What is the best VPN protocol? OpenVPN vs WireGuard vs SSTP and more



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There are multiple VPN protocols, and which protocol a VPN uses has a major impact on how it works. Some protocols are a lot better than others. Fortunately, finding the best VPN protocol is easy as there are only a few candidates.

What is a VPN protocol?

In short, a protocol is a set of rules that determine how devices within a network communicate with each other. For example, when you connect to the Internet, you use the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) to make your computer talk to the site you are visiting. A VPN protocol is a specific type of protocol intended for – you guessed it – VPNs.

A protocol can contain all kinds of information. In the case of HTTP, it’s a set of rules about how two devices can exchange data (in the form of HTML documents), as well as some basic security rules.

When you use a VPN, you redirect your connection through a server managed by your VPN service. To do this securely, the VPN must use a separate protocol, one that is designed for VPNs and contains information about the encryption used in the connection, as well as some other technical details.

How a VPN Protocol Affects You

This may sound a bit abstract, but it hits you directly: a good protocol will be a lot faster and a lot more secure than a bad protocol. Some protocols are slow because they require more steps in transmitting information, while others are less secure because they contain a flaw or use an encryption key that has a known weakness.

To help you choose the best VPN protocol for you – and by extension the best VPN, period – let’s go over the protocols we’ve come across the most, as well as some proprietary protocols. We’ll start with the best out there, OpenVPN and WireGuard, and work our way down from there.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is probably the most popular VPN protocol out there. Almost all VPN providers offer it to their customers in one form or another. It offers both speed and safety, without significant compromises. When using OpenVPN, most VPN providers let you choose between TCP and UDP. In general, you are better off with UDP, as it is faster.

To give you an idea of ​​how good OpenVPN is, almost all VPNs use it by default. In the vast majority of cases, there is no good reason to use anything else. The only exceptions are WireGuard or particularly solid proprietary protocols like NordLynx and Lightway, all of which we explain below.

In fact, we’d go as far as to recommend not using a VPN that doesn’t offer OpenVPN, and being a little wary of any provider that doesn’t have it as standard, apart from the exceptions we mentioned earlier. We talk about an example in our Surfshark vs. ExpressVPN piece, where we linked Surfshark to some serious points about standardizing a mediocre protocol.

WireGuard

For most people, OpenVPN usually seems to be the ticket. However, in 2021 a very interesting new protocol came out, which has the potential to dethrone OpenVPN. called WireGuardit’s blazing fast and often beats OpenVPN on a comparable server load, but keep in mind that there’s a lot more to it than just the protocol to determine the speed of a VPN connection.

Still, WireGuard looks solid. It has at least one excellent proprietary protocol based on it: NordVPN’s NordLynx. That said, there have been some rumors about how private WireGuard is real, because in some cases it seems to store users’ IP addresses indefinitely.

That said, if speed is your main concern, WireGuard can be an excellent alternative to OpenVPN. While we generally prefer OpenVPN, WireGuard comes in a close second.

SSTP

Our third entry is the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol, or SSTP, which dates back to the early 2000s and is generally considered fast and secure, although it generally outperforms OpenVPN. However, if you can’t take advantage of OpenVPN for whatever reason, SSTP is a solid fallback choice.

The main problem people seem to have with it is that the code is owned by Microsoft, a company with a lesser reputation when it comes to privacy. While it’s unclear whether Microsoft collects data from SSTP connections or not, if you’re concerned about anything, you’d better avoid this protocol.

L2TP/IPsec and IKEv2/IPsec

This item is two for the price of one: both L2TP and IKEv2 are two connection protocols that are generally combined with the IPsec security protocol to improve encryption. Either way, you’re making a trade-off: L2TP is reliable, but slow, while IKEv2 is fast — very fast, even — but has Security issues

In either case, they are an interesting choice for developers, as they are much more flexible than OpenVPN. However, most regular users won’t notice much of a difference. In general, we recommend using these two only if you have no other choice.

PPTP

From some of the better VPN protocols out there, we’re going to probably be one of the worst out there. Point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) is a VPN protocol dating back to the 1990s – technically very old – that is not particularly secure and incredibly slow.

It is generally not used anymore because it is outdated, but for some reason some VPNs still offer it. Whatever you do, don’t use PPTP, especially if you’re doing something sensitive like using BitTorrent to download files or tunneling out of China.

Proprietary VPN protocols

We end by discussing three interesting proprietary protocols that have come out. Developed by a VPN service for its own use, these protocols usually offer faster speeds, although some are a bit of a black box.

Hydra

The Hydra protocol was developed for and used by: Hotspot shield and is a prime example of sacrificing safety for speed. It is very fast but used weaker encryption-128-AES instead of the 256-bit variant. It’s not the biggest deal, and the insane speeds at which Hydra tests are may be worth it.

NordLynx

NordVPN also wanted a proprietary protocol, but modified WireGuard to his liking rather than developing one from scratch. The result is a blazing-fast VPN protocol that seems quite secure. It would be even better if NordVPN fixes its servers, something we discuss in our article comparing NordVPN to ExpressVPN.

light path

Last but not least, Lightway, developed from scratch by our overall favorite VPN, is ExpressVPN† Like NordLynx, it seems perfectly safe, but is somehow even faster than anything else out there, including WireGuard. While we’re hesitant to call it the best VPN protocol – OpenVPN just has a better pedigree and track record – it’s definitely worth checking out.

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