WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Speed vs. Security

Have you seen the WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols on your VPN and wondered about the difference between the two? We’ve decoded each protocol so you can choose the best performance and security.
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WireGuard and OpenVPN are two extremely popular virtual private network (VPN) protocols that use different encryption to keep your data safe. At the risk of oversimplifying it, VPN protocols are the bodyguards your VPN uses to protect your data when it’s en route around the web.

Different protocols may have different functions or be better suited for different situations. In regard to security vulnerabilities, attack surface, and encryption algorithms, the distinctions in WireGuard and OpenVPN’s codebase may or may not work for what you’re trying to do.

If you’re scratching your head wondering which one is best for you, then you can review our comparison of WireGuard vs. OpenVPN to see the best scenarios for each. We’ll also share the best VPNs that offer these protocols.

In this article
What is a VPN protocol?
What is WireGuard?
What is OpenVPN?
6 differences between WireGuard and OpenVPN
WireGuard vs. OpenVPN FAQs
Bottom line

What is a VPN protocol?

You may have seen reviews or even just general information about VPNs and noticed the protocols that were mentioned. You may even switch the protocols on your VPN from time to time without knowing what they mean.

A VPN protocol is a set of rules that dictates how your information is funneled through your VPN. VPN services use these rules to encrypt your data and protect it while you use their service. Different protocols have different rules.

What is WireGuard?

WireGuard is a VPN protocol. WireGuard was originally built for Linux but has expanded to include all major operating systems, including Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and BSD. It claims its goal is to offer better performance than OpenVPN and IPsec, which it states are “behemoths” with lengthy lines of code that take ages to audit.[1]

According to ExpressVPN, which does not currently support WireGuard, WireGuard is a lighter (less code) and faster VPN connection that’s becoming more widely adopted across VPN platforms. Because of WireGuard’s lighter approach, it can exchange packets faster. Since a packet is the information exchanged between locations (when you type in a website and then your internet browser takes you there), having a lightweight process like WireGuard can get you there faster and with more security.

The only real issue with WireGuard is that it doesn’t obfuscate naturally, meaning that it’s apparent you’re using a VPN, and it doesn’t offer a dynamic IP address. This is why it’s best to use WireGuard with a VPN service like Surfshark, which does these things naturally.

WireGuard pros and cons

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Fast
  • Open source
Cons
  • No natural obfuscation
  • No dynamic IP

VPNs with WireGuard

If you like the idea of using the fast, lightweight WireGuard with your VPN, you should check out these VPN providers. They both offer dynamic IP addresses and obfuscated VPN servers to make sure you’re getting the best protection possible.

  • NordVPN: NordVPN is known for its robust security features and widespread server network. With a user-friendly interface, NordVPN offers secure and encrypted internet connections. Its massive global server coverage allows users to access geo-restricted content while maintaining anonymity.

    Get NordVPN | Read NordVPN Review
  • Surfshark: Surfshark is versatile and recognized for its budget-friendly pricing and unlimited device connections. With a focus on user-friendly design, Surfshark offers strong encryption for ultimate privacy. Beyond privacy features, its unique functionalities, such as CleanWeb for malware and ad blocking, make it a comprehensive and wallet-friendly choice.

    Get Surfshark | Read Surfshark Review

What is OpenVPN?

Where WireGuard prides itself on its lightweight code and speedy data exchanges, OpenVPN is lauded for its heavy security. OpenVPN supports a Community Edition with open-source code, which means the core code that is responsible for its encryption is available for anyone to review and support. Open-source software tends to have higher security and functionality because any discrepancy or weakness can easily be caught by the community.

Because of the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption OpenVPN uses, it has the ability to bypass most firewalls. OpenVPN even offers a cloud solution for businesses to ensure security and reduce the chance of being attacked by hackers. It’s able to do all this because it’s been tried and tested across the internet in a variety of situations and on many different platforms. The built-in end-to-end encryption as well as a kill switch are on par with some of the best VPN providers that use its services. While OpenVPN isn’t lightweight, it is robust and secure.

OpenVPN pros and cons

Pros
  • Strong encryption
  • Open source to help keep it updated and secure
  • Trusted protection deployed across a variety of reputable VPNs
Cons
  • Lots of code to sort through for developers and programmers
  • May be slightly slower

VPNs with OpenVPN

The OpenVPN protocol might be bulkier as far as code, but that also means it doesn’t slack in the security department. For anyone looking for a tested and proven security protocol, OpenVPN is a must. The slight speed discrepancy is usually not noticeable to the average user, but the increase in security is undisputed. There are several VPN services using OpenVPN, but these are our favorites:

  • ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN is known for its exceptional speed, security protocols (including its proprietary Lightway protocol), and user-friendly apps. With a vast network of servers in diverse locations, its speed and security allow for some of the best streaming access of any VPN. The service’s commitment to privacy, strict no-logs policy, and reliable customer support contribute to its top-tier reputation.

