OpenVPN vs. WireGuard. Which one to use?
Jun 25, 2023
5 min read
Virtual private networks (VPNs) play a crucial role in safeguarding our online activities and protecting sensitive data. With a multitude of VPN protocols available, it becomes handy to understand the differences between them, specially, when you need to chose which one to use. In this article, I delve into a comparison between OpenVPN and WireGuard, two prominent VPN protocols, exploring their security, performance, ease of implementation, and future prospects.
Note: All the information here exposed has been extracted directly from the official websites of the protocols (OpenVPN and WireGuard). I highly encourage you to visit them and explore the information by yourself, by expanding the sections that you are most interested in.
OpenVPN is a well-established open-source VPN protocol. It employs the OpenSSL library and therefore it supports any cipher which is supported by OpenSSL. At the time of writing this article, by default OpenVPN uses Blowfish, a 128 bit symmetrical cipher. Its opensourced nature, along with extensive track record and active security community ensure regular audits and prompt vulnerability patches.
WireGuard, in the other hand, takes a novel approach to security, utilizing modern cryptographic primitives like the Noise protocol framework. It incorporates cutting-edge algorithms such as ChaCha20 for symmetric encryption and Curve25519 for key exchange, providing a strong security foundation. There is a technical whitepaper about its implementation and security design that you can read in case of being interested in the details.
Performance and efficiency
While OpenVPN offers robust security, its comprehensive encryption and encapsulation process can introduce higher overhead, potentially impacting performance. However, optimizations like hardware acceleration and compression can alleviate this concern to some extent.
WireGuard is designed to be lightweight and efficient, emphasizing minimal code complexity and efficient handling of network connections. Its streamlined architecture, coupled with modern cryptographic algorithms, results in excellent performance, low latency, and reduced resource consumption. It's specially useful for mobile devices, where battery life or energy consumption is a concern.
OpenVPN supports UDP and TCP, allowing you to choose between performance and reliability. It's also older, so they offer much more features than WireGuard. However, most of these features are not needed in most cases, and specially with relatively new hardware or devices. In fact, as it provides a ton of features, it requires more source code, which means more potential bugs and security issues in the code base.
WireGuard, in the other hand, is a much simpler protocol. It only supports UDP, and it doesn't have any extra features. However, it's much easier to audit and review, and it's much less likely to have security issues. Nonetheless, as this is a much newer protocol compared to OpenVPN, security is theoretical:
The math says WireGuard is a very secure VPN protocol, but it is still new, and has not proven itself in the field in the way OpenVPN has. ~ ProtonVPN
Implementation and configuration
OpenVPN offers extensive flexibility and is highly configurable, enabling advanced setups and customization. However, its rich feature set may contribute to a steeper learning curve, as it involves managing complex configuration files, server certificates, and key pairs. Just a quick search to their HowTo or the rest of its documentation will give you an idea of how complex it can be.
However, WireGuard distinguishes itself with its simplicity and ease of use. Its minimalistic design requires fewer lines of code for configuration compared to OpenVPN. Automatic key management and straightforward setup make WireGuard a popular choice for both beginners and experienced users. Just take a look at the brief Quick Start guide to get an idea of how easy it is to configure and start using it.
Future outlook and adoption
OpenVPN has an extensive user base and wide industry adoption due to its long-standing reputation and feature-rich nature. It continues to evolve, incorporating new enhancements and security updates, ensuring its relevance in the VPN landscape. For many years, it has been the de facto standard for VPNs, and it's still the most used protocol nowadays. If you ask tech people about to name a VPN protocol, most of them will probably say OpenVPN.
WireGuard, despite being relatively new, has gained significant attention and praise for its innovative design and simplicity. It has been integrated into the Linux kernel and gained support on various platforms. As its adoption grows, WireGuard has the potential to shape the future of VPN protocols.
When selecting a VPN protocol, weighing the differences between OpenVPN and WireGuard is crucial. OpenVPN provides a mature, feature-rich solution with proven security, while WireGuard offers a modern, lightweight approach with exceptional performance. Consider your specific needs in terms of security, performance, ease of implementation, and the evolving VPN landscape to make an informed decision.
But if you ask for my opinion, Wireguard has become my go-to choice for VPNs. It's much easier to configure, it's much faster, and it's much more secure. Also, I mostly connect to VPN when I'm outside home, from my phone, tablet or laptop, and Wireguard is easier on the battery load of my devices. I'm using it as my self-hosted VPN server at home. You can check the link if you are interested in how I configured it using a Raspberry Pi for it.
In case you are looking for a trusty, commercial VPN provider instead, I'm also using ProtonVPN (from the creators of Protonmail) as my commercial VPN provider. They offer both OpenVPN and Wireguard protocols, and also a secured email, drive (data storage) and calendar service, all for the same price, fully E2E encrypted and under strong UE privacy laws (Swiss ones). If you are interested, you can use my referral link to get a free month for the premium tier, including all those services.
But anyway, I hope now it's clear to you the differences between OpenVPN and Wireguard. See you in the next one!
I hope my article has helped you, or at least, that you have enjoyed reading it. I do this for fun and I don't need money to keep the blog running. However, if you'd like to show your gratitude, you can pay for my next coffee(s) with a one-time donation of just $1.00. Thank you!