OpenVPN is an industry-standard protocol that is often advertised on VPN websites as a selling point. Although it isn’t technically a VPN service, it is usually one of a few VPN connection protocols available. In this article, you’ll learn more about OpenVPN, how it works, how it compares with other VPN protocols, and how you can set it up.
As the de-facto industry standard, OpenVPN is the protocol of choice for most VPN service providers and users in general. It achieves the perfect balance between security, functionality, reliability, and is unmatched when it comes to bypassing firewalls. However, the high encryption levels often impede speed performance. Setting up the software can also be a bit complicated. So, it may not be the best option if you’re looking for a VPN that’s easy to install and use if you’re unfamiliar with VPNs.
The OpenVPN software package is free and open source. Alternatively, it is also possible to connect to OpenVPN by using a VPN service that charges a monthly fee. Subscribing to one of the premier VPN providers that manages and configures the protocol for you will save you the hassle of having to configure it yourself.
While OpenVPN has the ability to unblock most streaming services available, it doesn’t provide you with any servers pre-installed on its app. As such, you’ll either have to connect to your own or use third-party options — this includes free servers run by the OpenVPN community or ones you have access to through other VPN services.
Alternatively, OpenVPN does offer its own cloud-based VPN service called Cyber Shield. While this service functions differently from a traditional VPN, it does have servers that may allow you access some of your favorite streaming services.
If you’re looking at getting OpenVPN for streaming purposes, bear in mind the servers the community offers are not guaranteed to unblock content and come with their own privacy risks. I gathered several third-party servers from the OpenVPN Community Forum to test each server’s streaming capabilities. Interestingly, some of these servers allowed Netflix access but could not provide it with the bandwidth needed to stream content in HD. Use any of these VPNs if you want to access your US Netflix library. Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer did not work with the community servers.
Since OpenVPN doesn’t have its own server infrastructure, your experience will vary based on the service that you choose to use with OpenVPN. If you use community-made free servers, keep in mind that such free servers are susceptible to overcrowding and are often limited in terms of bandwidth. These limitations may slow down and significantly impact your streaming experience.
OpenVPN is not necessarily the fastest VPN tunneling protocol available, but it is still quite fast, particularly considering its strong encryption capabilities. You can easily get decent connection speeds if your bandwidth is sufficient, and its speeds are enough to cope with the demands of most casual VPN users.
In the interest of keeping this a review of a 100% free VPN, I gathered a collection of free third-party servers from the Community Forum. A number of servers located on different continents were tested for a high-quality connection. Sadly, long distance servers did not perform as well in the test. Most either did not connect at all, or their download speed was too slow to work well. I’m sure there are some long distance servers that work out there; however, I didn’t come across any that I was comfortable connecting to for privacy concerns.
In spite of OpenVPN’s reputation as the most secure VPN protocol, it is not the fastest, particularly in comparison with PPTP and L2TP/IPsec. This is due to the high level of security and encryption that OpenVPN utilizes — which also makes OpenVPN one of the only protocols capable of getting past firewalls and censorship blocks.
It is also due to the type of servers I used, and you’re likely to get better speeds if you connect to a premium, higher-quality server from a paid VPN service. Of course, any speed test taken depends mostly on the server that you connect to. To give you a better idea of what speeds to expect when you use this protocol with free servers, I ran a test using servers from 3 different continents including North America, Europe, and Australia.
For reference, my base internet speed averages 9.8mbs, and I’m located in the North-West of the US. Using local servers, the speed drop with OpenVPN connected was minimal with an 8% decrease in download speed and no noticeable change in ping. But when I attempted to use OpenVPN with distant servers, I got high latency and much slower downloads.
I experienced a 18% drop in download speed on a UK server that’s about 4.5K miles away. There was a noticeable jump in my ping from 2ms to 499ms. This was one of the fastest free servers I found for the UK, but, unfortunately, it didn’t unblock most streaming services.
The best Australian server I found (8K miles away) was almost unusable for anything except for basic web browsing with a 43% decrease in download speeds. The ping was slightly better than the UK server, but the speeds were unusable for streaming or more intensive tasks like online gaming.
