IPSec vs OpenVPN

IPSec‌ ‌vs.‌ ‌OpenVPN:‌ ‌Understanding‌ ‌the‌ ‌Differences‌

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PUREVPNPureVPN UpdatesIPSec‌ ‌vs.‌ ‌OpenVPN:‌ ‌Understanding‌ ‌the‌ ‌Differences‌

Learn everything about these two popular protocols in our IPSec vs. OpenVPN guide.

It’s no secret that your privacy and security are at risk every time you go online. Third parties like your internet service provider can see and log your browsing activity. The lack of encryption on public Wi-Fi networks allows hackers to easily intercept and steal your information.

These are just some of the many risks that affect internet users on a daily basis, but the solution is simple: using a VPN. It’s a helpful tool that utilizes different protocols to keep your identity and data protected online.

Two such VPN protocols are IPSec and OpenVPN. However, which one should you use? By understanding what these protocols are and the pros and cons they bring to the table, you can choose the best fit for your needs. Let’s dive in:

What is a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates a secure connection that allows users to access the internet safely and privately. What it does is encrypt the user’s internet traffic and route it through a secure server in a different location, which hides the user’s IP address and online activities from prying eyes like ISPs and governments. This can be useful for a number of reasons, such as accessing geo-restricted content, bypassing internet censorship, and protecting sensitive data. 

VPN protocols like IPSec and OpenVPN provide the encryption and security measures needed to create a secure connection. IPSec is a commonly used protocol that offers a high level of security, whereas OpenVPN is an open-source protocol known for its flexibility and configurability, making it the go-to choice among tech-savvy users. IPSec and OpenVPN are also popular options for creating private remote access connections between remote workers and corporate networks.

What is IPSec

What is IPSec?

IPSec, or Internet Security Protocol, is a secure suite of protocols that ensures the authentication and encryption of data packets to provide protected communications between two endpoints over an Internet Protocol (IP) network.

Developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), IPSec is used for various purposes, including in VPNs. It works at the network layer rather than the application layer (as with SSL), and can be used natively with most operating systems.

Since most platforms have built-in IPSec clients, you don’t have to rely on third-party apps (like OpenVPN) to use it. IPSec is often used in conjunction with other VPN protocols like IKEv2 and L2TP, but can also be used on its own.

These are some of the protocols IPSec uses to secure network communications:

  1. Authentication Headers (AH): AH offers authentication and integrity protection for IP packets.
  1. Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP): ESP provides confidentiality by encrypting the data payload of IP packets. 
  1. Internet Security Association and Key Management Protocol (ISAKMP): ISAKMP negotiates and establishes security associations between two devices, which determine the security parameters for IPSec communication.

Advantages of IPSec

There are a few advantages of using IPSec as your protocol of choice. These include:

  • Speeds are generally faster than OpenVPN in many aspects, but it also depends on other variables such as device specifications, intended use, etc.
  • Strong security, provided that it has been set up correctly. IPSec supports a variety of algorithms and ciphers like HMAC-SHA1/SHA2, RSA, PSK, ECDH, AES-CTR and AES-CBC.
  • It doesn’t require a third-party app to get up and running as many desktop and mobile operating systems support it natively.

Disadvantages of IPSec

While using IPSec has its advantages, it doesn’t come without certain limitations. These include:

  • The setup process can be complicated based on what you plan on using it for. However, average users trying to connect to their VPN service’s servers shouldn’t face any issue.
  • It’s alleged that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been actively working to insert vulnerabilities into IPSec, which if true, leaves you vulnerable to targeted surveillance.
What is OpenVPN

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is a highly configurable, open-source protocol that can use a variety of ports and encryption methods. It’s one of the most secure VPN protocols around and has passed a number of third-party security audits.

Though Wireguard continues to grow in popularity, OpenVPN is still the most used protocol by VPN providers. Developed by OpenVPN Technologies, it relies on TLS for key exchange and uses the OpenSSL library for encryption and authentication.

Given that OpenVPN isn’t built into operating systems, you’ll have to install a third-party client to use it. However, some VPN services implement OpenVPN directly into their apps, making setup a breezy affair on all major platforms. 

These are some of the protocols OpenVPN uses to secure network communications: 

SSL/TLS: OpenVPN uses the SSL/TLS protocol to encrypt the communication between the client and server, preventing eavesdropping and ensuring that sensitive data cannot be read or intercepted by unauthorised parties.

User Datagram Protocol (UDP): OpenVPN can use UDP as its transport protocol, which provides a faster connection than Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and reduces latency.

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP): OpenVPN can also use TCP as its transport protocol. While TCP is not as speedy as UDP, it provides more reliable communication as it is less likely to lose packets.

Advantages of OpenVPN

There are a few advantages of using OpenVPN as your protocol of choice such as:

  • Very difficult to block as OpenVPN can be configured to run on any port using TCP and UDP, allowing you to easily disguise it as HTTPS traffic.
  • Reliable security as it uses OpenSSL, which supports a variety of ciphers and algorithms like ChaCha20, AES, Camellia, and Blowfish.
  • Great stability when it comes to roaming over Wi-Fi and cellular networks as well as those where congestion and packet loss is common. 

Disadvantages of OpenVPN

While using OpenVPN has its advantages, it doesn’t come without certain limitations. For example:

  • Manual configuration can be a confusing and complicated process, especially for first-time OpenVPN users.
  • The protocol isn’t very lightweight, so you might experience issues with connection speeds. If you’re using it over TCP, switching to UDP helps.
OpenVPN vs IPSec

IPSec vs OpenVPN Comparison

Now that you know what IPSec and OpenVPN is and their respective pros and cons, let’s take a look at how they fare against each other:


Easy to Block
 Yes No


Built-in support for a wide variety of OS and devices 

No built-in support


Up to 256-bit

Up to 256-bit


via OS/device built-in client or native VPN app from VPN provider 

via third-party application or native VPN app from VPN provider


Generally fast speeds 
OpenVPN over UDP offers better speeds than OpenVPN over TCP

Very stable across all networks

Supported OS/Devices
 Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, etc
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, etc

Security Vulnerabilities
 Has potential to be compromised by the NSA
No known security vulnerabilities

Best For
 Average-internet users
Everyday use, where security and speed both are necessary

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are answers to some commonly asked questions about IPSec vs. OpenVPN:

Does OpenVPN Use IPSec?

No, it doesn’t. OpenVPN is an SSL-based VPN, and as such, isn’t compatible with IPSec or other protocols like L2TP or IKEv2.

Is IPSec More Secure Than OpenVPN?

Yes, OpenVPN trumps IPSec easily. It offers the highest level of encryption available and has been audited multiple times. What’s more, there are no known security vulnerabilities.

Final Word

IPSec should only be used if it has been set up by someone who knows how to do so correctly. It offers reasonably fast speeds and security comparable to OpenVPN, though the protocol is allegedly weakened by the NSA.

OpenVPN is the best all-round VPN, making it an ideal choice for most users. While it often requires a third-party client, many VPN providers build the protocol straight into their apps so that using it is a seamless affair.

Got any questions? Feel free to use the comments section below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!




January 1, 2024


4 months ago

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