Previously, we have seen the general overview of a virtual private network and how do they contribute to our privacy when get connected to the internet. In this article, we’re about to have a brief walk-through over the list of available virtual private network (VPN) protocols. When you’re about to subscribe to a VPN service, you should know of the type of protocols used by a VPN provider, otherwise you are going to waste your hard-earned cash by using an outdated protocol that can be easily bypassed by the cyber-criminal and ISP‘s.
A VPN protocol is the process and instructions programmed by the VPN providers to provide security over the communications between the VPN client and the VPN servers. A VPN protocol often known as a mixture of transmission protocols and encryption algorithms.
As per 2019, a total of 6 identified VPN protocols offered by the VPN providers. These are, PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2, IPSec, SSTP and OpenVPN. Currently, the OpenVPN protocol was highly recommended, and only a few protocols identified will be a good alternative towards OpenVPN‘s are the SoftEther and Wireguard. The advantages of OpenVPN, SoftEther and Wireguard are, these protocols are open source and constantly receives bugs and security fixes.
Types of VPN Protocols
Point-to-Point Protocol (PPTP)
The oldest VPN protocol developed by Microsoft in the mid 90’s. Seemingly an old protocol, it is still in use, although the newer VPN protocol was introduced back then. It was embedded in Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system to work together with dial-up connections. Since it lacks of security features, this protocol offers a faster speed compared to OpenVPN. Adding the salt to the injury, the PPTP easily blocked by the firewall. PPTP is suitable to be used for general browsing and streaming sessions.
Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol – L2TP
L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. The L2TP is a direct successor to the PPTP and most preferred protocol. The L2TP was developed by Microsoft and Layer 2 Forwarding (L2F) by Cisco, however this protocol doesn’t offers an encryption, privacy and security. To overcome this vulnerability with this protocol, the L2TP often embedded with IPSec, another security protocol often generally labelled as L2TP/IPSec. When two protocols combined, it provides a secure connection and regarded as one of the most secure VPN protocols available. Similar with OpenVPN, the L2TP/IPSec uses 256-bit encryption and free from vulnerability, although recently, it was confirmed hacked by NSA in between the year 2002 and 2008 by breaking in Cisco’s security. Due to its disadvantages of defaults to using UDP port 500, this makes the traffic to be easier to be blocked. Looking at the bright side of using this protocol, the L2TP/IPSec is immune to man-in-the-middle attacks. The L2TP/IPSec can be used for general browsing, communications, p2p sessions (torrenting) and streaming activity thanks to its reliable speed offerings.
Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol – SSTP
Another popular VPN protocol, the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol or SSTP, was introduced by Microsoft embedded with Windows Vista. SSTP works best with Windows-based operating system. Due to designed by Microsoft, this protocol is a closed source. The SSTP protocol uses 256-bit SSL keys for encryption. For authentication purposes, the SSTP uses 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates. In other word, you will be needing roughly 4,294,967,296 x 1.5 million years to decode the 2048-bit SSL certificate, ensuring its reliability as one of the secure VPN protocols out there. The SSTP suitable for generic online browsing and open-media streaming activities. Thanks to its compatibility with Linux and BSD based systems, the SSTP is still to be considered as secure protocol. A third party clients needed to be supported on mobile platforms such as iOS and Android.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 – IKEv2
Developed by Microsoft and Cisco, the IKEv2 pairs with IPSec to enhance the speed, security, stability and better authentication rate. The IKEv2 often suitable for mobile connections due to its adroit of switching from Wi-Fi to mobile data when there is a temporary internet disruption. The IKEv2 is compatible with Windows, iOS, Blackberry devices and a third-party application needed to support Android platforms. Thanks to its open source implementations, the IKEv2 also compatible with Linux platforms.
OpenVPN is by far, the VPN protocol loved by many due to its open source based. Pen testers around the world can contribute to the development of the OVPN by finding bugs and fixing security loopholes. In the recent years, the OpenVPN is one of the must have VPN protocol for a VPN provider. Encrypted with SHA-2, 256-bit key encryption, the OVPN considered as the strongest secure protocol ever. Unlike SSTP that operates from port 443, the OVPN compatible with all ports by using both TCP and UDP protocols. Apart from providing a strong encryption, the only downside of this protocol, it slows down your internet bandwidth. The speed can be improved further by only implementing UDP protocol. Unlike its predecessor, the OVPN requires a third-party developed software to be used since it was not natively embedded in operating systems. The OpenVPN trades in speed to provide a stronger security and privacy over the internet. The OVPN compatible with Linux-based routers and making the process of setting up the protocol is plain easy with a proper guideline.
Each VPN protocol has its own purpose and has differences over one another. A VPN provider often allows you to switch in between the protocols to fit your needs. It is highly advisable to pick a right VPN provider that offers more than one protocol and highly recommended to pick the provider with OpenVPN protocol. Although OpenVPN always recommended as standard, protocols such as Wireguard is the future. Wireguard is currently undergoing experimental phase before massively made available for everyone.