VPN protocols can help you get the best service from your provider in terms of speed and security. Discover four common choices here.

4 Common VPN Protocols: Which One Should You Choose?

A virtual private network (VPN) protocol establishes a secure pathway for transmitting data, helping to protect your online activity and guaranteeing confidentiality.

Nowadays, there are many different protocols, each offering something special or unique to users. Deciding which protocol is best for you can be a challenge.

Some protocols will prioritize speed and are best suited for online gaming and streaming, where every second counts. Others will focus on encryption and security, providing more protection over sensitive data.

This article will explore four standard VPN protocols found across the industry. With each example, you will learn the pros and cons of using them, helping you decide which fits you best.

1. OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a protocol with an excellent reputation for balancing speed and security. It also promises widespread compatibility across popular operating systems, including Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, and iOS, making it an ideal choice for people with various devices.

OpenVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption and high-end ciphers, which offer unmatched protection to data. There are also failsafe features, such as a killswitch, that prevent DNS leaks if the VPN stops working.

As the name suggests, it is a free, open-source software that boasts a vast community of tech experts. These people help maintain and futureproof the protocol against vulnerabilities and exploits. High customization options allow users to modify the protocol to their liking, including with older devices.

Pros of OpenVPN:

  • An open-source model that has a thriving community with continual updates
  • Compatible with a wide variety of operating systems
  • Highly customizable allows it to work with both new and old technology
  • AES 256-bit encryption provides excellent security for data
  • Innovative failsafe features

Cons of OpenVPN:

  • Manual setup and customization options may be overwhelming for beginners
  • Over 600,000 lines of code make security audits difficult
  • Slower speeds than rival VPN protocols

2. WireGuard VPN

The WireGuard VPN is a groundbreaking protocol that ranks highly in speed, security, and easiness, making it a popular choice for many people.

One of its best features is its simplicity. Wireguard uses just 4,000 lines of code, drastically decreasing system resources and the protocol’s attack surface. This means that just one single person is all it takes to maintain and audit it for vulnerabilities.

Despite its somewhat basic appearance, the protocol delivers robust security. It uses state-of-the-art cryptography technology, including ChaCha20, BLAKE2, Noise protocol framework, and HKDF, among others, to establish a secure tunnel. This provides unmatched encryption and integrity to all data exchanged.

As it only supports the UDP protocol, which transmits data faster without delay, the WireGuard VPN is also incredibly fast. It is an ideal choice for time-sensitive activities like online gaming and streaming.

That said, some argue that WireGuard’s priority over speed and ease comes at the cost of privacy. Wireguard does not use obfuscation, meaning your internet service provider can see you’re using a VPN. You can, of course, choose a provider that uses obfuscation servers to bypass this minor limitation.

Pros of WireGuard:

  • An open-source model that has a thriving community with continual updates
  • Robust cryptography, including ChaCha20, BLAKE2, and Noise protocol framework
  • Its simplistic codebase makes security auditing easy and reduces the attack surface
  • Reduced pressure on system resources
  • UDP-only protocol makes it incredibly fast, with reduced lag and latency

Cons of WireGuard:

  • Lack of obfuscation means that ISPs will know you’re using a VPN—unless you choose specific VPN providers
  • Simplistic design means there aren’t as many customization options as for other VPN protocols

3. IKEv2/IPsec

The Internet Key Exchange Version 2 is a tunneling protocol developed by Microsoft and Cisco. It is often paired with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) to establish an encrypted connection.

IKEv2 is a very swift protocol known for speed and stability. It has an auto-reconnect feature that allows you to switch between different internet sources without disruption. This makes it a helpful protocol, particularly for mobile devices, as they might interchangeably swap between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

IKEv2/IPsec has a wide selection of encryption ciphers, including ChaCha20, 3DES, Camellia, and AES, which offer great customization for securing your data. This protocol also uses a technique known as network address translation traversal (NAT-T), which means it can connect to a network with a firewall without delay.

That said, as IKEv2 was developed with Windows users in mind, and because it is closed-sourced, it may not be as compatible with other operating systems like Mac and Linux.

Pros of IKEv2/IPsec

  • Good choice for mobile devices
  • Built-in NAT-T means firewalls or proxies won’t be an issue
  • The auto-connect feature provides stability
  • Speedy transfer of data
  • Wide selection of encryption options

Cons of IKEv2/IPsec

  • It is closed-sourced, making it more difficult to audit and customize
  • It is designed primarily for Windows—it may have limited compatibility

4. L2TP/IPsec

At 24 years of age, L2TP/IPsec is one of the oldest VPN protocols in the industry. As such, though still widely used and compatible, it is slowly being phased out by newer technology.

It combines two protocols: the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and the Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). L2TP lacks the strong encryption and authentication that IPsec can provide, so they can offer an impressive protocol when combined.

As it has been widely used for the last two decades, L2TP/IPsec is straightforward to configure and compatible with popular operating systems such as Windows, Mac, Linux, and more. That said, this simplicity does come at a cost, as it has limited customization options for users.

Despite its age, L2TP still has impressive security and reliability, including 256-bit key encryption and authentication, which should provide ample protection for your data in transit.

That said, it does fall short in speed, as it encapsulates data twice, leading to a much slower transmission speed. This makes it inefficient for fast-paced internet usage, like gaming and streaming. Moreover, the protocol supports limited ports, meaning it can struggle to bypass firewalls and proxies.

Pros of L2TP/IPsec

  • Compatible with a wide variety of operating systems
  • AES 256-bit encryption and double encapsulation provide excellent security
  • Has earned a reputation for being reliable

Cons of L2TP/IPsec

  • Encapsulation is carried out twice, drastically reducing speed
  • Higher CPU usage than other protocols
  • Less flexibility and customization options
  • Can have difficulty passing through firewalls and proxies


As you can see, VPN protocols come in many forms. Some prioritize encryption and security, offering the best privacy protection, while others are lightweight and speedy, ideal for fast-paced activities on multiple devices. Which one you choose will ultimately depend on your specific needs.

With balance in mind, the WireGuard VPN protocol offers something for everyone and is an all-around excellent choice. But it’s also crucial that you choose a reliable and reputable VPN provider to ensure you get the best service possible.