Avast Academy Privacy VPN VPN Protocols Explained and Compared

VPN Protocols Explained and Compared

A virtual private network, or VPN, follows a set of protocols that dictate the transmission of internet data through the network. But different VPN protocols offer varying levels of speed, security, and reliability. Keep reading to learn what exactly VPN protocols are, how they work, and how different protocols compare to one another. Then, install a VPN that uses bank-grade encryption and reliable protocols to secure your privacy online.

Written by Emily Nemchick
Published on September 22, 2023

What is a VPN protocol?

A VPN protocol is the set of rules that govern how data moves between a VPN server and devices connected to it. Every VPN uses a form of encryption to achieve a secure, private connection, but the rules and procedures for creating this connection are established by a particular protocol, each with its own pros and cons.

An infographic showing how a VPN works.

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This Article Contains :

    The most common VPN protocols

    Some of the main VPN protocols include OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2P2, PPTP, WireGuard, and SSTP. Some protocols prioritize speed, while others emphasize ironclad security and privacy. While everyone needs a VPN to protect their privacy and security, especially on public Wi-Fi networks, which VPN is best for you depends on your most common online activities.

    Let’s look at the different types of VPN protocols you’re likely to encounter, and their strengths and weaknesses:


    OpenVPN is a cryptographic protocol that emphasizes security. It’s open source, so users can check for themselves that there’s nothing within the protocols that will compromise their security, and it’s even possible for tech-savvy users to make modifications. OpenVPN is a widely compatible protocol that offers multiple different configuration options.


    • Extremely secure: OpenVPN offers robust security protocols and supports strong encryption that will keep your data safe and secure.

    • Transparent: OpenVPN is open source, meaning users can read the source code and see exactly how it works — and reassure themselves that there are no vulnerabilities.

    • Versatile: OpenVPN is widely compatible and customizable, meaning that you can fine-tune it to your specific requirements.

    • Easy to bypass firewalls: Sometimes, firewalls can interfere with VPN network access, but OpenVPN is designed to avoid this kind of conflict.


    • Complicated to use: Setting up a VPN protocol as versatile and customizable as OpenVPN from scratch can be a challenge if you don’t use a VPN app.

    IPSec / IKEv2

    Internet key exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is often used in combination with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). IKEv2 forges a secure tunnel connecting the user to the VPN server, while IPSec provides the encryption and authentication.

    IKEv2 was developed by Microsoft and Cisco and is intended primarily for mobile, allowing mobile users to maintain a VPN connection even when switching networks or alternating between a secured Wi-Fi network and mobile data.


    • Fast: IKEv2 is among the fastest VPN protocols around, making it attractive for VPN users who prioritize speed and streaming.

    • Stable: IKEv2 is among the most dependable protocols, providing a strong connection to the VPN even when the internet momentarily drops, meaning you don’t have to constantly check if your VPN is working.

    • Mobile friendly: Because it offers swift reconnection during an unstable connection, IKEv2 is ideal for mobile usage, where the user might frequently switch networks.


    • Limited compatibility: Although some open-source versions are available for other platforms, IKEv2 was primarily designed for Windows users.

    • NSA controversy: Previous claims that the NSA has exploited flaws in the IPSec protocol to spy on encrypted communications have raised serious questions about IPSec’s security.


    Like IKEv2, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) connects a user to the VPN server but does not include encryption, so it’s often paired with IPSec to provide connection, encryption, and security all rolled into one. It’s a secure but slightly slower option that isn’t as mobile-friendly as IKEv2.


    • Availability: L2TP is supported by most VPN providers and computing platforms, making it a readily available option.

    • Approachability: L2TP is simple and easy to use.

    • Secure: Because it can be paired with various encryption protocols, L2TP is generally a secure option.


    • Slow: L2TP is on the slow side compared to other VPN protocol options.

    • NSA controversy: Like IKEv2, the L2TP VPN protocol is potentially compromised when paired with IPSec encryption, as the NSA has allegedly found a way to decrypt the protocol.

    • Struggles with firewalls: VPNs using the L2TP protocol struggle to bypass firewalls, meaning users might not be able to unblock websites or access certain systems.


    PPTP stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. It’s an older VPN protocol originally designed by Microsoft for dial-up internet connections in the ‘90s. PPTP is rarely used today, as there are far more secure options with stronger, more complex forms of encryption that keep data protected.


    • Speed: Its relatively simplistic security protocols mean PPTP offers a fast connection speed. This makes it a good option for users who are less concerned with security but who use a VPN for streaming TV shows or gaming.

    • Easy to set up: Thanks to its simplicity, PPTP is a breeze to set up and does not require any additional encryption software.

    • Compatibility: PPTP is supported by most platforms.


    • Not secure: Compared to modern VPN protocols, PPTP does not offer a high level of security. The protocol’s encryption can be cracked by a person with the right tools, leaving your data vulnerable.


