A VPN or a virtual private network is a program that provides security and privacy to your internet activities while you are online. It establishes a protected network connection by encrypting your internet traffic and sending it through a secret tunnel to a secure server for further processing.
Connecting to a remote VPN server allows accessing a network from a remote location and the encryption process hides your IP address from the public and makes you anonymous. Thus, you can easily access geo-restricted websites without revealing your identity to your ISP or anybody else snooping over the internet.
What is a VPN Protocol?
The VPN encryption protocols are basically sets of instructions that decide the transmission and security of data over the network. They decide how internet traffic moves between the device and the VPN server and vice versa. These are used by VPN providers to provide fast, stable, and secure connections to VPN users.
Each VPN protocol offers its own unique set of features, strengths, weaknesses, security, stability, speed, compatibility, and ease of use. When you are thinking of getting a VPN for yourself, you must analyze your needs against the offerings of different VPN protocols and the scenarios in which they are best employed.
It was in 1996 when a Microsoft employee developed the PPTP or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. It formed a secure connection between a device and the internet. In PPTP, “tunneling” refers to the way one algorithm is encapsulated in another one. The point-to-point protocol is wrapped inside the TCP/IP protocol, which provides the internet connection. Therefore, the PPTP connection makes a direct link between a device and a VPN server.
Though it was a very fast VPN at that time, PPTP compromised security due to a lack of good encryption technology. However, back then, the digital landscape wasn’t as complex as it is today. Hence, even though PPTP had a lot of vulnerabilities, thanks to its good speed, it thrived in the market to provide basic VPN protection for businesses.
L2TP or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol came in 1999 with the joint collaboration of Microsoft’s PPTP and Cisco’s L2F (Layer 2 Forwarding Protocol). The L2TP uses a two-layer encapsulation process. The tunnel is created by encapsulating an L2TP frame in a UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packet which is further enclosed in an IP packet. This IP packet contains the information of the IP address, using which the end-points of communication within a network are decided.
Again, just like PPTP, L2TP offered good speed but lacked the security that was required during the 2000s. The cyber threats were increasing exponentially and so was the need to protect the internet activities.
IKEv1 and IKEv2
Internet Key Exchange or IKE is a protocol that manages the secure exchange of encryption and decryption keys or authentication keys in the IPSec tunnels.
When someone uses a VPN to access the internet over a device, it encrypts the internet traffic that travels between the device and the VPN server, which is then decrypted when it reaches the server. The process follows when there’s a packet of information that travels from the server to the device. The encryption and decryption processes happen with the help of these keys which are sent over a secure tunnel.
Both IKEv1 and IKEv2 work by managing authentication keys. However, IKEv2 is faster, more feature-rich, and more secure than IKEv1. That’s because, it uses advanced technology and algorithms, and state-of-the-art ciphers like AES and ChaCha20, making it better in every way as compared to IKEv1.
IPSec or Internet Protocol Security is basically a tunnel developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It is a set of standards that supports communication in the form of data packets transported between IP addresses across networks. It is generally used as a hybrid protocol along with L2TP and IKEv2, rather than being used standalone.
Though IKEv2 works on authentication, it doesn’t provide encryption by itself. Therefore, a hybrid protocol IKEv2/IPSec works great by combining a secure tunnel for the exchange of encryption keys. Due to its simple architecture, it offers decent security with fast speeds.
L2TP offers a double layer of protection with its 2-layer encapsulation method. Therefore, it is highly secure. However, two layers of encapsulation significantly reduce connection speeds, making it inefficient for streaming or gaming. Nevertheless, if security is your main concern, this is a good protocol to be used.
OpenVPN is one of the latest protocols that are used for securing modern-day internet connections. It is both, a protocol as well as software that provides secure point-to-point site-to-site connections.
What makes it highly responsive to the current digital landscape is its open-source nature. This means, OpenVPN isn’t owned by any company. Its source code is available for anyone out there who wants to make a change and improve its functionality.
It works on both TCP and UDP forms of data transmission methods. While TCP is more stable but offers less speeds, UDP is much faster. OpenVPN works great with UDP and thus, it first tries to establish a connection with UDP. In case the connection attempt fails, it works with the TCP protocol for data transmission. The fact that it can choose the best transmission methods, makes it conducive for VPNs.
WireGuard is the most advanced protocol in the VPN world. It’s faster, more stable, and more secure than any other protocols till now. Just like OpenVPN, WireGuard is also an open-source protocol with just about 4,000 lines of code, leaving fewer areas of vulnerabilities.
It only supports UDP, which makes it faster than OpenVPN because it doesn’t waste time checking for connections with TCP. Moreover, since UDP doesn’t use handshake protocols, it further enhances the speeds of some of the best VPNs with WireGuard protocol.
With increasing risks of cyber attacks, online snoopers, hackers, and several other threats, protocols used for providing security and privacy to internet traffic have also changed. From PPTP to WireGuard, technology has changed a lot. And, it is only going to become more secure, faster, and better with time.