Understanding VPN Protocols and Which One is Right for Windows Users

It is difficult to meet a person who doesn’t know or use a VPN nowadays. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have evolved into an essential cybersecurity tool, helping users shield their online activities from prying eyes. However, the efficiency of a VPN significantly depends on the protocol it uses.

We earlier published several guides about VPNs in this section. This article aims to shed light on the popular VPN protocols and guide Windows users in choosing the right one. Even if you are a macOS or Linux user, still these protocols and information will be relevant to you. If you are interested in getting stable VPN software for your Windows computer, check out this VPN Black Friday deal.

VPN Protocols

What are VPN Protocols?

A VPN protocol is a set of instructions that dictate how data is transmitted between your device and the VPN server. It establishes a secure tunnel for your data, thus maintaining your privacy and security. Different protocols use varying methods of encryption and security measures, affecting connection speed, security, and stability. 

The Most Common VPN Protocols

Let’s dive into some of the famous VPN protocols and the products that use these technologies. Also, we have a small comparison table that can give a summary of the details.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an open-source protocol, meaning its code is freely accessible for auditing, enhancing its security. It utilizes robust 256-bit encryption, ensuring a high level of security. Being highly configurable, it can bypass most firewalls and Internet Service Provider (ISP) restrictions. However, due to its complexity, it may require some technical know-how to set up.

  1. ExpressVPN: Known for its strong commitment to privacy and security, ExpressVPN uses OpenVPN as its default protocol, along with robust 256-bit encryption.
  2. NordVPN: Another VPN service provider that uses OpenVPN. NordVPN is renowned for its double encryption feature that passes your data through two separate VPN servers.

IKEv2

Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is a fast and secure protocol developed by Microsoft and Cisco. Known for its robustness, IKEv2 performs exceptionally well in maintaining a stable connection, even during network switches — ideal for mobile users. Its main drawback is that it’s not as universally compatible as some other protocols.

  1. CyberGhost: CyberGhost is a user-friendly VPN service that offers IKEv2 alongside other protocols. It’s known for its broad server network and robust security features.
  2. Hotspot Shield: Hotspot Shield supports IKEv2, attracting users with its high-speed connections, especially in local servers.
Top 4 VPn Protocols

L2TP/IPSec

Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP) combined with IP Security (IPSec) provides a balanced solution between speed and security. While L2TP sets up the VPN tunnel, IPSec handles encryption and channel security. It’s easier to set up than OpenVPN but isn’t as flexible in bypassing firewalls.

  1. IPVanish: IPVanish offers L2TP/IPSec as an alternative to OpenVPN. This provider is known for its high-speed connections and strict no-logs policy.
  2. VyprVPN: VyprVPN provides L2TP/IPSec, appreciated for its proprietary technology that helps bypass restrictive networks.

WireGuard

WireGuard is a newcomer that’s fast, lean, and easy to set up. It combines the benefits of OpenVPN and IPSec while getting rid of their complexities. Its codebase is smaller, making it easier to audit for vulnerabilities. However, being new, it’s yet to stand the test of time.

  1. Surfshark: Surfshark offers WireGuard as one of its protocols. Known for its unlimited device connections and affordable plans, Surfshark provides an attractive choice for users.
  2. NordVPN: In addition to OpenVPN, NordVPN has recently implemented WireGuard (branded as NordLynx) for its users, offering faster connections and easier setup.

Read Also: What is FOMO in Cyber Security

Which VPN Protocol is Best for Windows Users?

So, the next question comes to mind, what is the best VPN protocol and app for me? The selection criteria mainly depend on the many factors which we mention at the end of this guide. As a personal opinion, I can suggest not to complicate much on VPN protocols for personal use. The leading VPN apps providers like Surrfshark or your favorite providers always embrace new technologies to provide faster connection, better security, and low cost.

OpenVPN is a favorite amongst Windows users for its strong encryption and compatibility with various platforms. However, the built-in support for IKEv2 can be a game-changer, especially for those who appreciate its seamless reconnection during network switches.

L2TP/IPSec is another good option, offering built-in support on Windows. It’s easier to set up but might struggle to bypass some strict firewalls.

WireGuard, with its simplified setup and high-speed connections, can also be an attractive option for Windows users.

The VPN Protocol Comparison Table

VPN ProtocolMain FeaturesDrawbacks
OpenVPNRobust 256-bit encryption, highly configurable, can bypass most firewalls, open-source and auditableThe balanced solution between speed and security, easy to set up
IKEv2Excellent at maintaining stable connection during network switches, robust security, developed by Microsoft and CiscoNot as universally compatible as OpenVPN, possible security issues with certain configurations
L2TP/IPSecFast, lean, and easy to set up, the smaller codebase for easier vulnerability auditsCan struggle to bypass strict firewalls, slower than some other protocols
WireGuardFast, lean, and easy to set up, smaller codebase for easier vulnerability auditsNewer and less proven over time, not supported by all VPN services yet

As I mentioned earlier, the choice of a VPN protocol largely depends on what you value most: speed, security, stability, or ease of setup. OpenVPN offers robust security and great flexibility; IKEv2 shines in stability, and L2TP/IPSec provides a balanced approach. The newcomer, WireGuard, promises speed and simplicity. For Windows users, considering the built-in support can also play a role in choosing the right protocol.

You may Ask

What is the most secure VPN protocol?

OpenVPN is often considered the most secure VPN protocol due to its robust 256-bit encryption and open-source nature, which allows for regular audits.

Is WireGuard better than OpenVPN?

WireGuard is faster and simpler to set up than OpenVPN, making it a good choice for those who prioritize speed and ease of use. However, OpenVPN remains a more tested and universally compatible option.

Does the choice of VPN protocol affect my internet speed?

Yes, the VPN protocol can impact your internet.

Amy Bros is a young technology enthusiast who always explores and demonstrates new technology skills & products. With 5+ years of experience, she holds several leading IT certificates.

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