    Like OpenVPN, WireGuard is an open-source VPN protocol. It’s a relatively new option with promising performance, but it’s still under development and is something of a work in progress.


    • Speed: Efficient encryption and high performance make WireGuard one of the fastest VPN protocol options available.

    • Streamlined: Like OpenVPN, WireGuard’s code is available for users to scrutinize, but it’s considerably more streamlined, making it far easier for users to check for any weaknesses.

    • Secure: WireGuard offers a high level of security.

    • Compatibility: Whatever computing platform you use, it’s likely compatible with WireGuard.

    • Great for mobiles: WireGuard uses lower bandwidth, making it an ideal solution for mobile.


    • New: Because of its newness, WireGuard could benefit from further testing before users can fully rely on its security.

    • Problematic default: The default protocol leaves the user’s IP address static, which is a potential privacy concern.


    Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a Microsoft-developed protocol intended for Windows users. Its speed and security are on par with other popular VPN protocols, but its lack of compatibility means it’s less widely used.


    • Secure: SSTP offers strong security and encryption.

    • Hard to block: SSTP is good at getting past firewalls, so it allows access to sites that may be blocked in the user’s country.


    • Compatibility: SSTP is only compatible with a handful of computing platforms.

    • Closed source: SSTP code is not open source and cannot be viewed or audited, making it impossible for users to check for potential vulnerabilities.

    What's the best VPN protocol to use?

    The best VPN protocol to use really depends on your needs and preferences. Speed is a valuable aspect of a VPN protocol for streaming TV, movies, music, and other content and gaming. But users who do online shopping and banking would benefit more from better security. For mobile users, stability and low bandwidth are important factors to consider.

    Compatibility is another consideration. Windows users have a wider selection of options, but users of other platforms might want to choose an open-source VPN to avoid compatibility issues. Finally, not all VPN protocols are easy to use, so a novice selecting their own VPN protocol might be better off choosing one that is more user-friendly.

    IPSec vs OpenVPN

    Both IPSec and OpenVPN combine security and speed, with IPSec offering a slightly faster connection, while OpenVPN is considered the more secure option. IPSec wins for ease of use because it’s already built into many platforms, meaning it doesn’t require separate installation. But OpenVPN offers more powerful security and is the preferred VPN protocol for many of the best VPNs.

    PPTP vs OpenVPN

    PPTP has the advantage of speed but is otherwise inferior to OpenVPN due to weak security and a number of major vulnerabilities. For this reason, it’s considered obsolete and rarely used any longer, while OpenVPN offers excellent security and is widely used.

    IKEv2 vs OpenVPN

    IKEv2 and OpenVPN are both solid choices when it comes to speed, security, and reliability. IKEv2 has the edge when it comes to speed and is a better choice for mobile devices due to its stability. However, OpenVPN is the stronger option if security is the top priority, and it still offers a fast connection.

    L2TP vs OpenVPN

    OpenVPN is a stronger and more secure option than L2TP, which is tied to some security concerns and is somewhat outdated. OpenVPN has the benefit of greater speed and security, but users might find L2TP more user-friendly than the more complex OpenVPN.

    IKEv2 vs WireGuard

    WireGuard and IKEv2 are both ideal options for mobile users, as their stability allows users to change networks without causing the VPN to disconnect. WireGuard is a newer option that still has some issues to iron out, but as an open-source protocol, it’s more widely available than IKEv2, which has limited compatibility. Both options offer excellent speed.

    Which VPN protocol is the fastest?

    The fastest VPN protocol is PPTP, but this protocol is outdated, and its weak security could leave your data vulnerable. Unless speed is the only quality you require, PPTP is not recommended.

    WireGuard is a great option for users who value speed but also want to keep their data protected, and IKEv2 and OpenVPN are other fast options that offer good security. Bear in mind that the VPN server location can also influence speed.

    What is the most popular VPN protocol?

    OpenVPN is the most widely used VPN protocol. Although it can be complex for first-time users to set up, the majority of VPN client providers use OpenVPN, removing the need for the user to set it up from scratch themselves. OpenVPN is a popular choice thanks to its strong security and compatibility with most computing platforms.

    What is the most secure VPN protocol?

    OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol and the safest choice thanks to its near-unbreakable encryption, which keeps users’ data private even when using public Wi-Fi. Because it’s open source, users can check the source code for vulnerabilities and reassure themselves that there are no weaknesses in its security.

    Summarizing the differences between VPN Protocols

    Here’s an overview of the main VPN protocols’ key features:






    Very strong


    Very high



    Very fast








    Very fast



    Very strong

    Very fast






    Get a powerful, lightning-fast VPN for any device

    A robust VPN is essential for protecting your personal data and maintaining your privacy online. Avast SecureLine VPN uses the OpenVPN protocol along with WireGuard support to offer full flexibility, airtight privacy, and impenetrable security.

    Download a world-class, easy-to-use VPN today to keep your online activity private, access the content you love, and maintain a speedy connection.

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    Emily Nemchick