What is OpenVPN? Everything You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is OpenVPN? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is OpenVPN?

In today’s digital world, online privacy and security are more important than ever. With cyber threats lurking around every corner, a reliable solution is needed to protect sensitive data and maintain anonymity. What is OpenVPN, you might ask? OpenVPN is a popular open-source VPN protocol that offers robust security and flexibility, making it a top choice for those seeking online protection.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of OpenVPN, its advantages and disadvantages, compatibility, and how it measures up against other VPN protocols.

Summary

  • OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol. It determines how the connection between your device and a VPN server is created. This connection is also known as a VPN tunnel.

  • OpenVPN’s open-source nature sets it apart from other VPN protocols, allowing anyone to examine the code and contribute to its ongoing development.

  • It offers advantages such as strong security and compatibility with TCP and UDP, but may have drawbacks like latency or complex setup. Read more on those details below.

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Understanding OpenVPN: The Basics

OpenVPN, first introduced in 2001, serves as a reliable and secure VPN protocol, ensuring that information sent over the internet remains private and safe from prying eyes. Its open-source nature sets it apart from other VPN protocols, allowing users and developers to examine the code and contribute to its ongoing development and improvement. OpenVPN is particularly effective at bypassing geo-restrictions, making it a popular choice among VPN users worldwide.

This versatile VPN protocol is designed to work with both User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), providing users with flexibility in their VPN connections. OpenVPN utilizes strong encryption and a variety of cryptographic technologies to protect sensitive data as it travels through the internet. With a proven track record of security and reliability, OpenVPN has become a go-to choice for many VPN providers and users.

OpenVPN Protocol: The Core Components

At the heart of the OpenVPN protocol lies a combination of powerful encryption methods and authentication processes. The OpenSSL library, which forms the backbone of OpenVPN’s encryption, provides a range of encryption, authentication, and certification features. OpenVPN supports industry-standard 256-bit AES encryption, ensuring that your data is secure from potential threats.

OpenVPN operates using two transport protocols: User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). UDP offers faster connections, while TCP provides more control over data transmission, resulting in a slower but more reliable connection. This flexibility in transport protocols allows OpenVPN to cater to a wide range of user preferences and use cases, solidifying its position as a secure and versatile VPN protocol.

OpenVPN as VPN Software

Aside from its role as a VPN protocol, OpenVPN also functions as a VPN software. The OpenVPN GUI app allows users to easily connect to their VPN provider’s server and establish a secure connection. This software can be particularly useful for protecting older devices that may not have built-in VPN support, as well as bypassing networks that block VPN providers.

Setting up OpenVPN as a VPN software typically involves downloading the OpenVPN client, configuring it with the settings provided by the VPN provider, and installing the necessary OpenVPN configuration files. With OpenVPN in place, users can enjoy the security benefits and peace of mind that come with a secure VPN connection.

Advantages and Disadvantages of OpenVPN

While OpenVPN boasts a strong reputation for security and flexibility, it is essential to consider both its advantages and drawbacks when evaluating its suitability for your specific needs. OpenVPN’s open-source nature allows the community to contribute to its development, resulting in a protocol that is consistently maintained, tested, and improved. Additionally, OpenVPN’s strong encryption and authentication protocols make it a more secure option than many other VPN protocols available today.

On the other hand, OpenVPN does have its downsides. Its complex setup process and potential speed limitations may deter some users from choosing it as their go-to VPN protocol. Additionally, OpenVPN may require a third-party app to function, adding an extra layer of complexity to its implementation.

Benefits of OpenVPN

OpenVPN’s strong security features and compatibility with both TCP and UDP protocols make it a popular choice among VPN users. Its robust encryption, including AES-256 and OpenSSL, ensures that your data remains secure from potential threats. OpenVPN’s flexibility allows users to tailor settings such as port forwarding and split tunneling, catering to individual preferences and needs.

Another advantage of OpenVPN is its extensive platform support. Compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, OpenVPN caters to a wide range of devices and operating systems. This versatility ensures that users can enjoy the benefits of OpenVPN, regardless of their choice of device or platform.

Drawbacks of OpenVPN

Despite its many advantages, OpenVPN does have its share of drawbacks. Its complex server-side implementation can result in higher latency and potential scaling issues. Furthermore, OpenVPN may encounter proxy support limitations due to its clunky server-side implementation and difficulty in scaling.

These complexities also extend to the setup process, which may be challenging for less tech-savvy users. OpenVPN’s need for specific configuration settings and potentially third-party apps can make it less user-friendly than other VPN protocols. As a result, some users may prefer to opt for more straightforward and user-friendly alternatives.

