What is OpenVPN?
For better or worse, most of us have a large online presence these days. This experience brings many fantastic benefits, but it’s also full of perils.
One of the best ways to protect your online data is to use a virtual private network (VPN), especially one that uses the OpenVPN protocol.
But what is the OpenVPN protocol exactly?
All VPN protocols represent a set of rules used to establish a secure connection between a single device and a VPN server.
But the OpenVPN protocol is unique because it provides an open-source community edition and is fully accessible. Here’s everything you need to know about OpenVPN and how it works.
Summary: OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used by many VPN providers. It is widely considered the safest and most reliable protocol, though it isn’t the fastest VPN protocol (WireGuard is faster). But its versatility makes it the go-to choice in industries like finance, energy, and healthcare. One of its core benefits is the worldwide community that makes this protocol better, thanks for its open-source nature.
What is a VPN?
Before discussing the OpenVPN protocol, its benefits and drawbacks, we should reflect on what virtual private networks are, how they are categorized, and why so many people use them. A VPN service hides your private information by encrypting it and ensuring it’s anonymous.
When you log in via a VPN, your exact location and identification are unknown to others. That makes you less susceptible to phishing scams, hacking, and other cyber-attacks.
But VPNs can also help you bypass censorship when traveling abroad, access region-blocked services, avoid bandwidth and data throttling imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISP,) and provide network scalability.
There are several types of virtual private networks.
Remote Access Server
Undoubtedly, this is one of the most commonly used types of VPN. It connects the client side with a private network using a secure remote access server.
It hides your internet traffic from everyone by routing data through an encrypted secure tunnel from the server side. A secure remote access server relies on different encryption protocols to ensure safety on the client side.
Site to Site Networking
This type of VPN is standard for a large corporation with many users in different locations. As they all need to access shared resources, the site-to-site VPN makes this transfer of information easier.
Client to Server VPN
With a client to server VPN, you can connect corporate networks between clients while keeping the resources and maintaining security.
This type of VPN is the go-to solution for accessing insecure WLANs, as it’s the best prevention system against nefarious actors who try to compromise your personal data.
Peer-to-peer or P2P VPNs cut the file sharing process as you can download them from multiple nodes containing small pieces of the same data. However, P2P VPNs aren’t as safe as they are commonly used for malicious activities.
But What Are VPN Protocols?
We’ve discussed the nature, purpose, and benefits of VPNs, but we also have to define VPN protocols. Essentially, VPN protocols dictate the security of your internet connection established via a VPN service.
VPN protocols are a set of rules and instructions that represent how the device you’re using is communicating with the VPN server.
They instruct the virtual private network on how to safely reroute internet traffic to the private servers. Developers and software engineers have created several different VPN protocols, and each transports data in a specific way.
That’s why it’s often difficult to talk about the best VPN protocol, as most have different purposes. For example, some VPN protocols focus on speed and others on security.
Here are the most widely used VPN protocols today.
· Point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) – It is the original solution but considered insecure and outdated. It’s known for fast speeds and an easy setup but has numerous security vulnerabilities.
· IKEv2/IPSec – Internet Key Exchange version 2 is commonly used on mobile devices as it offers a stable connection and fast speeds. However, it’s not good at bypassing firewalls as a service. The IPSec is a reliable suite of security protocols like AES, 256-bit ciphers and ChaCha20.
· WireGuard – It is one of the newest VPN protocols designed to provide extremely fast speeds, and doesn’t have any known security issues. However, it’s not yet supported by every VPN service, and it hasn’t been around long enough to prove its reliability
· OpenVPN Connect – Finally, Open VPN protocol is considered to be the most secure VPN protocol by cyber security experts and users alike. It’s fully open-source, fast, doesn’t have vulnerabilities, and is compatible with many ciphers and operating systems.
What Is OpenVPN?
OpenVPN or OpenVPN Connect is one of the most versatile VPN protocols designed to deliver flawless firewall bypassing. VPN services with OpenVPN protocol are phenomenally successful at breaking Geo-restrictions.
This protocol is over 20 years old and was designed by James Yonan, a computer scientist and current CFO of OpenVPN.
OpenVPN technologies implement techniques to secure site-to-site and point-to-point VPN connection. You might be wondering if OpenVPN is safe, and the answer to that question is that it’s the safest prevention system against online attacks.
