You don’t need to know how a VPN works to use a VPN. But if you’ve ever checked the settings on your ExpressVPN app, you’ll see a tab called Protocol.
Protocols are methods by which your device connects to ExpressVPN’s secure servers. By default, ExpressVPN automatically uses the protocol best-suited to your network, but you can also configure your app to use other protocols: PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, or SSTP. Here’s a guide to what they mean and how they’re different:
What is PPTP?
PPTP, or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, is one of the oldest protocols for implementing a VPN. It’s been around since Windows 95. Out of all the protocols, PPTP is one of the most common, easiest to set up, and computationally fastest. It’s also easy to crack and offers virtually no security benefits.
PPTP is useful on slower devices like routers, when security is not an issue.
*Read more about the strengths and weaknesses of PPTP.
What is L2TP/IPsec?
L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, and by itself it doesn’t offer encryption. Because of this it is often paired with an encryption protocol called IPsec (Internet Protocol Security). Together they provide a level of security superior to PPTP but with the same ease of set-up.
While more secure than PPTP, L2TP offers only limited security benefits and should be used only for anonymization purposes or for changing VPN locations.
*Read more about the strengths and weaknesses of L2TP.
What is SSTP?
SSTP, or Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol, is a Microsoft innovation. It’s extremely secure and can bypass some firewalls that L2TP can’t. SSTP is currently available only on Windows.
*Read more about the strengths and weaknesses of SSTP.
What is OpenVPN (with TCP/UDP)?
OpenVPN is a newer and more configurable protocol. ExpressVPN’s version supports both UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) ports. UDP is generally faster but TCP has a greater chance of bypassing firewalls. ExpressVPN uses UDP by default unless it is blocked.
The best thing about OpenVPN is that it’s open source. “Open” may not sound like a good thing for a privacy tool, but it’s actually a huge advantage. If there are any security flaws in the code — and as yet none are known — they will be quickly identified by the open source community. Paired with a strong encryption algorithm, OpenVPN is the most secure VPN protocol available.
ExpressVPN uses OpenVPN by default across all apps that easily support it. You can learn more about ExpressVPN’s other security features from this ExpressVPN review.
*Read more about the strength and weaknesses of OpenVPN.