Have you had the experience of using a VPN to stream your favorite TV show, watch a movie, or play an exhilarating FPS multiplayer game, only for the VPN connection to keep dropping? There are a few reasons why your VPN disconnects frequently.
The following are the three most common ones.
- Issues with your protocol. Different VPN protocols are suitable for different circumstances because they have varying strengths and weaknesses.
- There may be a problem with your Windows, router, or third-party firewall.
- Internet connection. You may need to contact your ISP to find out if there is a problem with the connection they are providing.
Problems with the firewall can usually be resolved by changing a setting or getting a new firewall, and issues with the Internet connection may only be solved by your ISP. In this article, we offer a brief guide on VPN protocols in order for you to choose a provider that offers the right one for your needs, and to ensure that you know which one to use in different circumstances.
Major VPN Protocols
A VPN protocol is the technology that determines how your computer communicates with the VPN server. There are a variety of protocols, each with its own set of specifications that make it most suitable for certain circumstances. Some protocols are tailored for speed, for example, while others prioritize security and privacy. Here’s a look at five common protocols.
This protocol is of the open source variety, meaning users can examine its code and integrate it into other projects. Out of all the VPN protocols available, OpenVPN is the most important because, in addition to being an open source, it ranks among the highest in terms of security. People using OpenVPN can keep their data safe using impenetrable encryption technology (e.g., AES-256 bit key encryption), a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm, and 2048-bit authentication.
Not only is OpenVPN a highly secure VPN protocol, it’s also compatible with nearly all device platforms, including MacOS, Windows, Android, Linux, and iOS, among others. There is no Windows phone or Blackberry that isn’t compatible with OpenVPN.
This protocol has, however, received some criticism in the area of speed. A number of boosts have been implemented in the protocol as a result. However, if privacy and security are your primary concern, as they should be, then OpenVPN is an indispensable tool.
Among the most popular VPN protocols is Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP), a derivative of two other protocols: Microsoft’s PPTP and Cisco’s L2F. It is important to note, though, that this protocol itself offers no privacy or encryption.
When the L2TP protocol is used on VPN servers, it is often paired with the IPSec security protocol. The combination of L2TP and IPSec results in a VPN protocol that is ranked among the most secure. It relies on AES-256 bit encryption and there are no reports about vulnerabilities found in this protocol. (Some, however, allege that the NSA has compromised it.)
Even though the L2TP/IPSec VPN protocol has no known security vulnerabilities, some flaws have been reported. For example, on port 500, it defaults to using UDP, making traffic more easily identifiable and thus easier to block.
The Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is the third most widely used VPN protocol. One of its main advantages is its full integration with all Microsoft operating systems that came after Windows Vista Service Pack 1. Therefore, you can boost your security by integrating the SSTP VPN protocol with Winlogon or, even better, with a smart chip.
Moreover, a majority of leading VPN providers offer specific instructions for integrated Windows SSTP, which can be found on their websites. For encryption, SSTP uses 256-bit SSL keys, and for authentication, the protocol uses 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates, all of which make it exceedingly secure.
In essence, SSTP is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft. In other words, it’s not an open source technology that can be scrutinized by anyone. But that is not to say that it is not highly secure. This protocol has native support for Linux, Windows, and BSD systems. It uses third-party clients for iOS, MacOS, and Android.
Another VPN protocol developed by Cisco and Microsoft is Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2). On its own, it’s a tunneling protocol used to create a secure key encryption. For that reason, it’s often paired with IPSec (like its predecessor) for authentication and encryption.
It may not be as popular as the other VPN protocols mentioned above, but it is still widely used in VPN solutions for mobile technology. It is especially suitable for mobile use because it effectively reconnects whenever a temporary connection is lost, or in the event of a network switch, e.g. from mobile to Wi-Fi and back.
Like SSTP, the IKEv2 is proprietary technology that has native support for Blackberry and Windows. You can find open source implements for Android and Linux, but these are only available through third-party apps.
The main disadvantage of this protocol is that even though it is highly effective for mobile connections, it has been reported that the NSA is exploiting the flaws in IKE technology so as to undermine the traffic associated with IPSec. This underscores the importance of using open source, rather than proprietary technology, for security.
Of all the VPN protocols, Point-to-Point Tunneling protocol is among the oldest. There are still places where it is used. However, most VPN services upgraded to protocols that are more secure and faster long ago. Introduced in 1995, PPTP was integrated with Windows 95. It was aimed at working with dial-up connections and was very useful at the time.
However, there have been great advancements in VPN technology and PPTP is now considered the least secure option. Criminals and governments have long since cracked this technology, meaning that any data transmitted using it is not secure.
We’re not completely done with it though, because it still has the advantage of offering the best connection speed. This is a direct result of it not having the security features common among recent protocols. Therefore, users who are only interested in streaming Geo-restricted content will often use this protocol.
In brief, here are the five main protocols used by VPNs.
- OpenVPN: Open source; effective for all activities; most powerful encryption; not fast
- L2TP/IPSec: Impressive speeds; prone to being blocked because it typically uses a single port
- SSTP: Adequate security; not easy to detect and block
- IKEv2: Speedy; suitable for mobile; numerous open source implementations; likely compromised by the NSA
- PPTP: Speedy; widely supported; not secure; only suitable for basic web browsing and streaming
When choosing a VPN, give preference to the ones that offer a variety of protocols and avoid using free VPNs.