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What Is a VPN Protocol?

Shayna Waltower
Shayna Waltower
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 07, 2022

VPN protocols can help you control how you secure and transmit your network data.

  • A VPN protocol uncovers how data is transmitted to and from your VPN network.
  • It’s crucial to understand the various types of VPN protocols and their features so you know which ones are compatible with your operating system.
  • Assess your company’s network priorities to determine which protocol meets your company’s needs while traveling for business or working remotely.
  • This article is for business leaders and IT administrators who want to learn about VPN protocols for their company’s network.

When looking for a virtual private network (VPN) provider for your company, consider the protocols it offers. When comparing the best VPN services, you’ll most likely encounter five VPN protocol types you may be unfamiliar with – unless you have in-depth IT experience. 

We’ll explain VPN protocols and how to choose one that works for your business.

What is a VPN protocol?

A VPN protocol is a set of instructions that determines how a VPN and its server connect, communicate and securely interact. The protocol controls data encryption and transmission standards to govern how securely and efficiently a VPN service operates while away from the office.

Did you know?Did you know?: VPNs are an excellent way to ensure cybersecurity during business travel because they encrypt your data and mask your location.

How do VPN protocols work?

VPN protocols use encapsulation to send and receive data to and from your device and your company’s internet server. In this process, the protocol gives the VPN network instructions on concealing data packets inside other packets. This concealing masks the real data – the information inside the other packet – from the internet server.

Protocols allow you to set the standards for how your VPN will authenticate and encrypt your confidential data. Even if you didn’t tweak your VPN protocol’s settings, your protocol would still protect your online activity and business networks during remote sessions.

Key TakeawayFYI: When businesses collect data like personally identifiable information (PII), they must secure that data – or risk being sued if it’s shared.

What are the types of VPN protocols?

Each VPN protocol functions differently depending on its features. For example, some protocols prioritize network speed, while others focus primarily on creating fortified virtual walls to secure your data. Below are some of the most popular VPN protocols.

PPTP

Created by Microsoft in 1996, the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) works to secure data transmission between two points. Under PPTP, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or an IP-based network like the internet sends data between the two points. PPTP expands on the protocol that already exists in a standard internet connection.

PPTP is a low-cost option, as it doesn’t require you to use an additional service to transmit and secure your data. It readily works with – and is often included with – most operating systems, making it easy to configure. Additionally, PPTP offers fast connection speeds compared to other integrated protocols.

However, PPTP uses an outdated authentication method, so it’s highly vulnerable to hacks and data breaches. Given this thread, many experts recommend avoiding this protocol entirely and using a more secure one instead.

L2TP/IPsec

Similar in some ways to PPTP, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) transmits data through an IP network. However, L2TP sends its data packets using a different method: the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). L2TP, in most cases, typically requires use alongside Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) to enhance its security and further protect data as it moves between endpoints.

L2TP features fortified data encryption to keep your company’s most important information safe from attackers and unwanted third parties. With IPsec as an additional security tool, you can further authenticate your network connection and protect your data.

This type of VPN protocol can be expensive and challenging to configure because it’s so complex. Since it focuses primarily on data security, it slows the rate of your data transfers across the network.

Did you know?Did you know?: A Paychex survey found that 27% of small business owners don’t use data security software, despite 81% saying they’re aware of the risks.

SSTP

Microsoft developed Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) for users who are often remote and need to access data securely from anywhere. It uses SSL 3.0, an encryption standard that uses HTTPS to secure web traffic and bypass basic firewalls and other censorship. This encryption method makes SSTP one of the safest protocols for preventing network security threats.

SSTP is built into Windows operating systems, so Windows-based devices can receive automatic protocol updates and assistance from Microsoft if needed. The protocol can also run at premium speeds, depending on your network’s bandwidth.

SSTP primarily works with Windows devices, so configuring this protocol on other operating systems can be complex at best, or worse impossible. Although it has recently been proven susceptible to a security vulnerability that lets attackers monitor encrypted data communications.

TipTip: If your company needs to access data securely from remote locations, check out our reviews of the best remote PC access software.

OpenVPN TCP

OpenVPN TCP is an open-source security protocol, meaning anyone can access its source code. With this framework, users can assess and fix any security issues that might arise within the protocol. 

OpenVPN focuses on creating a strong connection between endpoints, so data securely travels to and from the network. It also prioritizes resolving any errors, so your connection remains uncompromised. 

For reliability and security, OpenVPN is an excellent choice that’s compatible with most operating systems. However, configuring this protocol can be quite complex and may require the expertise of an IT team or IT managed services provider.

OpenVPN UDP

A faster alternative to TCP, OpenVPN UDP prioritizes low latency, which means it can quickly process a large amount of data. This protocol eliminates extra procedures, factors, and error checks to increase data transfer speeds and stabilize your transfers.

OpenVPN UDP works with most operating systems and is easier to configure than OpenVPN TCP. However, unlike with TCP, data delivery with OpenVPN UDP isn’t a priority, meaning the chances of dropped connections are higher.

Key TakeawayFYI: Many VPNs allow you to choose between UDP and TCP.

Ideal VPN protocols

You have many options for VPN protocols. Review the main features to help you determine the right protocol for your company.

  • Speed: OpenVPN UDP is one of the fastest VPN protocols because it prioritizes data transfer speeds. PPTP was once considered the fastest protocol, but its severe security threats now make it a poor option.
  • Setup: If your company uses Windows devices, SSTP is one of the easiest protocols to configure. It’s built into the operating system and comes with Microsoft support. L2TP/IPsec is easy to set up on both Windows and non-Windows devices.
  • Stability: OpenVPN TCP prioritizes connection stability to ensure full data packets are transmitted across the network. Its focus on error resolution also means moments of instability may fade quickly.
  • Security: Both OpenVPN TCP and UDP are among the most secure VPN protocols. They include data encryption as a standard feature. They also offer advanced encryption levels and security to further protect networks and information.
  • Compatibility: Although PPTP works with most operating systems, L2TP/IPsec is a better option. Most modern devices come with L2TP/IPsec compatibility, and this protocol is less likely to compromise your network’s security than PPTP.
  • Ease of use: SSTP is built into Windows, so it doesn’t require outside resources to run. However, it’s not that secure. OpenVPN can be a viable option because it includes optimization features that regulate its processing power. 

VPN protocols are critical to keep your company’s and clients’ confidential information secure while on the go.

Image Credit:

PrathanChorruangsak / Getty Images

Shayna Waltower
Shayna Waltower
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Shayna is a freelance content writer and producer who enjoys helping businesses communicate their specialties and brand values to current and prospective customers. She has been passionate about writing since she received her first journal when she was five years old. She’s worked for TV news stations, live production companies, and radio broadcasts outside the writing world.