to choose the best one for you.
VPN Protocols - Everything You Need to Know
EarthWeb is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Stay on top of the latest technology trends — delivered directly to your inbox, free!

Subscription Form Posts

Don't worry, we don't spam

Written by Trevor Cooke

The only safe internet is a private internet. You’ll see me at parties talking about cybersecurity, privacy, and VPNs. Yes, I’m that guy.

Latest Stories

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