WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Which VPN Protocol Is Better?

 WireGuard and OpenVPN comparison.
WireGuard and OpenVPN head-to-head.

VPNs use protocols to create a secure and anonymous internet connection. OpenVPN and WireGuard are some of the most popular VPN protocols in town. Whereas OpenVPN has been a fan favorite for over two decades, the new contender on the market, WireGuard, is making big waves in the VPN industry.

However, the question remains, which one is better? OpenVPN or WireGuard? This article aims to give you this answer.

Here, we'll cover all of the critical parameters for comparison between the two protocols, Wireguard and OpenVPN:

  • Encryption
  • Speed
  • Bypassing censorship
  • Security
  • Mobility
  • Privacy

Before comparing these protocols, let's first learn about the basics regarding each VPN.

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is a VPN protocol launched in 2001 by James Yonan. It's a gold standard in VPN protocols due to its flexibility, trustworthiness, and capability to bypass firewalls and restricted networks.

OpenVPN is free of cost if used for two devices. It's been downloaded over 60 million times which is an obvious indication of its popularity. OpenVPN's protocol is open-source software with over 7000 code lines released under the GNU General Public License. It uses UDP and TCP protocols to transfer data.

The best VPN service providers like ExpressVPN, SurfShark, CyberGhost, and NordVPN use it.

What is WireGuard?

WireGuard entered the VPN world in 2021 and was developed by Jason Donenfeld. It's free and released under the GPLv2 license.

WireGuard’s VPN protocol has only 4,000 code lines and runs over the UDP protocol. Its main features stem from this lightweight code. This code makes it faster and easier for developers to find bugs and errors making it responsive and auditable.

It is also open-source software and uses efficient cryptographic protocols like BLAKE2, Poly1305, ChaCha20, and Curve25199. Also, it uses TUN drivers by default, which handle traffic routing, encryption, and logic, such as split tunneling.

VPN providers that support WireGuard are NordVPN, SurfShark, ExpressVPN, Private Internet, and Cyberghost.

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WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Which Protocol Is Best?

You have learned about the basics of WireGuard and OpenVPN. Now, it's time to compare them! Let's dive straight into the OpenVPN and WireGuard comparison below:

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Encryption

Encryption is an essential aspect of VPN protocols. When comparing OpenVPN and WireGuard encryption, it’s important to note that OpenVPN uses various encryption algorithms thanks to the OpenSSL library. These include:

WireGuard encryption information table.

OpenVPN algorithms are flexible at some levels, whereas WireGuard's algorithms are fixed. Its algorithms are:

OpenVPN encryption information table.

OpenVPN doesn't need to change the code to use any authentication algorithm and encryption cipher. But WireGuard uses a limited set of ciphers and algorithms, and it's necessary to update the code on your device if anyone is detected as insecure.

Most security experts prefer old encryption techniques because many new algorithms will inevitably face unknown issues. Therefore, OpenVPN is the best option as it relies on OpenSSL libraries for authentication. And OpenSSL libraries have been present for many years. In contrast, WireGuard uses ChaCha 20 for authentication.

Moreover, OpenVPN uses RSA and AES for data and control channels. Thus passwords and encryption keys are less likely to be attacked. But OpenVPN has a large code, meaning a large attack surface for hackers. And WireGuard has less code, so less complex and has a smaller area for attacks.

Verdict: If you're a new VPN protocol user, then you should try and test OpenVPN for encryption, but if you like streamlined code, then WireGuard is the better option for you.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Speed

WireGuard is designed for fast-speed purposes. It establishes a connection in 100 milliseconds, while OpenVPN takes 8 milliseconds. In some tests, WireGuard proved to be 58% faster than OpenVPN. In ideal circumstances, its speed was beyond 500mbps.

WireGuard is the quickest protocol due to many factors. These include:

  • Its lightweight code inherently makes it the fastest protocol.
  • WireGuard also supports multithreading-process data using many CPU cores simultaneously and uses a faster encryption method.
  • Moreover, WireGuard is good at using available bandwidth and operates entirely in kernel space.

VPN protocol speed also depends upon service providers and internet connection. So it also influences VPN protocol performance. OpenVPN performs at a respectable speed if your internet connection is at least 40mbps. But OpenVPN code and its integration into userspace make it sluggish.

Verdict: WireGuard is faster than OpenVPN.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Bypassing censorship

In bypassing censorship, OpenVPN is better than WireGuard. How? Because the OpenVPN protocol can run over User Datagram Protocol (UPD) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) layers.

UDP is faster, while TCP is reliable.TCP can bypass censorship using Port 443, the same port HTTPS uses. Due to TCP, OpenVPN avoids censorships of strict countries like China and Russia. In some cases, an advanced deep inspection can detect OpenVPN. But for these cases, security experts recommend using Scramble within advanced protocol settings to add another layer of protection to VPN traffic.

On the other hand, WireGuard only uses the UDP layer to transport data. And UDP's primary purpose is to transport data at a fast speed, not bypass censorships. It makes it easy to detect. Moreover, it's susceptible to Deep Packet Inspection.

Verdict: OpenVPN wins.

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WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Security

OpenVPN is secure if appropriately configured. This protocol has no known security vulnerabilities, and its code has been audited many times. Moreover, it has many encryption ciphers and authentication algorithms. When any security vulnerability happens in the algorithm, then OpenVPN can immediately set up something else.

In terms of security cases, WireGuard also has earned a good reputation. It's secure and uses the latest cryptography. Its code is short and easy to audit. On top of that, WireGuard has a fixed set of algorithms and ciphers. When some vulnerability is found, all endpoints are updated to a new version, ensuring that no one uses insecure code again.

Verdict: Tie.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Mobility

Now, it's common for internet users to switch between mobile and wifi networks when using devices. A protocol should make this transition smooth and efficient.

In the mobility case, WireGuard is a winner. As WireGuard manages network switching smoothly. But OpenVPN doesn't provide a seamless transition. During network changes, many users disconnect and reconnect after they change the network while using OpenVPN.

Verdict: WireGuard wins.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Privacy

The purpose of VPNs is to provide privacy. If you value privacy, choose a VPN service and protocol with a zero-log policy that guarantees complete privacy. OpenVPN is the perfect option for a service with zero-log policy, where WireGuard doesn't have one.

Wireguard doesn't offer a zero-log policy, unlike OpenVPN. OpenVPN keeps PII off its servers and ensures your browsing sessions remain private.

OpenVPN doesn't store any IP address of the users. But WireGuard's Cryptokey Routing algorithm stores users' IP addresses on the VPN server until it reboots. In addition, your IP address may be exposed due to a WebRTC leak. VPN providers supporting the WireGuard protocol have now implemented workarounds to address privacy issues.

Verdict: OpenVPN is more private.

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Quick Summary: WireGuard vs OpenVPN

Here is a quick summary of the WireGuard and OpenVPN comparison.

WireGuard and OpenVPN general comparison table.

Final Thoughts on the WireGuard vs OpenVPN Dilemma

In this article, after comparing the senior VPN protocol OpenVPN and junior protocol WireGuard, we can conclude 2 main takeaways:

  1. Use OpenVPN for maximum privacy, and stick with OpenVPN, especially if you are under jurisdiction whereby passing censorship is essential. And when using devices that don't support OpenVPN.
  2. Use WireGuard if speed is a priority over privacy. For example, if you are accessing an international video streaming service while in an area of lower speed connection, you might want to switch from OpenVPN to WireGuard.

Each VPN has its merits and its own pros and cons. Whatever happens, always pick the best VPN for you!