When discussing virtual private networks, or VPN’s, a common feature that many reviews mention is the protocols in which these VPN’s utilize. For those who are shopping around, this may mean nothing to them. However, a protocol is an important aspect of any VPN. There are several protocols that are on the market, with many VPN providers developing their own protocols. However, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the main protocols seen frequently with VPN use. These are PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, SSTP, and IKEv2.
PPTP: The Standard Protocol
This protocol is probably one of the more standard protocols that are seen on the market. The reason being is that it was one of the first that was developed. It was developed by Microsoft and stands for point-to-point tunneling protocol. Initially, this protocol was developed to be used over dialup internet, and has long been used within businesses. The benefits of this protocol are:
- Easy to utilize as it requires little knowledge of software in order to get this running
- Due to it being on the market for so long, it is built into just about every VPN provider
- Requires little computational overhead to utilize meaning it is fast
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of this protocol is that PPTP is not considered the best when it comes to security. This is due to the protocol being on the market for so long, that almost anyone can hack into this and decipher the channels. It only uses a 128 bit encryption key in which the NSA has been able to compromise.
The L2TP which stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol is not secure on its own, which is why this is often paired with IPsec. In fact, no one should want to utilize L2TP on its own since this is not going to pass traffic through tunnels at all. The benefits of an L2TP/IPsec protocol are:
- Easy to utilize as most devices are going to be able to accept this protocol
- Widely offered as a secure option versus PPTP
The problem with this protocol lies in the fact that it has been compromised by the NSA. However, when looking at other criminals, it has yet to be compromised. This is why it is still considered a secure protocol. There are also problems that arise when dealing with firewalls as this protocol has issues overcoming firewalls that are set to restrictive. Thus, resulting in some people having a hard time opening up some webpages. This protocol is also considered slower than other protocols that are available such as OpenVPN and SSTP.
This protocol is one of the newer ones available on the market, and thus far, it has exceeded expectations when it comes to performance. It is generally considered one of the fastest protocols that a person can run. The benefits of this protocol are:
- Can be configured to work with just about any platform
- Very secure in that it uses several algorithms for encryption and also utilizes various tunnels making it impossible to see what one person is doing online
- Has yet to be compromised by the NSA, making it extremely secure
Despite being one of the protocols that people turn to, there are some drawbacks of this protocol. For one, since it is an open source, it may require the person configure their settings to use this. Thus, it is not a protocol that is going to start working immediately, like PPTP allows a person to do. In addition, this protocol does not work well at all with mobile devices, a huge drawback given how many people are utilizing VPN’s on their mobile devices.
This is another protocol provided by Microsoft that stands for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. Since it is developed by Microsoft, it is usually only ran on Windows, but can now be used with other platforms like Linux and RouterOS. The benefits of this protocol are:
- Great for Windows users, as it is configured into the software already minimizing startup and installation processes
- You do get the support team from Microsoft
- Works against most firewalls
- Highly secure in that is depends on cyphers
However, since this is a Microsoft product, the idea of this being completely secure is in question. Microsoft does allow for audits, meaning a person’s activities online could be logged and given to whomever audits the company.
The Internet Key Exchange version 2 was created by Cisco and Microsoft and is preinstalled on those running Windows 7 or higher. It is considered an open source, and many compatible versions have been utilized with other platforms. The benefits of this protocol are:
- This protocol is faster than SSTP, L2TP and PPTP
- Easy to use and set up for those who have Windows
- Utilizes various ciphers for security purposes
The issues that are found with this protocol are very similar to that of SSTP in that it is partly developed by Microsoft. Aside from this, it is not supported on numerous platforms, meaning that this is not a widely available protocol for many VPN users.
With all this being known about protocols, the most common question asked is just which protocol is best. Most people prefer to use OpenVPN since it is an open source, secure and relatively fast. If this is not available, the second choice would be IKEv2. Open source protocols are often considered safer since these activities are usually not traced by anyone.
SSTP and L2TP are secondary choices for those who may not have any other protocol choices. However, these two choices should be considered for use by those who are not using their devices for personal information that they do not want leaked out. On the end of the spectrum is PPTP, which should be avoided if at all possible since it is widely known for being full of security issues.
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