It offers exceptional intrusion detection due to OpenSSL encryption and user authentication. It fully supports the most sophisticated cryptographic algorithms available today, including 256 AES encryption.
It’s vital to point out that OpenVPN is an extremely configurable open-source VPN protocol. The open-source descriptor might seem alarming to some, but it’s precisely what makes OpenVPN safe and effective.
It means that OpenVPN’s source code is freely available, and developers can modify and redistribute it.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to design a VPN protocol with exceptional intrusion detection and efficient bypassing firewall as a service.
So, how does OpenVPN work?
It all starts with peer requesting connection to another peer, which is typically the OpenVPN server. When you enter a website URL, the information sent is encrypted.
When the user makes the request, a user authentication process occurs, again by the OpenVPN server via a combination of certificates and user credentials.
Two Versions of OpenVPN
OpenVPN is the golden standard for private virtual networking. It comes in two different versions or ports: User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP.)
What is UDP?
The UDP basically prioritizes transports data exceptionally fast, sometimes at the expense of reliability. Many VPN services with OpenVPN protocols set UDP as the default port for data communications.
The UDP port, doesn’t require users to acknowledge receiving data. This approach allows UDP to establish VPN connection that moves data faster.
What Is TCP?
The TCP is the better choice for unreliable network connectivity. This OpenVPN protocol version carefully verifies received data and ensures it’s sent in the correct form and can request it again if it’s not.
Indeed, this additional verification process leads to slower speeds, but provides a reliable connection. If you were to ask a cybersecurity company which is better, they’d likely recommend the TCP port.
Is OpenVPN Free?
Because OpenVPN supports an open-source community edition, it’s logical to wonder if it’s free to use. The answer is yes – OpenVPN’s source code is free for everyone, as long as users abide by the software license agreement designed by OpenVPN’s creators.
All of which sounds great, but unfortunately, they’ve not made the configuration simple. You need to be pretty tech savvy to implement OpenVPN Connect as there is no designated app to download to your computer, iOS or Android devices.
It’s essential to differentiate OpenVPN protocol used by many VPN services, and OpenVPN as a company that created the protocol.
Even though the source code is free for everyone who knows how to install client configuration files, you can get the paid version from OpenVPN Connect directly or from another VPN service.
OpenVPN Connect Services
If your coding skills aren’t advanced enough, working through the OpenVPN server configuration file is something you’re not likely willing to try.
But because OpenVPN is one of the best VPN business solutions, you can rely on the OpenVPN package available on the official OpenVPN connect platform.
But before we discuss specific products, here are the most common use cases for OpenVPN connect:
· Site to site networking
· Secure remote access
· Enforcing zero trust network access
· DNS based content filtering
· Cyber threat protection
· Protecting access for SaaS apps
Industries known for relying on OpenVPN protocol include the following:
OpenVPN Connect Products
There are two types of products available at OpenVPN Connect, OpenVPN Cloud and self-hosted VPN solution or OpenVPN access server.
One of the best VPN management solutions these days is the VPN cloud delivered service. OpenVPN Cloud is a managed service which allows creation of a secure connection profile between a virtualized modern network and a remote user.
Essentially, it is a VPN client “in the cloud.” This system ensures global secure access, constant protection, and efficient full-mesh network topology and connectivity.
This is a fantastic option for companies with hard to scale security because it doesn’t require the operational hours hosting an OpenVPN server does.
OpenVPN Access Server
The OpenVPN self-hosted service is one of the best business solutions for protecting access to sensitive information. This service is entirely free for up to two VPN connections, but you will need to pay $14 for five connections. If the number of VPN clients rises, the average price lowers.
OpenVPN access server is a great self-hosted service because it allows users to have public key infrastructure across multiple OpenVPN servers, thus streamlining the connection speeds and overall cost.
Benefits of Using OpenVPN
There’s no question that the OpenVPN is the preferred protocol among many experts and VPN users. We’ve mentioned some of the advantages of OpenVPN already, but it’s crucial to create a full overview of why it hasn’t been dethroned for over two decades.
OpenVPN Is Reliable
It’s impossible to overstate how important reliability and trustworthiness are when it comes to VPN clients. If you lose VPN connection, OpenVPN will pause until it is repaired or reconfigured.
OpenVPN Is Secure
Along with reliability, security is vital for any VPN protocol, and OpenVPN doesn’t disappoint. It has several layers of security, including peer authentication, OpenSSL and HMAC packet authentication.
