The Different Protocols of VPNs and How They Work

Due to the increasing popularity of VPNs, hundreds have spawned on the Internet. Even if we count only the reputable ones, barring all the free/lifetime subscription VPNs, there’s still tens, if not hundreds of them!

And it’s easy to dismiss each one as being the same as the other, only offering minor changes in aesthetic or ease of use, however, different VPNs use different security protocols that affect its, and by extension your, security.

I decided it would be a good idea to go over each of these protocols and find out how each one operates so that you can make a more informed decision about which VPN is right for you.


Let’s start with one of the most popular protocols, L2TP. L2TP, standing for Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, which can be defined as the “upgrade” from PPTP, Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. I won’t be going over PPTP; just keep in mind that PPTP was one of the first VPN protocols.

L2TP actually builds upon PPTP. One thing to note, however, is that L2TP isn’t secure by itself. By itself, there’s no reason to use L2TP over PPTP or any other VPN protocol.

That’s where IPSec steps in.

IPsec allows L2TP to take advantage of the better security it provides, though the combination results in a protocol slightly slower than other, popular VPN protocols. However, with its ability to support 256-nit session keys and strong encryption, it’s a popular choice.

L2TP VPNs are extremely common, and most VPN companies support it right out of the gate, so don’t worry about not being able to find the perfect L2TP VPN.


When talking about modern VPNs, many opt to use OpenVPN as their primary protocol due to its speed, performance, and ease of use.

OpenVPN shares similar characteristics to L2TP/IPSec, such as using 256-bit encryption keys, but what separates OpenVPN is its availability. What do I mean by “availability”?

Unlike most other VPN protocols, OpenVPN is open-source, meaning anyone can download the source files and put their own spin on the software. You can even head to their website and download verified versions made by other users.


The next protocol is called IKEv2, standing for Internet Key Exchange Version 2. Developed by Microsoft and Cisco, IKEv2 focuses on mobile VPNs instead of the usual home VPN.

Not saying you can’t use IKEv2 at home or other VPNs on-the-go, but IKEv2 was developed with phones/tablets/etc. in mind. While it’s not the best protocol, it’s still a great mobile solution for many VPNs, which is why most major VPN companies support the protocol.


Like IKEv2, SSTP, Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol, was developed by Microsoft and Cisco. However, unlike IKEv2 being developed for mobile devices, SSTP was developed for Microsoft products. Sure, other platforms can use it via third-party clients, but only Windows comes with native support.

Well, there’s one exception: Linux. Yes, Linux supports SSTP natively, which is quite surprising, but good nonetheless.

SSTP is blazing fast, so its popularity reaches far across the VPN market.

VPN-Exclusive Protocols

Some VPN companies offer their own twist on VPN protocols, these exclusive protocols typically promising better performance and speeds than your typical protocols.

Of course, these claims vary in honesty, though it’s not my place to determine which ones are worthwhile, and which ones deserve to be thrown in the trash. That decision is all up to you and your research.


Once you stick to the reputable VPNs, there aren’t really any bad choices. However, there may be bad choices depending on what you need the VPN for, where you’ll need it, and what devices will be using the VPN.

To ensure you subscribe to the right VPN, make sure to read over the protocols the VPN supports and check to see whether their “exclusive” protocol works as well as they advertise. After that, it’ll all be smooth sailing from there. Congratulation on your new VPN!

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