If you’re thinking about investing in a VPN (Virtual Private Network) you might think there is a lot of information to take in. You may find yourself confused by all the technical jargon or how it all works. You’ll have noticed that different VPNs have different protocols, which can be a little hard to digest to the VPN novice. When you pick a VPN it is important to consider these technologies to decide which one will suit your requirements.

Here’s a (hopefully approachable) breakdown of the differences on VPN protocols.

PPTP

Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol is the most common VPN protocol. This is widely supported for Windows users as it was created by Microsoft. This is available as standard on just about every VPN platform, making it easy to set up. It also requires a low computational overhead to implement, which means (for you VPN novices) that it is quick.

However, the PPTP was developed using 128-bit encryption keys which has since become quite weak in today’s ever advancing digital world. There have been some security vulnerabilities, most of todays VPNs use a 256-bit security encryption.

L2TP

Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol does not provide encryption and relies on PPP (Point-to-Point protocol) to do this. The difference between PPTP and L2TP is that the second one provides data confidentiality and data integrity. L2TP was built by Microsoft with Cisco as a foundation of PPTP and L2F (Layer 2 Forwarding) combined.

This VPN protocol is built to all modern operating systems and VPN devices. It’s also effortless to set up, however there are problems that can arise, this technology uses UDP port 500, which can be blocked by NAT firewalls.

L2TP/IPsec encapsulates data twice which can compromise on speed, but encryption/decryption happens in the kernel and L2TP/IPsec which enables multi-threading (OpenVPN does not) and as a result, is faster.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is somewhat new technology, one big advantage is that it’s highly configurable and can easily bypass firewalls. It runs best on a UDP port and can set to operate on any port. It uses 128-bit block size rather than Blowfish’s 64-bit block size, which means it can handle larger files better.

The performance speed does depend on the level of encryption employed. It has become the default VPN connection type, but it requires third-party software support. It’s also little hard to set up which can be frustrating for the new VPN user.

IKEv2

Internet Key Exchange (version 2) is an IPSec based tunnelling protocol that was developed by Microsoft and Cisco. IKEv2 is good at re-establishing a VPN connection when users temporarily lose their internet connections.

Mobile users benefit from using IKEv2 because of its support for the Mobility and Multi-homing (MOBIKE) protocol, great is you want to connect your phones to a Wi-Fi network while at home but switch to mobile data use when out and about.

It’s faster than PPTP and L2TP as it does not use the overhead associated with Point-to-Point protocols (PPP). Stable and secure, easy to set up and fully supportive of Blackberry devices which can be useful for business users.

Whichever VPN protocol you favor, all of our recommended VPN services offer hundreds of servers around the globe that use a variety of protocols. Find out more by checking our VPN comparison tool.

Maria Novak
Our senior reviewer, Maria, has been tinkering with computers since a childhood spent in her father’s workshop. Her passion for technology – and her ability to explain complex concepts in an approachable way – is unequaled. She is a regular contributor to the Top 5 VPN blog.
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