While the speeds I got from using OpenVPN won’t be the same as what you get, it’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking to do some torrenting or streaming. If you’re looking for faster speeds, I recommend that you use ExpressVPN since it supports OpenVPN and is one of the fastest VPN services available.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
While OpenVPN doesn’t offer any official servers that you can use, there are third-party servers that you can connect to through the protocol. These servers are typically free and run by volunteers. You can find these servers in various places online, including the OpenVPN community or discussion forums such as Macrumors and Blackhatworld.
Of course, these are unofficial only and not endorsed by OpenVPN, so they come with their own privacy policies, speeds, unblocking capabilities, and risks, This can be cause for some concern, but OpenVPN doesn’t provide any free servers for you to use from official sources unless you sign up for the company’s premium cloud-based VPN service Cyber Shield.
OpenVPN is a protocol that you should use if you want to protect your data from prying eyes. By using high-end ciphers and 256-bit encryption, it makes it extremely difficult for cybercriminals to access or steal your information. Furthermore, OpenVPN uses ciphers such as AES, Camellia, 3DES, CAST-128, and Blowfish to enhance the security of the connection.
OpenVPN also uses its own custom protocol based on SSL (secure sockets layer) and TLS (transport layer security) to secure information for transfer between two devices. These two protocols are the same, with TLS being the more secure descendant of SSL. The two are used in conjunction to attain the most secure connection possible.
These SSL/TLS protocols share unique keys between devices in a process called asymmetrical cryptography. This uses a public key to encrypt data (using the 256-bit encryption standard), with a private key needed to decrypt it. Only the devices that have the keys can access the data.
For the actual information transfer process, OpenVPN uses both the UDP (user datagram protocol) and TCP (transmission control protocol) protocols. With TCP, all the data is carefully checked over to ensure an accurate and reliable transfer. On the other hand, UDP is a lot faster as it sends the data off immediately, though it does sacrifice a reliable connection. UDP is the default OpenVPN protocol until the connection loses stability. At that point, OpenVPN automatically uses TCP instead. This background switch of protocols ensures a continual stable connection with no loss of security.
Along with this, it also features intelligent security measures such as an auto-kill switch that cuts internet access when the connection is failing too much for TCP to secure it. OpenVPN also has an auto-connect setting for when you turn on your device — which is useful if you don’t want to keep going into the app to turn your VPN on.
In addition to continuously evaluating the protocol’s security, OpenVPN’s open-source community patches any known problems. The fact that it is regularly updated improves the protocol’s security. Hackers are constantly trying to find ways to exploit victims’ data, but open-source programmers ensure the protocol is protected at all costs.
While I initially had some concerns about OpenVPN as a free software, my worries turned out to be unfounded. OpenVPN has a very limited data collection system. In fact, if you wanted, you could run the protocol with only an email address. No payment or personal details are required.
The issue comes from any servers you connect to while using this protocol. Be advised, OpenVPN does not claim any responsibility for what happens to your data when you use third-party servers. The provider also doesn’t put any limits in place for server owners on what they can do with your data.
Between December 2016 and April 2017, QuarksLab and Cryptography Engineering independently tested OpenVPN for possible security flaws and vulnerabilities. It was discovered that there were two issues related to attacks that affect the delivery of services remotely. These were relatively minor security issues that were resolved.
Torrenting through OpenVPN is dependent on the VPN server you are connected to. However, OpenVPN offers both decent speed and top-notch security, which makes it a great choice for safe P2P file sharing.
Please be advised that my team and I don’t condone illegal torrenting so be sure to check the rules and regulations in your country. Make sure that torrents you download are copyright-free for your own safety.
OpenVPN transmits encrypted data over the 443 Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port, which allows you to unblock China-specific content. It is also possible to use a UDP (User Datagram Protocol) port to tunnel OpenVPN traffic. Using TCP ensures the reliability of OpenVPN connections because it entails multiple verification checks. However, UDP provides faster OpenVPN connection speeds as it transmits data without verifying if the data made it to the receiving computer.
Non-government approved VPNs are illegal in China, but there have been no public cases of tourists being penalized by the Chinese government. The common practice is that China fights VPNs by technologically blocking them and not by chasing after the people who use them.
A major advantage of OpenVPN’s free manual configuration is that it can be configured on as many devices as needed. Sadly, the time-consuming installation procedure, elaborate array of third-party plugins, and complexity of using this tool may be prohibitive for those with limited experience.
