What VPN Protocol Should I Use?

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are an invaluable solution to a prevalent issue today – preserving your anonymity and security while on the Internet. The inquisitive bunch among the millions of VPN users is most likely interested not only in obtaining a VPN but learning more about its ins and outs. This article is directed at those of you who want to get a better idea of VPN protocols, as well as which ones you should look and opt for.

We already gave an in-depth explanation on the various VPN protocols, along with their pros and cons. If you wish to get acquainted with them in detail, make sure to take a look. This article will provide more concise, information for those who want a quick and simple answer on the best overall VPN protocol.

Protocol Basics

In case you’re starting from scratch, a VPN protocol in the simplest of terms is the bread and butter of every VPN service. They are the backbone consisting of transmission protocols and encryption standards that grant you fast and secure access to VPN servers and back. There are five major VPN protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, and SSTP. As time has passed, the benefits of some services have put them in the forefront, while the flaws of others have marked them as ones to avoid. However, there are cases where one protocol may be superior to others. Here is a quick summary:

  • OpenVPN should be your go-to protocol. It’s the most well-rounded option, delivering a perfect balance between speed, security, and reliability – in fact, most VPN services use it by default.
  • IKEv2 is great on mobile devices due to its ability to automatically reconnect in case you lose connection to the Internet (e.g. traversing a mountain pass or going through a tunnel). Speed is a big advantage for this protocol, but it comes at the cost of limited platforms and a challenging setup process.
  • L2TP/IPSec is a decent alternative if, for some reason, you can’t use OpenVPN. The ideal example of a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none, this protocol is a solid choice for non-critical purposes.
  • SSTP can prove to be all you need as far as VPN protocols go, provided you are running Windows. As part of the OS, it’s fully integrated and simple to use – and it enjoys Microsoft support. However, setting an SSTP protocol on other platforms is extremely difficult, if not impossible. The fact that it’s Microsoft’s proprietary tech may also be of concern for some.
  • PPTP – Try not to use this protocol unless you absolutely have to. It is the most dated protocol and time hasn’t been kind to it in the slightest. Despite its decent speed, security is practically non-existent. Avoid this VPN protocol if you value your privacy.

Protocol Details

Here are the most important aspects of each VPN protocol:

OpenVPN

  • Relatively new open-source protocol, considered as the “gold standard” due to its reliability.
  • Extremely popular with third-party services, no native support on any platform.
  • Supports a wide array of algorithms, ensuring the best level of security.
  • One of the fastest protocols available – speed depends on encryption level, but regular users won’t feel hindered in the majority of cases.
  • Setup may seem tricky at first glance, but every worthwhile VPN service comes with an automated process requiring minimal user input.

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange v2)

  • IPsec-based tunneling protocol, developed by Microsoft and Cisco.
  • Stable and secure thanks to reconnection capabilities and support for a variety of algorithms.
  • Delivers in the speed department. It’s relatively faster than L2TP, SSTP, and PPTP.
  • Supports Blackberry devices, but otherwise limited platform availability
  • Proprietary tech, so your opinion depends on your overall sentiments towards Microsoft; however, identical open-source versions exist.

L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)

  • Originated from Cisco’s L2F and Microsoft’s PPTP.
  • Does not offer any security on its own, which is why it’s usually paired with IPSec.
  • Built-in on all modern VPN-compatible devices/operating systems.
  • A decent all-around protocol, but recent leaks point towards it being compromised by the NSA.
  • Doesn’t offer any real advantages when compared to OpenVPN.

SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol)

  • First introduced in Windows VIsta SP1 by Microsoft.
  • Entirely integrated into Windows – other platforms may not be able to use it.
  • Bypasses most firewalls with ease.
  • As Microsoft’s own technology, it offers little reassurance as to where your data is going.
  • Fast and relatively secure, but vulnerability to backdoors makes it one of the least appealing protocols.

PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol)

  • The first VPN protocol supported by Windows.
  • Supported by every VPN-capable device.
  • Very fast due to lower encryption standard.
  • Extremely insecure – known to be easily cracked by the NSA for a long time;
  • Despite Microsoft patching PPTP, they still recommend using other protocols such as SSTP or L2TP/IPSec.

Conclusion

To sum up, for everyday non-critical use you can’t go wrong with OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec or IKEv2. SSTP may work for you as well (if you are on Windows), but we’d be wary to make use of it due to potential exploits. The same goes for L2TP and IKEv2 – the truth is that, security-wise, these protocols are only as strong as your faith in Microsoft. Even if you are a Microsoft devout, treat PPTP as a last resort; its ability to protect your privacy certainly hasn’t aged well.

The only way to fully guarantee your security is to choose a protocol that has had a long-standing reputation for its lack of known weaknesses. OpenVPN is currently the sole option that fits this category. It is also among the few secure protocols available on a variety of platforms.

Vital as it is, knowing what the best VPN protocol is won’t matter if you don’t choose a service that supports it. Therefore, we have compiled a list of the best VPNs available on the market — each and every one of them has OpenVPN and other fast, secure protocols fully integrated into their services, along with easy setup processes for a  smooth VPN experience that will meet your expectations. Take a look:

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