    Get ExpressVPN | Read ExpressVPN Review
  • NordVPN: NordVPN shows up again because it offers both WireGuard and OpenVPN. It’s a great option for anyone who wants to use both of these protocols without having to have multiple subscriptions. It doesn’t hurt that NordVPN is a top-tier security product with a great reputation.

    Get NordVPN | Read NordVPN Review

6 differences between WireGuard and OpenVPN

The biggest notable differences between WireGuard and OpenVPN are speed and security. While WireGuard is generally faster, OpenVPN provides heavier security. The differences between these two protocols are also what make up their defining features. We’ve taken a closer look at each so you can really understand how they work for you.

Auditability

WireGuard claims it’s easier to audit because it contains so much less code, but OpenVPN has a Community Edition that allows for continual audits from the open-source community.

With WireGuard, it’s easier to find and fix issues within the code because it’s so paired down. OpenVPN, on the other hand, has more protection for end users because of the amount of safety protocols written into its extensive code.

Compatibility

If you’re a casual user, like most people on the internet, you shouldn’t have a problem with compatibility with either of these protocols. NordVPN, which offers both protocols for a variety of operating systems and platforms, is one of the most frequently used VPNs available. While using NordVPN on both computers and mobile devices, users can manually switch between both protocols.

Your VPN can even be installed on your router to cover all your devices simultaneously. If you’re a programmer or developer, you may need to look more into the compatibility features of both protocols, but for the average person, you won’t need to worry.

Encryption

There’s a notable difference in the encryption used by each of these protocols. OpenVPN uses standard AES-256 encryption. This is military grade, and so secure that it would take millions of years using our current computing technology to crack the code.

WireGuard’s cryptography, on the other hand, uses ChaCha20. ChaCha20 has a shorter key length than AES-256. Its supporters claim that longer encryption keys are redundant and that ChaCha20 is just as effective at its current length.

Security

It can be argued that due to WireGuard’s lighter code and shorter encryption key, it’s less secure than OpenVPN, but that really hasn’t been proven in real-world testing. OpenVPN, by nature, is considered to have better security because of its beefy code and open-source edition. That may not necessarily be the case, given the success security experts are having with WireGuard.

Speed

The WireGuard protocol has fast speeds. Just by its nature and because of the lean code, it’s the faster of the two. It also processes packets with a simpler interface, cutting out the middleman in the processing stream. This means that there’s less processing necessary to get from point A to point B, which, in turn, makes it faster.

OpenVPN can’t compete with WireGuard’s speed simply because of the bulk of it, which leads to extra steps in processing packets. With a lot of the differences, we would say that it would be up to personal preference, but in regard to speed, WireGuard wins.

Transport layer

As we’ve discussed, OpenVPN is using the classic SSL data protocol for delivery. WireGuard uses User Datagram Protocol (UDP). The main difference is that SSL requires an authentication procedure, which is called a handshake, while UDP doesn’t need a connection to communicate.

This is another reason why WireGuard is faster. The problem, however, is that there’s no tracking so there’s no 100% guarantee that the packet will get where it needs to go. SSL is much more secure when it comes to delivery guarantees.

WireGuard vs. OpenVPN FAQs


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Is WireGuard better than OpenVPN?

WireGuard is better than OpenVPN in regard to speed, but OpenVPN may be better than WireGuard when it comes to security. Since WireGuard is still a relatively new protocol, only time will tell if its paired-down code and UDP transport layer will stand up to the security provided by OpenVPN’s bulky code and SSL transport.


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Is WireGuard TCP or UDP?

WireGuard uses UDP as a transport layer. This means it can send packets of information with connectionless communication. While this essentially makes your online activity move faster, it also has the potential to reduce security. With connectionless communication, your packets aren’t guaranteed to arrive at their intended destination.


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Does NordVPN use WireGuard or OpenVPN?

NordVPN offers both WireGuard and OpenVPN. There aren’t a lot of VPNs that offer both, but you’ll have a choice between the two when using NordVPN.

If you want to use OpenVPN the majority of the time for the added security, you can set it as the default then switch to WireGuard if you need optimal speeds for a certain digital exchange like P2P or torrenting.

Bottom line

When it comes down to it, the differences between these two protocols are not that noticeable to normal, everyday internet users. If you’re out there just browsing the web and streaming geo-restricted Netflix content, you’ll likely not have difficulty with OpenVPN’s slightly slower speed. When updating your Pedro Pascal fan blog or sending emails back and forth to your aunt about who’s bringing what to the family potluck, WireGuard’s lighter security isn’t going to make a big difference. The most important thing is that you’re using a VPN to transfer data through these encrypted VPN tunnels.

If you choose one of the best VPNs like NordVPN that uses either protocol, you can have fun switching between them. Enable WireGuard for torrenting or online gaming so you ensure the best speeds and switch back to OpenVPN when logging in to your work accounts. Now that you know the biggest differences between the two, you can approach your security from the best possible angle.

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Author Details
Mary lives in Los Angeles and has been a cybersecurity writer for over five years. With a B.S. in Liberal Arts from Clarion University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, her career in online security began in sales and content creation for a private cybersecurity firm.

Citations

[1] WireGuard fast, modern, secure VPN tunnel