OpenVPN Runs on All Platforms
You can install OpenVPN on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS devices, and if you have the requisite knowledge, even on Linux devices.
OpenVPN Provides Community Support
The possibility of community edition and the continuous support are important features of OpenVPN. For that reason, this open-source platform continues to dominate the industry.
OpenVPN Is Cost-Effective
You can use OpenVPN for free is you can manage its source code, but even if you purchase a service directly, the price points are not extreme.
For more convenience, you can always pick one of many reliable VPN services that offer OpenVPN as a default protocol.
Drawbacks of Using OpenVPN
While OpenVPN carries the title of the most secure and reliable VPN protocol, it’s not exactly perfect. Before choosing OpenVPN as a service compatible with your business or personal needs, consider the following downsides.
OpenVPN is Difficult to Configure
You need additional software to implement OpenVPN onto any platform. In order to send traffic to an OpenVPN tunnel, you need to find the best way to configure it via third-party software. Also, unpacking the configuration file is a complicated process and requires advanced skills.
OpenVPN Server Number Is Limited
One of the problems some have with OpenVPN, especially companies, is the limited number of OpenVPN servers. Under the current license, OpenVPN supports only 50 servers which can create a roadblock for some VPN providers.
OpenVPN Is Prone to Data Transfer Delays
OpenVPN is known for latency issues, and the speed rates depend on location, distance, and the specific situation. However, with a powerful enough computer, the delays can be minimized.
OpenVPN vs. Other VPN Protocols
You might think that using OpenVPN as the go-to VPN protocol is the only solution that makes sense, but there are several other widely used protocols we’ve already mentioned.
To get a better sense of OpenVPN and how it works, we’ll compare it to a few other VPN protocols offered by VPN providers.
OpenVPN vs. WireGuard
WireGuard has first been incorporated into Linux 5.6 release in 2020, making it the newest VPN protocol available.
In many ways, it was designed as an alternative to OpenVPN, because it offers excellent security, has faster speeds, a light code base, and is easy to configure manually. However, it’s still too early to tell if it can replace OpenVPN as the best protocol.
OpenVPN vs. IKEv2/IPSpec
The IKEv2/IPSpec is a closed-source system, expect for Linux, and isn’t the best protocol for bypassing firewalls. On the other hand, it ensures a stable connection, has decent speeds, and handles network changes well.
OpenVPN vs. PPTP
While some VPN providers still include PPTP protocol because of its incredibly fast speeds and easy setup, many have excluded it completely. The reasons being well-known security issues, lack of compatibility with 256-bit encryption keys, and pretty ineffective privacy tools.
Best VPN Platforms With OpenVPN as a Default Service
When choosing a VPN client for commercial or personal use, many focus on services that offer OpenVPN as their default protocol.
Even light research on this topic will show you that the most well-established names in the VPN industry rely on OpenVPN encryption and offer other solutions as secondary.
These services may differ in size, number of VPN servers, location, and pricing, but tend to offer a similar level of security, which is the most important factor.
Here are a few excellent solutions to consider.
· ExpressVPN – You’ve likely seen ads for ExpressVPN, either from your favorite YouTuber or sprinkled across many articles. ExpressVPN is a VPN client with excellent and easy-to-use OpenVPN implementation.
· NordVPN – If you’re looking for a mid-range solution in terms of price, NordVPN offers a great value for money service. The OpenVPN configuration is top-notch, and they have over 60 server locations.
· IPVanish – As a fast and secure VPN client, IPVanish offers impressive OpenVPN implementation at great speeds and with an easy setup. They have over 75 server location.
Other Open-Source VPN Providers
If you’ve set your mind on using an open-source VPN protocol with a free source code, but OpenVPN is too complicated, there are other options you can consider.
SoftEther VPN – The name is short for “Software Ether.” This open-source platform has a user-friendly interface and offers excellent security.
Securepoint VPN – This open-source VPN has an integrated firewall and is compatible with nearly all platforms.
VPN Tomato – This platform provides site-to-site tunneling and rapid deployment of automatic firewall features.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is OpenVPN?
OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol, famous for its safety and reliability. Because it is open-source, anyone can inspect and improve its source code.
OpenVPN or WireGuard, which is better?
WireGuard is a newer, faster, and considerably lighter VPN protocol, which means it has far fewer lines of code. However, OpenVPN remains the go-to protocol thanks to its tried and true nature.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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