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VPN protocols A To Z Guide

October 20, 2021 - Reading time: 47 minutes

In a previous article, we commented that the VPN protocol is the language used by the VPN to encrypt information sent or received through the VPN. These determine how data is routed from our computer or device to the VPN server. In this article we will see which are the different protocols that exist and how they differ between them.

Different VPN protocols

PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol)

It's also called point-to-point tunnel protocol. It is the easiest VPN to set up, as all operating systems, including Windows, OS X and mobile operator systems will generally have it integrated. It was developed by several companies, such as Microsoft, for the creation of private networks. When we talk about VPN security we already indicate that the PPTP protocol is the weakest and most vulnerable of all the existing ones.

This type of protocol is generally used by free VPNs. This protocol is considered quite insecure and obsolete. It is not recommended to use it unless confidentiality is not a necessary aspect. As an advantage of PPTP we have that it offers high data transfer rates.

IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) and L2TP (Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol)

These VPNs are the most widely used and the most compatible, as they are much more secure than the PPTP protocol. They have higher levels of security, but are also more complex to configure. This protocol guarantees the confidentiality and integrity of the data.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer)

This tunnel protocol employs SSL (Secured Socket layer) technology, while making use of HTTPS protocol. You may already be using SSL, as this is the VPN protocol that banks and online stores began to use to secure payment information. Today it has spread to almost all websites. They are often described as "clientless" because you don't need to run a separate VPN program to use it. SSL VPNs only need a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox. This technology works on TCP port 443, allowing you to ignore some filters and go through firewalls.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a complete solution to create a private network using different open source technologies such as SSl/TLS. This connectivity solution is perhaps the most widespread at present and offers encryption and confidentiality during data transmission. It is capable of passing through firewall as it can work on port 443 simulating HTTPS web traffic. The only drawback is that it is not included in the default operating systems and you have to resort to third party applications.

Complete tunnel and divided tunnel

The best VPNs can use two types of connections: full tunnel or split tunnel.

Full Tunnel

In a full tunnel VPN, all data that is received and transmitted passes through the VPN connection or tunnel that has been established between the remote computer and the network or server to which it connects.

Split tunnel

In a split tunnel VPN (also called split tunneling), the VPN can be configured to transmit only certain data through the VPN.  For example, we may be interested in having the most confidential information sent via the VPN. However, other information without confidential data would not be sent via the VPN.

Having a split tunnel has two main advantages:

  1. We will have a faster and more efficient service, since we will use the VPN bandwidth only for confidential data. For other types of information or, for example, email, we do not need to use the VPN bandwidth.
  2. The traffic of confidential information can be completely segregated from the rest of the Internet traffic, improving security.
  3. VPN tunnels can be quite complex to configure, and are not available for all operating systems, nor do all VPN providers offer it.

Are free VPNs good?

There are many VPN providers and many of them offer a free service. However, we wonder about the level of speed, security, reliability and support they will offer us with the free services. We always look for economic or free services but in many occasions the saying is fulfilled that "the cheap thing is expensive" and it is worth to pay for a service that can be very useful to us.

 

Elements to consider in free VPN

Security

A key factor in choosing a VPN provider is security. Almost all free VPN services will offer a Point-to-PointTunnelling Protocol (PPTP). This protocol is the simplest to configure (in fact it is the type of VPN protocol that all operating systems have built in). However, it is also the least secure and certain PPTP flaws have sometimes been proven.

These free VPN connections have been shown to be vulnerable to attacks. However, paid VPNs offer many VPN protocols, including IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) and L2TP (Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol), which are more secure than PPTP.

Available bandwidth

Another aspect to consider is the bandwidth available in the VPN service. Free VPN connections are usually slow and of poor quality. On the other hand, paid VPNs, by receiving sufficient resources to invest in infrastructure and means, can offer us safer and faster connections. This would allow us, for example, to stream content without slowing down and without any drops in the connection.

Number of connection servers

Limiting the number of servers you can connect to when connecting via a VPN is another highlight that differentiates free VPNs from paid VPNs.

Technical Support

Paid services will always offer better customer service than free services. This is usually the case with most internet services, such as domains or web hosting. Support for free services generally does not exist and will require you to consult and resolve problems with the VPN. Paid services, on the other hand, offer integrated assistance to resolve any issue quickly. They usually offer very professional telephone support, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which will allow us to resolve any incident at the moment.

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