What is the WireGuard VPN protocol?

In layman’s terms, a VPN uses encryption to create a private online connection between a device and a VPN server. With a good VPN service, you can shield your data from curious eyes.

A VPN protocol is the set of rules that shapes how your data travels between your computer, mobile phone, tablet, or any other device, and a VPN server. The type of VPN protocol that you use can affect the speed, stability, ease of use, security, and privacy of your connection.

WireGuard is the newest player in the VPN protocol world and has many advantages over older types of protocols. Many experts are excited about WireGuard because it trims the fat to be faster and lighter than protocols like OpenVPN. For example, WireGuard has less than 4000 lines of code while other protocols have hundreds of thousands of lines. However, like any cutting-edge technology, the protocol also has some areas to improve.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN and other protocols

Many popular VPN protocols preceded WireGuard. While some are obsolete, others remain popular today. One of the earlier ones, the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), was created in the mid-90s by Microsoft to enhance privacy on the now obsolete dial-up networks.

PPTP’s basic encryption is a bit of a double-edged sword. Although PPTP is fast because of its light security, it’s also vulnerable to breaches. Its successor, Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP), is more secure once paired with IPsec (Internet Protocol Security). Unfortunately, L2TP/IPsec is slow and easy to block with network firewalls. 

You must also look at Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) to truly compare VPN protocols. Another protocol from Microsoft, SSTP, is more secure and more challenging to block than PPTP. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to run on platforms other than on Windows and offers limited access to developers.

OpenVPN is popular because it’s a well-rounded protocol—it’s open-source and features the impressive AES-256-bit key encryption. Experts say that even the most powerful supercomputer today would need millions of years to breach 256-bit encryption.

Despite its many strengths, OpenVPN is far from perfect. The most common complaint about OpenVPN is that it’s slow. It’s not unusual for a video streaming through OpenVPN to turn into a slideshow. Some users also complain about connections dropping on OpenVPN. This is where WireGuard comes in. The protocol is stable, speedier, less complex, and easier to configure than OpenVPN.

How fast is WireGuard?

One study tested 114 VPN servers to see if WireGuard is faster than OpenVPN. Here are the highlights:

  • WireGuard was quickest in nearly 60% of the download tests.
  • WireGuard is almost 15% faster than OpenVPN on UDP.
  • WireGuard is 56% faster than OpenVPN on TCP.

It’s faster than OpenVPN, but is WireGuard safe?

WireGuard isn’t just quick, it’s also very secure. At Malwarebytes, we pair WireGuard with a 256-bit AES encryption to safeguard connections.

One thing to note about WireGuard is that by default, the protocol assigns the same IP address every time a user connects. Using the same address each time gives users a predictable ID that’s shared with every service they use, including any advertisers watching on.

To counter this, some VPN service providers modify the VPN protocol so that it assigns a random IP address, which makes it harder for advertisers, websites, and others to track your activity from one session to the next.

A number of popular VPN services have embraced WireGuard to offer customers fast and secure connections. If you’ve heard that VPNs slow down your connection significantly, perhaps you’re looking for a VPN to use while gaming, or you just generally want a fast VPN service, providers that use the new WireGuard protocol are worth looking in to.

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