Alex Williams
Alex Williams  โ€”

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what are vpn protocols badgeFrom PPTP, Wireguard, L2TP, to SSTP ... the many different VPN protocols can and get confusing. ๐Ÿคช Know which ones to use.

Before we jump into a more comprehensive look, check out this quick summary list:

  • โ˜‘๏ธ OpenVPN comes with all the best UK VPNs
  • โ˜‘๏ธ L2TP/IPSec is the second/most popular option
  • โ˜‘๏ธ SSTP is a decent alternative for Windows OS
  • โ˜‘๏ธ PPTP sits at the fourth and final position, which we only recommend if no others are viable
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Wireguard seems to have greater performance, but it needs time to be really tested

OK then, let’s get into what VPN protocols are.

VPN Protocols Explained - Top Tip โญ - Know what makes a great free VPN UK - it’s not what you think!

Table of Contents:

VPN Protocols Explained

What is a VPN Protocol? ๐Ÿค”

When you grab an awesome (hopefully cheap) VPN for UK use, along with it comes security protocols. learn more about the best cheap VPNs in the UK.

Think of security protocols as instructions your connection must run through, in order to exchange data on a public network with the prerequisite assurance.

The type of protocols depends on the network layer. Protocols encrypt your connection via conversions of network layers. Tunneling is used for this.

You think of your VPN as a long tunnel, shielding you from outside eyes, creating a barrier between the two connection points that form when you use the internet.

There’s no such thing as an awesome free VPN - UK or elsewhere. Always pay for your online security.

Related: How to Test Your VPN

Why Use a VPN Protocol?

If you don't want to be monitored, a VPN lets you transfer browsing information between your device and the VPN server cutting out third-parties. If you didn’t use this system, you would be directly accessing the hosting server of whatever website you are visiting.

This means you would have to rely on the safeguards in place of random website hosts. Added to that, IP addresses are readily visible this way, allowing governments, advertising agencies, and hackers to see who you are and your location.

Why use a VPN protocol you ask? A VPN gives you anonymity. While every VPN protocol has distinct qualities, all offer some level of safeguarding against snoopers.

For a VPN to qualify as a virtual private network, it must offer sensible speeds. As well offer some protection from snoopers - whether the optimal VPN for streaming UK / abroad, or a top-performing budget UK VPN option.

6 Major VPN Types and When to Use Them

You can get these things from hopefully any protocol, though in different ratios

  • โ˜‘๏ธ Browsing security
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Uptime & stability
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Ability to download
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Multi-device compatibility
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Fast VPN UK connections

Let's have a look at protocols that achieve the above:

  1. IPSec
  2. L2TP
  3. PPTP
  4. OpenVPN
  5. SSTP
  6. WireGuard

1. IPSec - Internet Security Protocol ๐Ÿ‘ฎ

Watch Netflix with VPNThis is also known as Internet Protocol Security. With this protocol, your personal records are kept out of sight from host-to-host communications and the full network gateway.

Whenever you go online, your network keeps a track of your IP address. This end-to-end user tracking carries information about your identity, possibly including your name and geolocation.

The best VPN UK has to offer for streaming / foreign versions of Netflix have great geoblocking optimizations (they let you watch any country’s version of Netflix).

How IPSec Works?

Internet Protocol Security protects your IP from being tracked. Your information is encrypted, and the only way to reveal it would be through decryption via a public or private key.

This organization structure holds onto your data unless the prerequisite assurance is delivered. In other words, your connection is private.

To get more technical, the information transmitted between the VPN server and your device is fragmented into different packets.

These packets each individually must be decrypted through the proper assurance methods. There are two encryption options, which can run simultaneously:

  • โ˜‘๏ธ Tunnel mode - hides the movement of your information
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Transfer mode - encrypts the information itself

2. L2TP - Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol ๐Ÿš‡

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol protects the whole network, like a shell or shield. L2TP actually works with encryption protocols such as OpenVPN, in order to offer a full solution.

Alone, this is simply the tunneling side of things... In other words, when you use a protocol such as IPSec or OpenVPN, L2TP is dealing with the hiding of the connection channel itself.

James bond exampleA bit like James Bond’s invisible car stealth mode.

Whether the James Bond example is superior to the giant invisible hover-ship - seen in the Avengers - is fair sport.

You can literally think of this protocol as a tunnel. It connects two points; your VPN server and your device.

How L2TP Works?

Rather than your device dealing with the hosting server of the website you are visiting, that information is privately channelled inside L2TP.