While some other protocols are designed to run on a specific operating system, OpenVPN is set up to run on Mac, Android, Windows, Linux, iOS, and other platforms as well. This makes it a good choice if you want to run your VPN service on many different devices. If you’re interested in testing out any other Windows compatible VPNs, you might want to take a look at this selection.
However, it is impossible to use proxy servers with OpenVPN as this feature is not supported. It is common for schools, businesses, and other open networks to use proxies that block OpenVPN, so working around them can be challenging.
Manually setting up an OpenVPN connection isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Technically adept users might be able to get it to work, but it may take some skill, time, and effort to do so. You may also experience security issues if you install it improperly.
On the other hand, using OpenVPN with a VPN provider is quite simple. Furthermore, many VPN providers offer guides to assist you in manually configuring OpenVPN through their services, which greatly simplifies the process. To avoid this headache, it is recommended that you select a VPN provider that utilizes the OpenVPN protocol over the bare-bones installation if you are new to VPNs.
OpenVPN doesn’t offer the typical support options. As it’s open source software, there is no dedicated live chat or email to message. Instead, you’ll find a very comprehensive FAQ on their main page, along with step by step guides on how to set up OpenVPN exactly how you want it.
If you were after a more personal support option or had a more specific problem that the guides didn’t fix, there’s a large community available of OpenVPN professionals who use the protocol regularly. The website also offers support via an online ticket system, but it is exclusive to members.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
The OpenVPN software is open source, as its name suggests. As such, it is completely free! I looked around the OpenVPN website, and I couldn’t even find a donation button.
Even though the code is free, you need to be aware that it does require some manual configuration and a fair amount of technical expertise is needed. There is a paid version of the software that can be purchased, with the business version being OpenVPN Access Server and the consumer version being a cloud-based service called Cyber Shield VPN.
Despite these choices, the majority of users choose to utilize the protocol through a separate VPN provider that licenses the software and charges you to use it. While you will benefit from the free, non-proprietary nature of the protocol in most cases, you will pay for the protocol if you choose to use it through a premium VPN service. Though these premium VPNs aren’t simply selling you access to the OpenVPN protocol. These options often come with a simpler user interface, multiple protocol options, and dedicated servers to justify the price.
If you have the technical know-how, OpenVPN could be a fantastic alternative to subscribing to a paid VPN service. OpenVPN is the preferred protocol because it is quite secure, reliable, and compatible with a variety of platforms. It is often recommended by security experts as the best option for all your online activities, thanks to its transparency.
The software is open-source, actively maintained by a developer community, independently audited, and owned by no single entity. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about malicious intentions and can expect speedy resolutions to any issues that may arise.
Unfortunately though, the robustness of the security it provides can result in a slower connection speed. You might experience unusable speeds when attempting to connect to foreign servers, a problem you are unlikely to encounter when using a dedicated VPN service. The use of third-party servers may raise some privacy concerns; however, it is possible to find trustworthy server owners or even set up your own. If you want an incredibly secure internet connection, I recommend using a consumer VPN service that makes use of the OpenVPN protocol, such as ExpressVPN.
If you’re not afraid of networking and overly technical details, OpenVPN is definitely worth it. This is especially true if you’re not afraid of investing some time into the finding/maintenance of a server. On the other hand, if you are new to VPNs, or download speeds are essential to you, I can say that OpenVPN won’t be worth it to you.
Yes, OpenVPN is a free service that can be configured manually or using its client software. Although, it is also possible to use a VPN service that comes with OpenVPN pre-installed to avoid the hassle of setting up the client yourself.
You should opt for a paid VPN service with a money-back guarantee over free VPN services. By doing so, you can claim a refund if the company falls short of its promises. These are a few reliable free VPN options you can try if you’re interested in testing out actual free VPNs.
Yes. OpenVPN is considered one of the best VPN protocols out there right now. It has features such as 256-bit OpenSSL encryption process with authentication certificates, SSL/TLS encryption protocols, UDP and TCP information transfer protocols, and an auto-kill and auto-connect switch, making it one of the safest VPNs available.
The protocol was even subjected to two security audits back in 2017 – the first found only very minor security issues that did not threaten user data, and the second found just two bugs that were quickly fixed.
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