Many VPNs give you the option to choose between these two protocols, but do you really understand what you’re choosing when you pick one over the other?

Recently, there has been an increase in the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) among organizations, due to the need for secure and private exchange of corporate data. Employees working remotely are also able to connect to office servers via VPNs. In some countries like China, where there are strict rules governing what is available online, people can use VPNs to overcome restrictive firewalls.

In this article, we are going to compare two protocols to help you decide which one, PPTP or L2TP, will best suit your needs. You will learn about which protocol is supported by your gadget, security considerations and even speed. Each of the two VPN protocols has unique strengths and capabilities. Let’s watch this PPTP vs L2TP battle.

PPTP vs L2TP protocols: a review

Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) is a set of communication rules (protocols) that allows organizations to perform a network extension over a public network by using private secure tunnels.

An organization can use PPTP to optimize the use of its vast area network as just a local area network. PPTP is an extension of the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) used on the internet. It is a product of Microsoft Corporation, which enables PC users with PPT client support to access the company’s resources via a separate Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Remote users can use the organization’s resources as long as their ISPs support this protocol. The PPTP protocol achieves this by facilitating the creation of a virtual link between your computer and the server, and then forwarding the data to the preferred destination.

L2TP (Layer Two Tunnelling Protocol), meanwhile, is just an extension of PPTP used mainly by ISPs for VPN services on the internet. Microsoft, in partnership with Cisco, designed this protocol. The L2TP connection comprises a tunnel and a session. The tunnel carries control packets and is also used as a bridge between two L2TP Control Connection Endpoints. The session is contained inside the tunnel and transmits user data. There are multiple sessions included in the tunnel, but the user data is kept separate through session identifier numbers saved in the data encapsulation headers of L2TP.

This protocol runs over a more firewall-friendly protocol called User Datagram Protocol (UDP). L2TP uses a 256-bit encryption mechanism to secure the user’s data.

Compatibility and configuration comparison

As an organization, you always aim to have diversified operations when growing from a single unit to a multinational corporation. The same concept applies when searching for a protocol.

You need a protocol which supports as many devices as possible, which runs on different operating systems and that is not complicated to configure.

Both of these protocols support different platforms. However, L2TP tends to have more compatible devices compared to PPTP, which is supported mostly by Windows-based devices. PPTP is easier to set up and configure since it requires only a username and a password. On the other hand, the configuration of L2TP is a bit more complicated since the user is required to have a digital certificate prior to installation and configuration.

Speed

Nobody needs a slow VPN. A proper VPN protocol will have a super-fast speed for uploads and downloads. The best VPN protocol should also have the least latency time (the amount of time it takes to receive a response from a site you are trying to access).

The attribute which affects the speed of a protocol is the encryption overhead.

PPTP has 128-bit keys and an RCA; it thus has the least overhead compared to other VPNs. As a result, PPTP is very fast. On the other hand, L2TP uses a double encapsulation. That extra encryption eats the bandwidth and increases its overhead, lowering the speed. However, the rate can also be affected by the distance between the host (device) and the server.

Encryption

As technology advances, there are increased vulnerabilities on the internet. When selecting a VPN protocol, it is tempting to go for a cheaper alternative to save cash. But the fact is that data confidentiality is the primary factor to consider.

The number of bits used by the protocol to encapsulate data determines how strong the protocol is.

PPTP uses the Microsoft Point-to-Point encryption algorithm, which has a maximum of 128 encryption keys. As a result, the algorithm is easy to crack and thus more vulnerable. L2TP, however, uses a 256-bit encryption mechanism. Since there are 128 more keys than PPTP, there is high security guarantee. It is always hard for hackers to crack an algorithm with a higher number of encryption keys. It’s 1:0 in the PPTP vs L2TP fight with the L2TP in front.

Security

When using VPNs, there is always a big risk of being subjected to different online vulnerabilities such as hacking, viruses and denial of service attacks. A good protocol will guarantee a high level of data security. Microsoft’s implementation of PPTP is faced with numerous vulnerabilities.

The most potential risk involves a dictionary attack.

The most potential risk involves a dictionary attack, which is likely to cause vulnerability to the Microsoft version of the Challenge-Handshake Authentication Protocol version 2 (MSCHAF-V2). The Rivest Cipher 4 (RC4) algorithm used here has very few bits and is easily attacked by hackers through the bit-flipping attack, which is an attack on a cryptographic cipher where the attacker can change the ciphertext. As a result, this protocol is becoming outdated.

When using IPsec in the L2TP protocol, it is very secure and has minimal vulnerability concerns.

This IPsec is implemented via a complicated algorithm, which is hard to master and crack. The number of bits in this algorithm is also higher (twice those of PPTP), which is very difficult to crack through bit-flipping. When installing and configuring this protocol, you are requested to provide a digital certificate to authenticate yourself. This protocol is secure compared to PPTP and thus highly recommended.

