IPSec vs. OpenVPN: Which Is Better?

VPNs are a great way to secure your connection. They keep your data confidential and available and maintain its integrity. So, even though many sites use Google HTTP encryption, a VPN can add a much-needed layer of security. 

Still, a VPN needs a protocol to function. But often, users don’t care about what protocol suits them better. While you can get away with this for a while, as you start to use the VPN, you’ll inevitably become more conscious of protocols. 

The protocol you choose can significantly affect how your system runs. It can influence things like performance and encryption quality. 

Two of the most popular VPN protocols are OpenVPN and IPSec, and many people in the tech world have extensive arguments about which one is preferable. In this article, you will learn about IPSec, OpenVPN, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. We will also clear some doubts about these protocols below. 

IPSec vs. OpenVPN: What Is IPSec and How Does It Work? 

IP Sec

IPSec means Internet Protocol Security. It is a secure suite of connected protocols that encrypts and authenticates data. IPSec is mainly used for site-to-site connectivity. It’s excellent for communications between offices that belong to the same organization. 

This is because it ensures that data arrives precisely as sent but is not leaked in transmission. It provides protected communication between two endpoints via an Internet Protocol network (IP network). IPSec is the default standard for securing data in transit between devices. 

IPSec also ensures data integrity. Essentially, it ensures that your data packets aren’t influenced, interrupted, or altered during transmission. It can protect more than one data flow as it protects the IP layer.

IPSEC is an innovation of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Most platforms already have inbuilt IPSec platforms, so you don’t need third-party apps. Some people use it with other VPN protocols like Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2), but you can always use it alone. 

How It Works

IPSec can operate in either tunnel or transport mode. 

Tunnel Mode

Tunnel Mode encrypts all the data passing between two gateways. These gateways create a code communication tunnel between two networks and ensure they pass strict integrity checks. 

In this case, you or your computer won’t be aware of the VPN or encryption behind the scenes. You’ll simply receive and send data as it is. 

Transport Mode

Transport mode is most commonly used when communication is between two hosts, and each is responsible for encrypting and decrypting messages accordingly. 

In transport mode, data passes through several networks, such as switches and routers. So, packets are usually left unencrypted to route the traffic properly. Only the payload portion is generally encrypted. 

Think of it like this: the server needs to see the address to deliver the data to the right system(s). So, that information is usually not coded. However, the core information is usually still safe as long as the code is secure. 

Here are some technicalities to note about how the IPSec protocol works.

  • IPSec employs keys such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) or 3DES for the encryption algorithm. 
  • Its high integrity is maintained by hashing algorithms such as SHA.
  • When two devices are connected, they choose an algorithm for encryption and authentication. They also use a decided algorithm to exchange cryptographic keys. 
  • The system uses either a password or certification for authentication. 

Key Advantages 

Here are some of the critical advantages of IPSec:

  • It is easy to install since it’s inbuilt. You don’t need a third-party app. 
  • It provides robust security. You can authenticate by password and authorize it by certificate. 
  • The speed is generally faster than OpenVPN.
  • It is supported on a wide range of networking devices. 
  • You can establish a tunnel even if there’s a NAT Traversal

IPSec vs. OpenVPN: What Is OpenVPN and How Does It Work? 

open vpn

OpenVPN is a kind of virtual private network with an open source. It’s highly configurable and uses several ports and encryption to run. 

This VPN protocol is free and easily accessible, so you can easily download it on most operating systems. It runs authentication and encryption through an Open Source Software Library (OSSL) and uses Transport Layer Security (TSL) for key exchange. This simplifies the setup process and implementation. 

OpenVPN protocol is best for granting access and ensuring communications between office sites and employees who work remotely. It became even more popular than ever during the pandemic. Another reason for its popularity is that it’s been verified by many third-party audits as highly secure. 

Key Advantages 

Here are some of the critical advantages of an OpenVPN

  • It supports different transmission protocols. You can run Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP) on any port you use. 
  • Open VPN has high-end encryption keys and ciphers that make information takeover difficult. 
  • OpenVPN is usually free to install on your system. However, you may have to subscribe to OpenVPN Access for some VPN benefits. 
  • There are several available guides and documentation. 
  • If there’s a disconnection, the VPN protocol will pause the network until it’s reconfigured or reconnected. This way, you’ll miss nothing and stay secure. 
  • It has excellent stability when roaming over WiFi and cellular networks.

IPSec vs. OpenVPN: Comparison by Features

Here are some of the differences between IPSec and OpenVPN. 


IPSec allows you to choose from several cipher suites. IPSec is often accelerated in the hardware, so its option isn’t as broad as the options from OpenVPN, but it has no known history of vulnerability. 

On the other hand, OpenVPN has even lesser vulnerabilities. You can choose from several cipher suites like ChaCha and AES. Plus, you can even select your desired tunneling protocol with support. All in all, OpenVPN is the most popular when security is considered. 


IPSec is generally faster than OpenVPN. IPSec user data is from the in-site IP stack, while OpenVPN is usually implemented in another area, usually the userspace. So, the IP stack has faster encryption and decryption, while OpenVPN factors the transmission time.


While IP Stack is faster, OpenVPN provides a more stable connection. The TCP mode of an OpenVPN allows you to retry several times after a connection break-off. 

Installation Process

IPSec needs no third-party site to work. It’s inbuilt and the default for several systems. It supports many operating systems like iOS, Windows, macOS, Ubuntu, and Android. 

OpenVPN, on the other hand, requires a third-party connection. You need extra software on your operating system for it to function. The manual configuration may be confusing for first-time users. 


Implementation isn’t essential for most people unless you are on an IT team. Still, it’s worth discussing. 

Open VPNs are easier to implement for users. You can maintain it across different operating systems. It can run on any port, including the popular 443 port. 

On the other hand, IPSec requires a unique stack per operating system. For example, you may have a poorer experience using a VPN client on a Mac or iOS than on Windows or Linux. 

Because of this, many IPSec users are Windows users too, so even the IPSec company is putting more effort into developing updates for Windows users. 

Also, it only operates on specific UDP and TCP ports. Since they can’t be charged, the firewalls might restrict connections on ports other than HTTP and HTTPS.

Firewall Ports 

IPSec has default and defined communication channels. It uses these channels to establish ESP to transmit encrypted data and set up encrypted tunnels. 

Open VPN uses a chosen UDP or TCP port, so you’ll usually be able to select your configuration channel or port. 

Is WireGuard a Good Alternative to These Two Protocols? 

WireGuard is an increasingly popular alternative to the two famous VPN protocols. WireGuard is fast, safe, and easy to operate and implement. You can use it across platforms. 

Many people say WireGuard is excellent for only short-term connections. It’s convenient for people who want to set up a quick and secure connection but are not skilled at complex configurations. 

Its limited configuration options can be a problem for large organizations. Enterprises usually need better configuration options like the one OpenVPNs offer. 

Still, these new options are helpful for many people who need VPNs just for secure connections. There are also several other options on the market you can check out. 

Final Thoughts 

The two main protocol options are IPSec and OpenVPN. Both of them have advantages and setbacks. IPsec is great for site-to-site connections between networks. It’s built-in and easy to set up. So, if you are looking for something that works between company branches, this is your best bet. 

But OpenVPN allows you to add more users to the network, and it’s easy to authenticate. It is excellent for client-to-site connections. It’s the best option to share data with remote workers, as it allows much flexibility. We hope this article on IPSec vs. OpenVPN has helped you decide between the two.

Dale Williams
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