What Is the Best VPN Protocol? 8 VPN Protocols Comparison

Thursday, September 14, 2023
Michael Scheiner
SHARE:

The internet is an amazing place, but it is also full of scary things, like hackers, scammers, corporate spies, and government spooks. That’s why you need a VPN. 

In this article, we’ll talk about a comparison of the best VPN protocols. These are the security mechanisms that VPN providers use inside their systems. Some are good for speed, others for security. There are open-source protocols and proprietary ones, too. 

We take a look at the leading eight VPN protocols, lay out their pros and cons, and give you tips on which one you should use in any situation.

 

VPN protocols comparison chart

Before we get started, take a quick gander at this table below, showing you an overview of our VPN protocol comparison. We’ve tried to point out which VPN protocol is best for which purposes, but of course, there will be plenty of overlap among these competing protocols. 

What’s more, some of these categories are more subjective than others, especially regarding what is best for streaming, torrenting, gaming, and online shopping, as well as for pairing protocols with VPN types

Once you’re done with this appetizing table, you’ll get to the real main course of this article.

Protocol

Best for

WireGuard

Gaming, streaming, torrenting

SSTP

Windows, bypassing firewalls, accessing geo-restricted content

IPSec/IKEv2

Speed, security, stability, mobile devices

OpenVPN

Open source, encryption, multiple OS

L2TP/IPSec

iOS devices, safety

PPTP

Streaming, gaming, online shopping

Lightway

ExpressVPN users, speed, safety

SoftEther

Open source, multiple OS, security

 

What is the best VPN protocol? Here are 8 options:

It's time to give you the intel so you can pick which VPN protocol is best for your personal or business needs. We’ve got 8 VPN protocols explained and dissected based on their benefits and drawbacks, as well as what they are best used for. 

Hopefully, learning about these VPN security protocol options will help you pick the best VPN service for your needs.
 

1. WireGuard

Many people consider WireGuard to be the best protocol for VPN due to its encryption protocols, privacy, and security. However, when using the protocol that is WireGuard, most people appreciate how easy it is to set up and how fast it is to tunnel your data and online traffic. 

WireGuard is very popular for streaming content, downloading and torrenting media, and for gaming due to it using a mere 4,000 lines of code. WireGuard is not one of the proprietary protocols but instead provides an open-source code. 

One thing to note about WireGuard is that this is one of the newest protocols used by VPN providers, and because of this, there is still room for improvement. 

WireGuard uses UDP, or User Datagram Protocol, to transfer information from your IP. Some of the most common VPNs use WireGuard. These include such big names as Cyberghost and NordVPN. WireGuard was also used to build tech like Nordlynx.

Pros:

  • Gaming

  • Streaming

  • Downloading

  • Easy to set up

  • Lightweight

  • Very fast

  • Medium security

Cons:

  • Newer than other common VPN protocols

  • Not used by every major popular VPN
     

2. SSTP

The next entry of our different VPN protocols is SSTP, otherwise known as Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. SSTP is closely related to the Microsoft family of digital tools. It works very well with Windows but can also be used with Linux. 

SSTP functions using PPP, which is for moving online traffic via the point-to-point protocol. Some people are skeptical about SSTP because they fear this one might have backdoors built into it, meaning that there may be better options than SSTP when it comes to cyber security. 

Nonetheless, SSTP continues to be useful for running websites. It is also very effective at bypassing geo-restrictions, firewalls, or other online censored content, meaning you can enjoy some of the fastest connection speeds while viewing streaming sites from other countries.

Some of the known VPN providers that use SSTP may include names like ExpressVPN, PureVPN, and CactusVPN. And, unlike WireGuard, SSTP functions with TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which differs from UDP.

Pros:

  • Bypassing firewalls

  • Accessing geo-restricted content

  • Windows users

  • AES security

Cons:

  • Won't work with Mac devices

  • Not ideal for mobile devices

  • It’s Microsoft
     

3. IPSec / IKEv2

If you are not into OpenVPN or WireGuard, the next VPN protocol on our list today is IPSec IKEv2. This stands for Internet Protocol Security and internet key exchange version 2 because it is an updated second version of this protocol. 

