VPN Beginner’s guide to OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec

When you are just discovering the world of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) it is normal to feel overwhelmed by the amount of technical information and acronyms that make little sense for newbies. Protocols may be one of the most confusing aspects about VPN services when you have very little technical knowledge and no previous experience with this technology. Protocols are precisely named using acronyms like PPTP and L2TP/IPsec and while they are a fundamental part of VPN services, it can be difficult to understand what they actually do and what is the difference between them. Here we will take a look at the basic details about protocols to help you get a better idea of their role in keeping your information secure when you are connected to internet through a VPN.

The first thing to consider is that when you use a VPN service you are creating a private network within a public network, which is the internet. This is possible through a combination of security and encryption capabilities that are supported by a VPN service. When using a VPN, the connection protocol that is used plays a major part in ensuring the security of your connection. Some of the older technologies are unable to offer a good level of protection and are considered as insecure. We’ll start by checking the most popular connection protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP and LT2P to understand how each of them works and which may be the right option for your needs.


This open-source software application is recognized as the most secure option and it is also the most popular solution to establish a VPN connection. Since OpenVPN supports a high level of security without having a major impact on the speed and performance of your connection, this protocol has become a standard in the industry. The fact that OpenVPN is free and open source has allowed it to continue evolving as it benefits from ongoing updates from a community of developers.

Encryption is essential to ensure that your data is protected and OpenVPN offers 256-bit encryption through OpenSSL library. It is important to keep in mind that some providers may offer a lower level of encryption in order to increase the speed of the connection. However, if your main concern is security, it is advisable to ensure that you get 256-bit. OpenVPN also stands out when it comes to speed as it offers incredibly fast connections and even if a high level of encryption is applied, it works better than PPTP and L2TP/IPsec.

Additionally, OpenVPN offers great compatibility as it can be used with a wide selection of platforms including Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD and Solaris. It also works with Tomato and DD-WRT routers. You have the option to use TCP for consistent data transfers or UDP, which is ideal for gaming and streaming. OpenVPN supports SSL/TLS, RSA Certificates and X509 PKI, DHCP, NATand TUN/TAP virtual devices.


PPTP stands for Point to Point Tunneling Protocol and this technology is one of the oldest options available. In fact, it was the first protocol supported by Microsoft, but is no longer recommended by them as it has been deemed as insecure. Nevertheless, it is still one of the of the most used protocols and it is a common method to connect to a VPN.

When it comes to encryption, PPTP offers up to 128-bit and while it works with a username and password login combination, the encryption relies on the PPTP protocol being tunneled in order to keep the data secure. The weaknesses of the algorithm used in PPTP have been identified and exploited, making the protocol vulnerable.

On the bright side, PPTP is known for providing very good speeds and it is considerably faster than OpenVPN, but only when the latter is running 256-bit. In general, PPTP offers satisfactory speeds but this is not surprising considering that it doesn’t offer a high level of encryption. The protocol works with Mac,Windows, iOS, Android, Linux and BSD. It is compatible with DD-WRT and Tomato routers. You can use TCP or GRE port with PPTP.


L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol and it is an advanced and secure option that works in combination with IPsec. It replaced PPTP as a new standard and it is used for VPN and ISP (Internet Service Provider) connections. Its origins can be traced to twp older protocols from USRobotics and Cisco. It continues evolving and updates and enhancements are continuously added.

The level of encryption supported is up to 256-bit using standardized IPsec protocol. In order to get a higher level of security, 3DES or AES encryption algorithm are recommended. To verify and encapsulate the data, data certificates are used, which means that LT2P/IPsec is a strong option that provides a good level of security.

Since the data is encapsulated twice, L2TP uses more system resources, which results in loss of speed. The way in which the protocol implements security makes it reliable, but it also means that it is slower than other options. However, in many cases the difference is hardly noticeable and if security is a priority, this protocol is still worth considering.

The protocol works with the main operating systems: Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS. It is compatible with Tomato and DD-WRT firmware routers. In order to provide security, L2TP uses UDP 500, protocol 50, UDP 1701 and UDO 4500 over L2TP/IPsec. Since all these protocols are used, L2TP/IPsec is more difficult to set up and offers limited customization possibilities.

Which protocol is the best option for you?

OpenVPN is the hands down, the best option available as it combines top level of protection for your data, impressive speeds, reliable performance, extensive compatibility and customization flexibility. While it requires a third party application for different platforms, it still is the most convenient option to choose as it supports all the features needed to enjoy a secure and versatile connection. Besides, in the majority of cases, the configuration shouldn’t be too challenging and it may take only a few minutes.

The second option to consider is L2TP, which is also a secure and stable option, although not in the same level as OpenVPN. L2TP supports good speeds, a variety of customization options and it can be easily used on mobile devices as they are naturally compatible with this protocol.

Although PPTP is still an available solution, it is not a trusted one due to its low level of security. This is why it should only be used if there are no other options available. OpenVPN or L2TP/IPsec should be considered as the main solutions, while PPTP is only advisable when these two can’t be used. PPTP may still suit users who are mainly concerned about speed and simple configuration. This protocol would still be a practical option if you are only looking to unlock content that is blocked in your region and OpenVPN and L2TP are not available.

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