Virtual private networks (VPNs) create a tunnel between a private network and a public network, allowing users on the public network to send and receive data as if they were directly connected to the private network. VPNs have long been a popular choice for consumers seeking more privacy in their everyday Internet browsing, but the use of VPNs in the business sector has exploded in recent years. This is especially true since March 2020, when VPN usage skyrocketed by 41% in a single month, according to industry research. With our distributed workforce growing exponentially over that time, the need for secure remote access to data, applications and services became a more urgent.
What are VPN protocols?
VPN protocols determine exactly how data is routed through a connection. These protocols have different specifications based on the benefits and desired circumstances; for example, some VPN protocols prioritize data throughput speed while others focus on masking or encrypting data packets for privacy and security.
5 Common VPN Protocols
There are two main approaches to VPN functionality: 1) two protocols are used (one protocol to move the data through the tunnel and one protocol to secure that traffic); or 2) one protocol is used for both data transfer and data security.
Here are five common VPN protocols and their primary benefits.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol is one of the oldest VPN protocols in existence. Developed in the mid-90s by Microsoft, PPTP was integrated into Windows 95 and specifically designed for dial-up connections. But as technology advanced, PPTP’s basic encryption was quickly cracked, compromising its underlying security. However, because it lacks many of the security features found in other modern protocols it can deliver the best connection speeds for users who may not need heavy encryption. But while PPTP is still used in certain applications, most providers have since upgraded to faster more reliable protocols.
TL;DR: fast data speeds, wide support, many security issues
Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol is a replacement of the PPTP VPN protocol. This protocol does not provide any encryption or privacy out-of-the-box and is frequently paired with security protocol IPsec. Once implemented, L2TP/IPsec is extremely secure and has no known vulnerabilities.
TL;DR: widely used, good speeds, easily blocked due to reliance of UDP on single port
OpenVPN is an open source protocol that allows developers access to its underlying code. This protocol has grown in popularity due to its use of (virtually unbreakable) AES-256 bit key encryption with 2048-bit RSA authentication and a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm.
TL;DR: open source, strongest encryption, slower speeds
Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is popular due to its full integration with every Microsoft operating system since Windows Vista SP 1. SSTP utilizes 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates for authentication and 256-bit SSL keys for encryption. The biggest drawback to SSTP is that is basically a Microsoft-developed proprietary protocol and developers do not have access to the underlying code.
TL;DR: good security, difficult to block and detect, great support for native and third party clients
Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a common VPN tunneling protocol that provides a secure key exchange session. Similar to L2TP (and IKEv1), IKEv2 is normally paired with IPsec for encryption and authentication. This protocol is very good at re-establishing the link after temporary connection loss and excels at switching connections across network types (from WiFi to cellular, for example).