However, some VPNs use pre-shared keys that are made public. These keys are easy to implement and vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. This is the only major risk associated with the L2TP protocol, but it is mainly caused by how the protocol is implemented.

Seems like L2TP wins this PPTP vs L2TP round.

PPTP vs L2TP: which one performs better?

When selecting a VPN protocol, you should aim to ensure that the protocol does not let you down. The VPN protocol you choose should take into consideration your internet connection. At times, the connection may be unstable due to unavoidable situations arising from your provider. PPTP is unreliable, especially when you have many employees who need to share private information such as documents.

Unlike the PPTP, the L2TP protocol is very reliable. Even if the connection is unstable, the protocol will not let you down. It can support many employees sharing confidential information from a remote network. As a result, you should always aim for a choice that accommodates both the better and worst times of your network. L2TP is clearly the better option here.

L2TP, you again?

Stability and restricted access

Selecting the best VPN protocol will also require considering the amount of stability you get. When it comes to stability, there is no doubt that L2TP is better than PPTP. L2TP has been proven to be stable across several networks, devices and operating systems. It is highly unlikely that you will face any performance issues when using L2TP over unstable connections, and it is ideal for securely connecting to a remote network.

L2TP is better for sharing private information than PPTP.

However, L2TP requires higher Central Processing Unit (CPU) processing since it encapsulates data twice. Therefore, it may result in slower connection speeds. PPTP is comparatively unstable but works well on most Wi-Fi hotspots, although it is not a good choice for sharing private information.

While L2TP is more stable than PPTP, both protocols can potentially be blocked. Since both PPTP and L2TP use fixed ports, they can be blocked easily using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) techniques.

DPI techniques evaluate data, and they can weed out any intrusions by blocking them from passing through the inspection point. As a result, both L2TP and PPTP can easily be detected and obstructed by some firewalls that use DPI techniques. Although both protocols can easily be blocked, L2TP is still a better choice because of its stronger security and ability to bypass network restrictions.

Price comparison

The price of a VPN protocol should reflect the needs of the user. An organization with higher financial stability will go for a more expensive, albeit more reliable, VPN. It should come as no surprise that you can also find free VPNs which can meet your needs, although you should check carefully that they do not contain adware.

PPTP is a cheaper protocol than L2TP. It will serve you well, especially when there are lower security concerns around your shared data. However, when the information being shared among employees is highly confidential, you will need to invest in the more secure L2TP protocol. It is always a liability to incur expenses as an organization, but L2TP is worth it over the long term.

Firewall port comparison

In some countries, certain sites such as social media and online casinos are restricted by the government.

This is achieved through the use of secure protocols which detect and block the protocols trying to access these sites. PPTP is the most detected protocol. It uses TCP port 1723 and protocol 47 (GRE). There are advanced GRE protocols implemented in those protocols to detect and block the PPTP.

L2TP uses UDP 500 in the first exchange of the key. The protocol 50 is used for the encryption of data. For the NAT traversal, L2TP uses UDP 4500 protocol.

Those two protocols are easily detected and blocked by firewalls since they rely mostly on fixed protocols.

Netflix & Torrenting

While PPTP is very vulnerable and not a good alternative for anything requiring high levels of security, it can still get the job done when it comes to unblocking content. Most people require a VPN protocol to unblock content that has some geographical restrictions. Unblocking content mainly requires speed and location; therefore even if PPTP is not the best, it can still be used. PPTP may be good enough for unblocking websites with geo-restrictions; for streaming videos from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other sites; and for preventing throttling of HD videos. However, if there is a lot of encryption, PPTP is not a good choice. L2TP is also able to unblock restricted sites, and with better security.

Torrent files are like an information index for content and available computers with the content worldwide. It is difficult to get some restricted content, but torrenting makes this possible; furthermore, you can download your required content from the computer servers. However, the number of media companies monitoring torrent activity is on the rise. Depending on your location, if you try to torrent restricted content, you are likely to receive a copyright violation notice or an immediate demand for payment for damages. As such, it is necessary to have a good VPN protocol to spoof your identity. As already mentioned, PPTP has vulnerabilities and is not robust; therefore, while it can be used for unblocking content, L2TP is the better option for torrenting, to avoid landing in trouble for copyright infringements.

PPTP vs L2TP: the final verdict

To sum up, we have analyzed and compared the two VPN protocols, giving you a final answer on PPTP vs L2TP fight. Other than the issue of device compatibility, there is no reason to choose PPTP, as internet vulnerabilities increase each day. If you have no other choice than to use this protocol, you should use some advanced security measures such as HTTPs (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) to encrypt your data.

L2TP is the best option when it comes to security issues. As we have seen earlier, it has 246-bit encryption, which ensures maximum data security. However, L2TP should not be shared with keys published publicly since this will compromise the security. Both protocols are not suitable for accessing restricted interfaces since they use static protocols.