PPTP vs SSTP vs OpenVPN vs L2TP vs IKEv2
As online security becomes increasingly important to our personal and professional lives, more and more people are looking for ways to protect their data and enhance the security of their online connections. A virtual private network can massively help to keep you safe online, protecting your privacy and encrypting your connection, as well as giving you access to exclusive sites and content. There are a lot of VPNs out there, and you’ll probably want to read reviews and comparisons to choose the right one.
But in order to find the best value VPN you have to face with another decision: which VPN protocol should you be using? From PPTP to OpenVPN and more, there are several different protocols to choose between, and it might seem complicated at first, but this guide will help you understand the key differences and choose the right protocol for any situation.
For those of you who are not familiar with VPNs, we highly recommend reading our VPN for Beginners Guide and our full VPN Glossary first.
An Overview of VPN Protocols
Before we take a closer look at individual VPN protocols and start to compare their respective pros and cons, it’s important to take a moment to understand what the current situation is in regard to VPN protocols and what these protocols actually do.
In the simplest of terms, a VPN protocol determines how your VPN secures your data and connections. It’s basically a set of rules regarding encryption and security, and depending on which protocol you’re using, you can get vastly different standards of protection, as well as speed and overall stability.
VPN protocols are quite complicated when you start getting into the nitty-gritty, but as a general user, all you really need to know is that there are five common forms of VPN protocol: OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP, and IKEv2, and it’s important to choose the right one if you want the very best levels of protection.
We’ll begin at the beginning, with the oldest public VPN protocol of them all: PPTP. PPTP stands for “Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol” and has been in existence since the mid-to-late 1990s. It was created by a group of companies working together, with Microsoft leading the way, and it makes use of Microsoft’s own Point-to-Point Encryption, also known as MPPE.
It’s impressive to see that PPTP is still so widely used, considering its age and the fact that it was created at a time when internet security standards were immensely lower than they are today. However, due to its age and the fact that many other protocols have come into existence in more recent times and surpassed it, PPTP can’t really be recommended for security purposes.
The NSA and other intelligence agencies have proven that PPTP can be hacked in barely any time at all, so if someone who knows what they’re doing wants to access your data and you’re using PPTP, they’ll be able to access it. And even though PPTP has been upgraded over the years to feature reasonably high 128-bit encryption, it’s still not very secure.
Should I Use PPTP?
So, since PPTP is so outmatched in terms of security, does it have any real use? Well, yes, it can still be an effective VPN protocol in some situations. If you’re on an older Windows OS, for instance, PPTP will be the most compatible protocol for you, and it can be helpful in offices to offer a barrier of protection for their data on an internal level.
PPTP also stands out for its speeds and is actually one of the fastest VPN protocols you can use, so if you want to use a VPN to access a streaming service like Netflix and watch some movies and shows, PPTP might actually be a strong choice. Just don’t use it if your primary concern is security, as better options are available.
SSTP stands for “Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol”, and like PPTP, this VPN protocol was developed by Microsoft and mostly designed for the Windows platform. It can be used on some other operating systems too, but it’s best-used on Windows.
In many ways, SSTP represents a big upgrade on PPTP. It was basically Microsoft’s attempt to one-upping PPTP, creating a VPN protocol that was more secure and reliable than their opening gambit. It was first released alongside Windows Vista and makes use of SSL 3.0. It also comes integrated as an option with all Windows computers and laptops, so you don’t need to download any third-party software in order to access this VPN protocol.
One of the sticking points for many people regarding SSTP is the fact that it is owned and operated exclusively by Microsoft, and not everyone trusts Microsoft in terms of security and transparency. Reports show that this protocol is very secure and speedy too, but without any kind of third-party control or auditing, there are some question marks regarding this protocol’s reliability.
Should I Use SSTP?
SSTP isn’t a bad choice as a VPN protocol, particularly if you’re on a Windows device. It’s not quite as well-suited to other platforms, but it’s terrific on Windows with the aforementioned native support and integration. It’s a good choice in terms of speed and security, able to bypass firewalls and protect you online.
SSTP is also really easy to use for the most part, but there are a couple of downsides. For starters, if you’re using a different OS than Windows, it might not run so well, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s fully owned by Microsoft, a company that has been known to work with the NSA and other agencies, so it might not be 100% secure.
While PPTP is the weakest VPN protocol in terms of security, OpenVPN is the strongest. This is currently the most popular and most widely-recommended VPN protocol to use. You’ll find most leading VPN providers recommend the use of OpenVPN to their users, and anyone in-the-know about VPNs will also recommend this protocol in the vast majority of cases too.
So, what’s OpenVPN all about? Well, this is an open-source VPN, meaning that users are given free access to the source code and documentation. It was written by James Yonan and first released back in 2001, but has undergone many changes and improvements over the years, with updated and improved versions being released on a regular basis.
Thanks to the open-source nature of OpenVPN, a huge community of developers and supporters are always inspecting this protocol and looking for ways it might be improved, as well as identifying any possible holes or exploitable areas, so it manages to stay strong and ever-evolving, even as the years go by.
Should I Use OpenVPN?