OpenVPN Compatibility and Setup

Setting up OpenVPN on various devices and platforms may seem daunting at first, but with the right guidance, users can enjoy the security and privacy benefits it offers. OpenVPN is compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux. Additionally, it can be set up on routers to secure all devices connected to the network, providing comprehensive protection for your online activities.

While the initial setup process may be more complex than other VPN protocols, the end result is a secure and reliable VPN connection. Users will need to download the OpenVPN client, configure it with the settings provided by their VPN provider, and install the appropriate OpenVPN configuration files. With these steps completed, users can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with using a secure and flexible VPN protocol like OpenVPN.

Device Support

OpenVPN’s compatibility extends to a wide variety of devices, ensuring that users can enjoy its security benefits regardless of their choice of platform. From desktops and smartphones to IoT devices, routers, and dedicated VPN hardware like Cisco Gigabit Dual WAN VPN, Zyxel Zywall VPN Firewall, and GL.iNet GL-AR150 Mini Travel VPN Device, OpenVPN’s versatility accommodates a diverse range of devices and operating systems.

However, it is important to note that OpenVPN is not typically pre-installed on most operating systems. Users will need to download and configure the OpenVPN client and install the necessary configuration files to set up the protocol on their device.

Setting Up OpenVPN

The process of setting up OpenVPN on different devices may vary depending on the platform, but the core steps remain the same. To begin, users will need to download the OpenVPN client from the official website or their VPN provider. Once the client is installed, they must configure it with the settings provided by their VPN provider, which typically includes server addresses, authentication credentials, and encryption settings.

Next, users must install the appropriate OpenVPN configuration files, which are often provided by the VPN provider. These files contain the necessary information for the client to connect to the VPN server, ensuring a secure and reliable connection.

With the client configured and the configuration files in place, users are ready to connect to their VPN provider’s server and enjoy the security and privacy benefits offered by OpenVPN.

Comparing OpenVPN with Other VPN Protocols

When evaluating VPN protocols, it’s crucial to consider factors such as speed, security, and encryption. OpenVPN is renowned for its security and flexibility, making it a popular choice among VPN users. However, other VPN protocols offer their unique strengths and weaknesses, which may make them better suited to specific use cases or user preferences.

In this section, we’ll compare OpenVPN with other popular VPN protocols, including PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2, WireGuard, and Shadowsocks. Understanding the differences between these VPN protocols can help users make informed decisions when selecting the best protocol for their needs.

While OpenVPN offers strong security and versatility, other protocols may provide faster speeds or better compatibility with certain devices or networks. By comparing OpenVPN with other VPN protocols, users can determine which protocol offers the best balance of security, speed, and ease of use for their specific requirements.

OpenVPN vs. PPTP, L2TP, and IKEv2

OpenVPN is often considered more secure and reliable than PPTP, L2TP, and IKEv2 due to its stronger encryption and authentication protocols. PPTP is an outdated protocol with known security issues, making it a less desirable option for those seeking robust online protection. L2TP, although more secure than PPTP, can experience problems with firewalls, making it less flexible than OpenVPN. IKEv2 is faster than OpenVPN but falls short in terms of security, as it does not offer the same level of encryption and authentication.

When comparing OpenVPN with PPTP, L2TP, and IKEv2, it’s essential to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each protocol. OpenVPN’s strong security and flexibility make it an ideal choice for users seeking robust online protection. However, those who prioritize speed or compatibility with specific devices or network configurations may find other protocols such as IKEv2 more suitable for their needs.

OpenVPN vs. WireGuard and Shadowsocks

In addition to the more traditional VPN protocols, newer options like WireGuard and Shadowsocks have gained popularity in recent years. WireGuard is a modern, lightweight VPN protocol designed for speed and efficiency, making it an attractive alternative to OpenVPN for those prioritizing performance. However, OpenVPN’s battle-tested security and support for both TCP and UDP protocols make it a more versatile option for users seeking a balance between speed and security.

Shadowsocks, on the other hand, is a proxy protocol primarily used to bypass internet censorship. While it offers fast and efficient connections, its primary use case differs from that of OpenVPN, which focuses on providing secure and private connections over the public internet.

When comparing OpenVPN with WireGuard and Shadowsocks, it’s important to consider the unique features and use cases of each protocol, as well as the specific needs and preferences of the user.

Is OpenVPN Safe and Secure?

The safety and security of a VPN protocol are paramount when selecting a solution for protecting online privacy and data. OpenVPN’s open-source nature, strong encryption, and community involvement contribute to its overall security and trustworthiness. With a proven track record of robust security features and consistent updates, OpenVPN stands as a reliable choice for users seeking privacy and protection online.