This VPN protocol was developed by Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc. Even though you get good high speeds with this one, one of its strongest attributes is its stability, making it ideal for securely streaming and gaming. 

IPSec / IKEv2 offers a great connection when switching between mobile data, your IP address, and other local Wi-Fi connections without much delay affecting the VPN server. As for security, you have AES 256-bit encryption algorithms, which is good enough even for big institutions like the NSA.

Platforms that use a VPN protocol such as IPSec / IKEv2 include ExpressVPN, as well as NordVPN and IPVanish. As for IP packet trafficking, IPSec / IKEv2 makes use of UDP like WireGuard via port 500 and 4500.

Pros:

  • Faster speeds

  • Stability

  • Reliability

  • Cellular phone use

  • Scalability

  • Streaming

Cons:

  • No Linux support

  • Prohibitive licensing

  • Not open source
     

4. OpenVPN

If you do not want a proprietary VPN protocol like IKEv2, this means you probably want something open source, and OpenVPN is the protocol that is most popular for this purpose. Despite its open source attributes, OpenVPN is a highly secure system for tunneling data in a cipher while protecting anonymity, as well as for skirting firewalls and censorship. 

Regarding its pros and cons, OpenVPN offers some of the best-grade security cryptography, employing an AES-256-GCM encryption algorithm, but on the other hand, the coding that goes into this is a bit heavy and clunky, meaning setup is not so straightforward. 

Not too many protocols like OpenVPN use both UDP and TCP, and this also means that you get a good deal of flexibility while it also makes your digital ID a far from easy target. OpenVPN also offers to route its traffic through the SSL network, or the secure sockets layer. Many VPN providers, like Surfshark, use OpenVPN.  

Pros:

  • Open source

  • Works on most operating systems

  • Top-tier encryption

  • Vulnerability-free

  • Maintaining anonymity

  • Uses TCP and UDP

Cons:

  • Bulky code

  • Difficult to set up

  • Slow at switching networks
     

5. L2TP / IPSec

L2TP stands for layer 2 tunneling protocol. One of the major things to know about this protocol is that it does not have its own encryption or authentication tools, but you do not need to worry as you can pair this protocol up yourself with IPSec, or internet provider security, and when you do, you get a very secure private network. 

Overall, many consider L2TP to be outmoded as a security protocol for VPN services, meaning newcomers to VPN will probably use something else. One interesting anecdote regarding this protocol is that supposedly, according to Edward Snowden, the NSA were able to backdoor their way into servers using L2TP. 

There is no TCP support for this, only UDP. This should not be too much of an issue for most people. PIA, or Private Internet Access, as well as PrivateVPN, are two clients that could be using L2TP.

Pros:

  • Very secure when paired with IPSec

  • iOS devices

Cons:

  • Needs to be encrypted

  • Not the fastest speeds

  • NSA can break it

  • No new updates
     

6. PPTP

Our next protocol is PPTP, which stands for point-to-point tunneling protocol. PPTP is quite an old-school name on this list and is not too widely used anymore. The reason many people use different protocols today than PPTP is that it is known for being relatively weak in terms of all things security, although it does have decent tunneling speeds. 

Those using PPTP might want to look elsewhere if you want to do things like cut through cybersecurity tools like firewalls, as many of these features can successfully identify and block PPTP. However, for simply bypassing restrictions set by other countries, for example for streaming TV, PPTP is not too bad.

One of the names of VPN clients that have used PPTP is BulletVPN, although this is not guaranteed to last in the future. PPTP also uses TCP instead of UDP.