Thanks to all of the above, OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol of them all, making use of various methods of authentication and encryption. While other protocols have been hacked by the NSA and others, OpenVPN has remained intact so far. It’s very useful to keep your data safe and can even protect you in countries where censorship and site blocking are the norm.
OpenVPN is super speedy too, so it has a wide range of applications and won’t let you down. Does this protocol have any real downsides? Well, it can be a little tricky to set up if you’re not too experienced, but these days, you can find OpenVPN included as a protocol option with various VPN providers, so it shouldn’t be a problem for most people.
L2TP stands for “Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol” and it’s one of the older VPN protocols around, first being developed around the same time as PPTP, back in the 90s. It’s a widely-used and readily available protocol for all the big platforms. Interestingly, L2TP doesn’t actually do any encryption on its own.
Instead, it works together with another protocol called IPSec which does most of the encryption work. L2TP also makes use of a process called double encapsulation, and it offers support for the highest standards of 256-bit encryption algorithms, so it can stand right up at the top of the pile in terms of security.
L2TP is integrated directly into most operating systems, so it’s pretty easy to use, and there is no proof that it can be hacked by the NSA, but some leaks have suggested that it might have a few exploitable holes. So, overall, L2TP is a solid but unspectacular VPN protocol compared to something like OpenVPN.
Should I Use L2TP?
There’s certainly not a lot wrong with using L2TP; it’s simply that there are better options out there. On the plus side, this VPN protocol is really easy to set up and simple to configure too, and its widely compatible, allowing it to be comfortably used across an array of platforms, devices, and operating systems.
It offers good speeds and strong security, but it has some issues. There’s the aforementioned possibility of weaknesses in this protocol that might be exploited by intelligence agencies, along with the fact that it just isn’t quite as dependable or speedy as something like OpenVPN or SSTP. It’s good enough for casual use, but perhaps not for premium performance.
IKEv2 stands for “Internet Key Exchange Version 2” and like PPTP and SSTP, this protocol was partly developed by Microsoft, in conjunction with Cisco. As with L2TP, this VPN protocol has to be paired with IPSec, as it doesn’t offer any encryption on its own. So, you might also see this VPN listed or referred to as IKEv2/IPSec.
When paired with AES encryption, IKEv2 can be a very strong and reliable VPN protocol. It works natively on Windows from Windows 7 onwards, as well as working well on mobile devices like iPhones and Android, so it’s one of the better options for mobile VPN usage in general. Also, it’s one of the only VPN protocols available for Blackberry devices.
In general, this VPN protocol is aimed at mobile users and is able to offer secure, stable connections, even as you move around and connect to different networks and hotspots. It’s a good fit, therefore, for people who are out and about in public places and want to enjoy protection and privacy against hackers and trackers.
Should I Use IKEv2?
Overall, there’s plenty to like about IKEv2, especially if you’re someone who makes regular or heavy use of a mobile device on iOS or Android. It works nicely on computers too, but is really catered towards the mobile market. It’s a very secure and stable VPN protocol, easy to set-up and simple to get to grips with too.
On the downside, it can have some compatibility issues on certain platforms and isn’t able to offer quite the same speeds or security standards as something like OpenVPN. Its flaws are quite minimal overall though, so anyone using IKEv2 shouldn’t feel like they need to switch to something else.
VPN Encryption Protocols FAQs
Which VPN protocol is best?
This really depends on the platform and device you happen to be using, as well as what you’re using your VPN for, but in general, OpenVPN is considered to be the very best VPN protocol. It’s the fastest option and the most secure too. Plus, with regular auditing and a huge community of advanced users looking for improvements and loopholes, it’s always getting better as time goes by.
However, the best VPN protocol for you might be different, depending on your situation. If you’re on a Blackberry or other mobile device, for instance, IKEv2 might be the best option. Or if you’re at home on a Windows device and want a protocol that’s simple to set up for speedy streaming performance, PPTP or SSTP might be better.
Read more: How to watch American Netflix from anywhere
How do I choose a VPN type?
Choosing a VPN protocol can feel like a challenge at first, but it really all depends on what you want to do with your VPN. If you’re focused on casual use for streaming or downloading, for instance, super high standards of security won’t be so important to you, allowing you to focus primarily on the fastest VPN protocols like PPTP and IKEv2.
If, on the other hand, you want the utmost in security to protect your privacy and secure your data, even against intelligence agencies like the NSA, OpenVPN will be the strongest choice available to you. So, in order to choose a VPN protocol type, you need to think about what kinds of online activity you’re going to engage in and what levels of speed and security you need.
What VPN service is best for cybersecurity?
When it comes to security, VPNs like ExpressVPN and Cyber Ghost stand out ahead of the crowd. They offer a wide range of protocols for you to use, including the strongest options on the market. They also make use of the highest standards of encryption in order to keep your data safe, as well as coming with advanced features like kill switches to provide an extra layer of defense.
VPN protocols can seem quite confusing at first, with lots of terms and acronyms to confuse and bamboozle new users, and it can be rather tricky to tell them apart and figure out which one is right for you if you don’t know much about them. Hopefully, this guide will have helped you understand the key differences between the five major protocols and help you make the right choices for your future online security.
Not sure what VPN service is best for you? Check our best value VPNs