For sure, when you use a premium UK VPN with this capability, you know that - not only is your IP address being hidden - the connection between the network you are visiting and your device’s network is private.

It’s like you were never there.

Once again, L2TP uses data packets, which are transferred between the two networks or peers. In technical terms, the tunneling protocol creates tunnel generation sessions once a request is made by a peer.

Once this tunnel is consolidated, two-way traffic - between the two locations - can happen in total confidentiality, without any worry of being watched over.

3. PPTP - Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol ๐Ÿ”บ

PPTP IconPPTP is short for Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol. This has been around since the 90s, thanks to Microsoft.

It's actually popularly used by streamers wanting to access location-restricted content. Also because you get fast VPN UK connection speeds.

Additionally, this security type is simple to program inside your VPN. You should find this protocol available in whatever VPN provider you choose.

VPN Protocols Explained - Top Tip โญ

Steer clear of VPN providers who exclusively offer PPTP. Though it's not bad for streaming Tiger King on Netflix, the security is hardly reliable.

Furthermore, the NSA - aka the National Surveillance Agency, who HostingData would prefer didn't have their eyes on your info - have almost certainly cracked the protocol, rendering it pointless in this regard.

Firewalls have little trouble blocking PPTP, in the majority of cases. Some VPN providers rely on PPTP, but security is poor.

How PPTP Works?

While Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol is one of the oldest VPN protocols around, the landscape has changed a great deal since it was needed to safeguard dial-up connections.

Long ago, its encryption system was cracked, meaning that any hacker worth his or her salt will eat into this measure like a ham and mayo sandwich. If you don't need a great deal of encryption, perhaps go for this one.

Still, don’t get tricked by supposed great free VPNs… These are not made the same as free web hosts.

๐ŸŒŸ Climb to the top of this article, to the Top Tip - for a list of the VPNs you should go for. ๐ŸŒŸ

4. OpenVPN - A Fan Favorite ๐ŸฅŽ

security iconThis open-source protocol is very popular among VPN users. By open source, we mean developers can gain entry into its core code.

The security level is extreme and it can be configured to a high degree, with compatibility on a diverse number of platforms.

Since the (theoretically, almost unbreakable) AES 256-bit encryption, together with 2048-bit RSA authentication - and finally, 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm - became available, this protocol became one of the gold standards.

OpenVPN is not easily blocked by firewalls, because it merges with typical HTTP/SSL connections very effectively.

Apologies for the millionth Avengers reference on this site - just a visual reference for you to intuit how much stealth this protocol offers its users. Some of this can get technical.

How OpenVPN Works?

On the subject of technicalities, here are a few notables: OpenVPN can perform via any port, which includes the 443 HTTPS port. It can also run on both the TCP and UDP protocols.

While it has excellent security levels, with the strongest level of encryption ciphers available, the processing required for this can slow down your connection a tad.

You will not reach the same speeds as with PPTP. But a workaround could be to choose the UDP protocol with OpenVPN, as it typically runs quicker.

Another possible drawback is that OpenVPN needs third-party software to be used. It is not a native part of any operating system or device platform.

Configuring OpenVPN - while offering lots of custom possibilities - can be a little bit tricky. You can let the third-party software handle this automatically.

5. SSTP - Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol ๐Ÿ’€

VPN shield iconSecure Socket Tunneling Protocol is also a popular solution. This is partly because it is fully integrated into the Microsoft operating system, and has been since Windows Vista SP 1.

That's not to say it doesn't work elsewhere. SSTP is compatible with Linux and Android

Compared to PPTP, this is a substantial step up in security. SSTP operates at the highest AES 256-bit encryption level, with SSL keys, and 2048-bit TLS/SSL certificates for authentications.

Microsoft owns this software, so it is unfortunately not open-source for developers to access. But it is extremely good at sidestepping attempts for it to be censored or blocked - similar to OpenVPN.

How SSTP Works?

In fact, SSTP VPN and OpenVPN protocols both use SSL 3.0, which runs through the HTTPS traffic port number 443. Despite being very difficult to block - as well as to be detected - and the great compatibility, OpenVPN is more popular because it is open-source and not owned by a big company like Microsoft.

As a quick rundown of the pros and cons, you get the highest level of encryption with SSTP. It is easily configurable. And you get good speeds, largely superior to OpenVPN.

The main disadvantage is that it is closed-source. Its owner, Microsoft, are also known to work with the NSA.

