IPSec vs OpenVPN – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons)

IPSec vs OpenVPN – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons). This article explains the differences between two popular VPN (virtual private network) protocols used to provide secure and private Internet connectivity: IPSec and OpenVPN. Both technologies are designed to protect your online communications, but they differ in many ways: features, applications, performance, strengths and weaknesses.

First one, IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) is a suite of protocols and standards used to provide secure data transfer at the network layer (Layer 3 of the OSI model). Included in IPSec are various protocols, such as ESP (Encapsulating Security Payload) and AH (Authentication Header), which ensure data confidentiality, integrity and authentication. The other one is also well known, OpenVPN. A free SSL/TLS based VPN protocol that operates at the application level (Layer 7 of the OSI model). It uses public key technology to both authenticate and scramble data, making OpenVPN a more flexible and easier to configure than IPSec.

So let’s take a closer look at IPSec vs OpenVPN – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons).

What is IPSec?

By way of introduction, IPSec is a set of protocols used to secure connections between devices. Mainly, it helps secure data transmitted over public networks. In addition, it is ideal for setting up VPNs and works by encrypting IP packets along with authenticating the source from which the packets originate. Moreover, it is also the essence of the name itself namely “IP” stands for ” Internet Protocol” and “sec”. “secure.” More specifically, it is the main routing protocol used on the Internet, that determines where data is sent via IP addresses. What is more, IPSec is secure, as it adds authentication and encryption to the process.

All in all to encrypt is to secure something, to use a “secret code” so that only authorized parties have access.

Why is IPSec important?

The importance derives from the security protocols, namely IPSec where the network methods are not encrypted by default. But IPSec does encrypt it.

You might look at it this way. By sending mail through intermediary mail services, the user usually does not write his message outside the envelope. Instead, he includes his message inside the envelope. That way, no one handling the mail between the sender and the recipient can read it. And here’s the thing: the data packets of network protocols such as TCP/IP are about connection and delivery, and the messages being sent are not hidden. Therefore, any intermediary may read them. Importantly, IPSec and other data encryption protocols essentially put message inside an envelope or IPSec encrypts the data that passes through the respective network. Resulting in higher security.

Pros of IPSec

  • Zero dependability on Application.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Network layer security.
  • Data privacy.
  • Authentication.
  • Built-in security features.
  • IPsec allows per flow or per connection based security. Hence it allows very fine grained security control.
  • Seamless security to application and transport layers (ULPs).
  • With the help of IP layer, IPsec is applied to networks of all the sizes from LAN to WAN.

Cons of IPSec

  • Compatibility issues that require client software.
  • Policy management, local policy configuration, supportability, increased performance requirement etc.
  • More difficult to implement to individual users on multi user machine.
  • For small size packet transmission performance of the network diminishes due to large overhead used by IPsec.
  • Firewall restrictions.

What is OpenVPN?

In fact, OpenVPN is considered the most secure protocol currently in use. As you are aware, when you connect to the Internet, especially on a public network, there are risks often associated with sending sensitive data over the network. 

But, if you connect to a virtual private network or “VPN” using the OpenVPN protocol, your data is protected by strong encryption. Moreover, if a hacker is closely monitoring your network, he is not able to break through the security tunnel. And your ISP (internet service provider) is not be able to read your data, and the government will not be able to spy on you.

How a VPN Works?

In short, a VPN connection secures Internet connections when working offsite. Network traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel via the VPN. Generally, roundup of network traffic hides the user’s IP address when using the Internet, thus replacing the location and IP address from the VPN server. All in all, making its location invisible. The connection also protects against external breaches.

Pros of OpenVPN

  • Good firewall compatibility.
  • Supports perfect forward secrecy.
  • Cost advantages.
  • Supports various cryptographic algorithms.
  • Easily bypasses firewalls.
  • Well supported and versatile.
  • Runs on almost all platforms.
  • Reliability.

Cons of OpenVPN

  • Blocked by some proxy servers.
  • Lengthy and complex setup.
  • Needs third party software for setup.
  • Server limitations.
  • May be blocked by firewalls.
  • Requires installation.

IPSec vs OpenVPN - Key Differences

In general, IPSec and OpenVPN are both VPN solutions. On one hand, OpenVPN is considered the most secure and flexible option. In addition, it has a site to site VPN solution enabled. Whilst, IPSec secures local resources. Although it is more difficult to implement with devices in the field and especially in loT. Demand wise comparing VPN solutions, it is the OpenVPN that is perfect for device problems anywhere around the globe.

Security level

OpenvVPN is known for its limited number of security vulnerabilities. Described by some as the most secure protocol. It gives you the option to choose from a number of cipher pledges, such as trusted AES, as well as more modern options such as ChaCha. In particular, it allows you to choose a tunnelling protocol, with support for standards such as TLS 1.3

Here, IPSec with IKEv2, has the ability to draw from multiple cipher suites. Although not as widely developed as in OpenVPN. Well, IPSec is hardware accelerated. Especially in network devices, like firewalls, they provide high performance, albeit at the expense of a limited number of encryption protocols.

Firewall ports

In this scenario, OpenVPN uses selected UDP or TCP ports, allowing flexible configuration options. On the other hand, IPSec uses predefined communication channels UDP 500 and UDP 4500 to establish encrypted tunnels and ESP to transmit encrypted data. 


The performance that OpenVPN offers is incredibly impressive, especially when used together with User Diagram Protocol (UDP). In addition, OpenVPN regardless of the use of wireless or cellular networks, offers stable and reliable performance. By the same token, in case of connection problems, OpenVPN with UDP is the best choice.

Similarly here, IPSec protocol is generally faster than OpenVPN. All of IPSec’s user data comes from the local IP stack, while OpenVPN is usually implemented in a different area, usually in user space. Well, IPSec with the IP stack provides faster encryption and decryption capabilities, while OpenVPN takes transmission time into account.

Installation Process

Installation of OpenVPN requires a third party to connect. To make it work, you need additional software on your operating system. First-time users may find the manual configuration confusing.

Contrarily,  IPSec does not require a third party site to work. It’s built-in and the default on many systems. It supports many operating systems including iOS, Windows, macOS, Ubuntu and Android.


For the user, OpenVPN is easier to deploy and to maintain it across operating systems. It runs on any port, including the popular 443. Opposed to IPSec, that requires a unique stack per operating system. For example, experience might differ when using a VPN client on a Mac or iOS than on a Windows or Linux system. 

Flexibility and community support

The flexibility and strong community support is best knows for OpenVPN. Its open source nature makes it easy to integrate with different platforms and devices, and has led to a wide range of client and server implementations.

Similarly, IPSec is a widely adopted standard that is supported by a wide range of vendors. However, interoperability issues can sometimes arise.

Thank you for reading IPSec vs OpenVPN – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons). We shall conclude this article. 

IPSec vs OpenVPN – What’s the Difference ? Conclusion

In conclusion, IPSec should only be used, if it is configured by someone who really knows how to do it correctly. It offers quite fast speeds and security comparable to OpenVPN. On the other hand we have OpenVPN, which is probably the most impressive all round VPN you can choose. It is well known and used, and that gives it a powerful advantage and a best choice for many users. In addition OpenVPN, has great firewall compatibility and has better reliability.

In fact, the final choice between the two depends on factors such as security level, ease of configuration, proper implementation, performance, NAT traversal or firewall compatibility.

Thank’s for your time.

Avatar for Kamil Wisniowski
Kamil Wisniowski

I love technology. I have been working with Cloud and Security technology for 5 years. I love writing about new IT tools.

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