However, it’s crucial to remember that the security of a VPN protocol is only one piece of the puzzle. The VPN provider’s security practices, server infrastructure, and commitment to user privacy also play a significant role in ensuring a secure and private online experience. When evaluating the safety and security of OpenVPN, it’s essential to consider these factors in addition to the protocol’s inherent security features.

Open-Source Security

One of the primary factors contributing to OpenVPN’s security is its open-source status. This means that its source code is publicly available for inspection, allowing a global community of developers and security experts to scrutinize, test, and improve the protocol. This ongoing community involvement ensures that OpenVPN remains secure and up-to-date, providing users with peace of mind when using the protocol for online privacy and security.

Open-source security also allows for increased transparency and trust in the protocol, as users can verify its security features and implementations for themselves. By choosing an open-source solution like OpenVPN, users can be confident in the security and reliability of their VPN connection.

Encryption and Ciphers

In addition to its open-source nature, OpenVPN employs strong encryption methods and ciphers to protect user data and privacy. OpenVPN utilizes AES-based encryption algorithms, with AES-256-GCM as the default, providing a high level of security for your data. This strong encryption ensures that your sensitive information remains safe from potential threats and prying eyes.

OpenVPN also supports various encryption methods such as RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and Elliptic Curve Cryptography, among others. These encryption methods, combined with OpenVPN’s powerful ciphers, provide a robust layer of security for users seeking to protect their online privacy and data.

Choosing the Right VPN Provider with OpenVPN Support

Selecting a reliable VPN provider that supports the OpenVPN protocol is crucial for users seeking the best balance of security, speed, and ease of use. When choosing a VPN provider, it’s essential to consider factors such as the provider’s security features, global coverage, streaming support, customer service, and cost. By weighing these factors, users can make an informed decision when selecting a VPN provider that meets their specific needs and preferences.

Some popular VPN providers that offer OpenVPN support include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, PrivateVPN, and Surfshark. Each of these providers offers various features and benefits, catering to a diverse range of user requirements and preferences. By comparing the offerings of these VPN providers, users can identify the best fit for their online privacy and security needs.

Recommended VPN Providers

Among the top VPN providers that support OpenVPN, ExpressVPN and NordVPN stand out as popular choices. ExpressVPN offers fast speeds, strong security, and a 30-day money-back guarantee, while NordVPN boasts double data encryption, a strict no-log policy, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Other notable providers include CyberGhost, IPVanish, PrivateVPN, and Surfshark, each with its unique features and benefits.

When choosing a VPN provider with OpenVPN support, it’s crucial to consider the specific features and benefits that each provider offers. Factors such as server coverage, simultaneous connections, privacy policies, and customer support can play a significant role in determining the best VPN provider for your needs.

By comparing the offerings of these top VPN providers, users can make an informed decision and select the provider that best aligns with their online privacy and security requirements.

Factors to Consider

When evaluating a VPN provider with OpenVPN support, it’s essential to consider various factors that can impact the quality of the service. The provider’s security experience, including their home country, privacy policy, and encryption and ciphers used, can play a significant role in ensuring a secure and private online experience. Additionally, the provider’s global coverage, streaming options, customer service, and cost should also be taken into account when making your decision.

Ultimately, selecting the right VPN provider with OpenVPN support comes down to identifying the provider that best aligns with your specific needs and preferences. By considering factors such as security features, server coverage, and customer support, users can make an informed decision and choose a VPN provider that offers the best balance of security, speed, and ease of use.

Summary

In conclusion, OpenVPN is a reliable and secure VPN protocol that offers a strong balance of security, flexibility, and compatibility. Its open-source nature, strong encryption methods, and community involvement contribute to its overall trustworthiness and security. While there are other VPN protocols available, OpenVPN remains a popular choice among users seeking robust online privacy and protection. By understanding the features and benefits of OpenVPN, as well as comparing it with other VPN protocols and providers, users can make informed decisions when selecting a VPN solution that best meets their needs and preferences.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What does OpenVPN do?

OpenVPN provides an open-source, secure connection protocol that ensures your data is kept private when using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It offers a custom security protocol with SSL/TLS for key exchange and can operate over User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) tunnel transports.

OpenVPN also supports multi-client server authentication via username and password, certificates, or pre-shared secret keys.

What is the difference between a VPN and OpenVPN?

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that creates a secure connection between your device and a VPN server, allowing you to surf the web securely. OpenVPN is a protocol that determines how the connection between your device and the VPN server is created.

Is OpenVPN as free?

OpenVPN is a great, free choice for people looking to protect their privacy without the burden of large fees. Its open-source protocol is secure, reliable, and totally free of charge, making it an excellent option for those wanting online anonymity.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.