Finally, you may find more dropped connections, due to the fact that the SSTP header is visible by network admins, because of the lack of compatibility with authenticated web proxies. And the “TCP meltdown” problem can occur with this, as there is no option for UDP protocols

6. WireGuard - Stay Cool ๐Ÿ˜Ž

website builder securityAs mentioned in the intro, WireGuard is the new kid on the block. This is the newest VPN protocol on the list, and it offers great potential.

WireGuard’s original conception was as a replacement to IPSec. So far, it's touted to be quicker and lighter on its feet, as well as being open-source.

This open-source feature means it's less likely to have security risks.

Many independent eyes are free to analyze it for any flaws. This low risk-probability is compacted by the fact that it uses one cryptographic suite.

We can't yet hold this up as a new champion, as it's still under construction, with a way to go. Some work is needed to make this compatible cross-platform. For now, you can only use this if you operate a Linux OS.

Stability issues are also present. More developmental construction needs to be done to get a stable version out. Because it is so promising, some VPN providers are using WireGuard already, nevertheless.

As a summary of what this protocol potentially promises: We are hoping for high-level security, with superior performance even to the likes of IPSec and OpenVPN. Lastly, it has an intuitive user interface.

FAQs: For the Extra-Curious ๐Ÿ˜ธ

What Is A VPN | How Is It Different From A VPN Protocol? ๐Ÿค 

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. This lets you connect to a VPN network when surfing the internet, rather than connecting to a website’s host server. The session is private.

There are three main types of VPNs:

  • โ˜‘๏ธ Client-Based VPN ๐Ÿ‘จ‍๐Ÿ’ผ - A private connection is established between a remote server and a single user
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Remote Access VPN ๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍๐Ÿš€ - This lets you connect to a home or business network, but from a remote location.
  • โ˜‘๏ธ Site-to-site VPN ๐Ÿค - Sometimes called router-to-router VPNs. Mostly, corporations use these when they have offices around the world. It creates an intranet.

A good VPN will offer several protocols. Avoid those that ONLY offer PPTP - which many so-called great free UK VPNs do!

The Fastest VPN Protocol Around? ๐Ÿ†

Let's say you want to get the fastest Netflix speeds possible at high resolutions. Then PPTP would be the fastest VPN protocol available.

Problem is, its encryption level is poor. By comparison, L2TP and IKEv2I also have good speeds but better encryption levels.

Go with PPTP for simply top speeds.

But for the fastest - as well as secure - choose IKEv2. The fastest VPN UK users have on offer use this option.

If you are looking for a good VPN for Netflix, take a look at our list for the best VPN for Netflix.

The Most Secure VPN Protocol Around? ๐Ÿ’‚๐Ÿฝ‍โ™€๏ธ

On the opposite end from PPTP is OpenVPN. While PPTP offers poor encryption levels, OpenVPN gives you the highest-grade encryption possible. Digital certificates are used to authenticate your connections.

PPTP will provide the weakest level security while streaming or browsing online. L2TP and IKEv2 are somewhere in the middle, as they use twice-over data encapsulation procedures for securing your connection.

Finally, SSTP is also a strong security protocol. However, this is only available for the Windows OS at this moment in time.

Go with OpenVpn for the most secure connection.

Best VPN Protocol Choice for P2P File-Sharing? ๐Ÿ’Œ

Before we launch into the rest of this guide, what about using VPNs for downloading security and speedily? Once again, PPTP will give you the fastest download speeds but only the basic 128-bit encryption level. This is scarcely enough for peace of mind.

On the other hand, L2TP and IKEv2 use the highest 256-bit encryption levels, via IPSec. L2tp has speeds that tilt on the sluggish side of things, however. IKEv2, meanwhile, is not available on every platform, particularly older ones.

Our VPN review team recommends OpenVPN - once again - as the best option that combines military-grade security with optimal speeds. You’ll get 256-bit encryption levels, which makes it an ideal VPN protocol option for P2P file-sharing.

NordVPN is our top choice and it uses OpenVPN - you can get it here.

Secure vs Trusted VPNs ๐Ÿ—๏ธ

There are fewer Trusted VPNs around these days. Mostly, corporations used them to allow their employees to access private files held by the company, rather than for internet surfing. Nowadays, most businesses would not even use them for this purpose.

An encrypted connection is critical, in order to secure information. “Hybrid VPNs” are quite common nowadays. These use a mixture of secure connections and trusted VPN dedicated-line configurations. A VPN is only considered a hybrid if it offers clients dedicated IP addresses.