What Is OpenVPN? Is It Safe?

How OpenVPN keeps your internet traffic private and safe

VPN concept image

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OpenVPN is a popular and highly secure SSL-based tunneling protocol used with virtual private networks. Offering superior protection for data traffic and support for virtually every platform, OpenVPN is considered one of the best VPN protocols in use today.

A Brief History of OpenVPN

The OpenVPN project was founded by James Yonan, the co-founder and CTO of OpenVPN Technologies. Initially released in 2001, OpenVPN is an SSL-based encryption and authentication protocol published under the GNU General Public License.

What Is OpenVPN?

Unlike other VPN protocols that use IPSec encryption, OpenVPN uses SSL for data encryption. SSL is a standard security technology that establishes secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections. It's commonly used to provide security and encryption for web-based financial transactions, email, and other sensitive data.

OpenVPN supports all major operating systems in use today, as well as Android and iOS. It also supports lesser-known platforms, including OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, QNX, and Solaris. In addition to its strong encryption standards, OpenVPN is great at outsmarting firewalls, network address translators, and prohibitive geo-restrictions.

Is OpenVPN Safe? Here's How It Works

OpenVPN is a tunneling protocol that establishes a private connection between a VPN client and a VPN server. The data inside the tunnel is fully encrypted, which means it can't be seen or intercepted by outsiders. This includes your ISP, search engines, websites, marketers, and hackers.

VPN illustration
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The OpenVPN client encrypts data packets before they exit a computer or device. The encrypted data packets are sent to the OpenVPN server, which decrypts the data with a secret cryptographic key. The decrypted data is sent to the internet to the server specified in the request, for example, https://netflix.com. The internet server receives the data request and sends its data back to the OpenVPN server. The OpenVPN server encrypts the data from the internet server and sends the encrypted data to the computer or device. The OpenVPN client on the computer then decrypts the data with its cryptographic key.

OpenVPN Protocols

Some of the protocols and standards OpenVPN uses to establish secure connections include:

  • Authentication: OpenVPN has two authentication modes. It can use a pre-shared static key between peers. It can also use SSL/TLS and certificates for authentication and key exchange.
  • Encryption: OpenVPN features up to 256-bit encryption using OpenSSL, a full-featured toolkit for the Transport Layer Security protocol. For more robust security, it can use AES, Camellia, 3DES, and CAST-128.
  • Ports: OpenVPN is designed to run over both TCP and UDP transports, and offers excellent performance over UDP (a speedier protocol than TCP).

Where Can You Get OpenVPN?

Most major VPN providers offer OpenVPN to their subscribers. After you choose your preferred VPN provider, go to their website and download the software.

A screenshot of OpenVPN's download options.

If you're tech-savvy, install OpenVPN on your virtual private server. For example, Digital Ocean offers one-click deployments of OpenVPN that are ready to roll, so you don't need to subscribe to a VPN service whose terms and conditions may not be transparent to you.