Are you thinking about getting a VPN but don’t know your PPTP from your IPSec. Do you not understand all of these acronyms, least of all what they mean for you as a VPN customer? Understanding technology and what it means for you can make the difference between a great VPN deal and one that doesn’t solve your problems. Follow us and we’ll give you the low down on what’s important and what’s not so important when it comes to VPN protocols.

A Virtual Private Network or VPN is a technical term that refers to a type of secure network that operates across the internet which is very insecure. Software programs called protocols are used to transmit the information in chunks (called packets) is a way that stops outsiders finding them and deciphering the contents. The right VPN protocol can protect your identity by hiding your IP address or it can protect the information you are transmitting by ensuring that any attempt to steal it is identified and halted. Different protocols offer different types of protection so understanding what they do and do not do is important.

Tunnelling Protocols

Technicians often describe VPN protocols as tunnelling protocols. This name comes from the way they operate across the internet. These protocols create virtual tunnels across the internet and just like a conventional tunnel they protect the information travelling through them from outside interference. Tunnels can also be used to link two different types of network together. If you want to connect across the internet into the heart of a business network that is private, tunnelling protocols will do that for you.

Delivery Protocols and Payload Protocols

Generally there are two types of VPN protocol, delivery protocols, and payload protocols and when you use a VPN you will be using one of each type which combines to create your VPN in what is known as an IP Stack. Different protocols offer different strengths so combining two protocols in this way allows you to have a VPN that offers a wider level of benefits.

Users generally expect a high level of security from their VPN and an IP stack can offer a range of protections. Message integrity means you can be confident that any messages you send, usually as emails or files, will arrive at their destination reliably without being tampered with. It is also improved with Sender Authentication which ensures that unauthorised users can’t get access to the contents of your transmissions. Message integrity is also enhanced by encrypting your transmissions. The contents of the transmission are scrambled – just like eggs – before they are sent but unlike eggs, they are only able to be unscrambled when they arrive at their destination.

Popular VPN Protocols

There are a number of VPN protocols that are in use commercially and the three most widely used are PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN and as you would expect, each has its advantages and disadvantages.

PPTP is a good, general protocol that support a wide number of devices so if you want to be using your VPN from a desktop, a Mac or a Smartphone running Android or iOS then PPTP would be worth considering. L2TP/IPSec offers almost the same feature set as PPTP with a few minor exceptions and OpenVPN offers great features across desktop computers such as PCs and Macs.

Differences begin to appear when you look at the encryption capabilities. PPTP offers the minimum 128 bit encryption while L2TP/IPSec offers 256 bit along with OpenVPN. 256bit encryption is much more secure but bear in mind that it takes more processing power on your computer so on older machines, 256 bit encryption may make your VPN link slow which could be problem is you were transmitting large files such as video.

Choosing a VPN Service

When you do make a choice of VPN service provider you should be clear about the type of things you expect your VPN to be used for. Then you should identify which VPN protocols your prospective service provider uses and match them to your needs. If you are in doubt then you should always refer to the service provider before making a purchase.

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