Pros:

  • Speedy enough

  • Access geo-restricted content

  • Streaming

Cons:

  • Outdated

  • Cannot bypass firewalls

  • Compromisable security
     

7. Lightway

Lightway is a new VPN protocol compared to many other available VPN protocols we've discussed. It was developed by the VPN client called ExpressVPN, a leading brand name in the biz. Doing your set up and running Lightway is a very simple experience that requires no expert knowledge. 

Getting connected to the internet via a Lightway tunnel is incredibly fast as well. Lightway, while not exactly open source, does make its source code available on GitHub, so it's still quite transparent and flexible. If you're using ExpressVPN, it is probable that you will choose Lightway and stick with it the whole time.

Lightway can work with either the UDP protocol or the TCP protocol, however, it is likely most people will be fine with UDP and never try out TCP, but still, having the option is nice. 

Pros:

  • Easy to use

  • Fast connections

  • Open source code

  • Light battery usage

  • Both UDP and TCP

Cons:

  • Only works with ExpressVPN
     

8. SoftEther

SoftEther is yet another newish brand in the VPN protocol arena. This is another use case for an open source and multi protocol server software and VPN client, meaning that provider and protocol are part of the same package. You get quite a lot of advanced features with SoftEther, like a graphic user interface and remote procedure calls.

One of the benefits of SoftEther is that it functions on many operating systems, like Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, Android, and more, and it works great on mobile phones too. As a new protocol, SoftEther is becoming a true alternative to OpenVPN. 

The SoftEther VPN protocol works with the SoftEther VPN provider, which is good on mobile devices and phones.

Pros:

  • Works on almost any OS

  • Open source

  • Fast

  • Safe

  • Stable

Cons:

  • Still in the process of working out bugs

 

What VPN protocol should I use? Our conclusion on protocols for VPNs

As you can see, there is quite a lot to learn when it comes to VPN security protocols. In this article, we’ve attempted to shed some light on the various systems that VPN clients employ in their platform to guarantee safe, secure, speedy and stable internet browsing. 

To recap, WireGuard is one of the best and most widely used for most major purposes like streaming or gaming. OpenVPN is probably the most popular when it comes to open source VPN protocols. IPSec/IKEv2 is highly secure and safe while offering top VPN speed, and SSTP is tops for Windows users.

So, hopefully, you are no longer still asking yourself which VPN protocol to use for various purposes, whether to remain anonymous online, delete your digital footprint, access geo-restricted content, bypass firewalls and censorship, and use public wifi without worrying about hackers or data thieves.

That about wraps it up. Thank you for taking the time to read our article!

 

FAQ

What is the most secure VPN protocol?

There are many very secure VPN protocols, however, perhaps the most secure VPN protocol is OpenVPN, which is also open source. Another VPN protocol that is well-regarded for its privacy and security features is IPSec, which usually works with IKEv2, otherwise known as Internet Key Exchange version 2.0.
 

What is the fastest VPN protocol?

When it comes to VPN protocols based on surfing speed, one of the fastest ones is WireGuard. WireGuard runs its data through UDP, or the user datagram protocol, which is the faster of two options, the other one being TCP, otherwise known as the transmission control protocol. 
 

What is the best VPN protocol for gaming?

VPN providers are important for gaming, and therefore, you need the most secure VPN protocol for this purpose. The best VPN protocols for gaming include WireGuard, PPTO (point-to-point tunneling protocol), and IPSec / IKEv2. Using a VPN when gaming can protect your anonymity from other gamers.
 

What is the best VPN protocol for streaming?

If you use a VPN for streaming, you can access streaming service content that is only available in other countries. The best VPN protocols for streaming are SSTP, or the secure socket tunneling protocol. Other good options include WireGuard and PPTP, which will help get you around geo-restricted media.
 

For VPN connections involving Windows clients, what is typically the preferred protocol?

For those that want to run a VPN client while they use the Microsoft Windows operating system, perhaps the best VPN security protocol is the secure socket tunneling protocol or SSTP. Another protocol that is relatively new and also great for Windows users is SoftEther, which is open-source.

SHARE: