Virtual private networks (VPNs) used to be a niche tool used mainly for business security. But with online privacy and security now priorities for everyone - plus tales of the government monitoring your traffic, and your ISP selling your browsing data to the highest bidder - VPNs are becoming essential for the everyday internet user.

Security is the name of the game when it comes to VPNs. They encrypt your data through a private ‘tunnel’ when using the internet, so your activity can’t be monitored by prying eyes.

There are several choices for encryption protocols and one of the most popular is OpenVPN.

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is a protocol which is over 15 years old, and has been in continuous development since its release back on 2001. It is used by most VPN services these days.

These are the main advantages of OpenVPN:

  • It is open source. This means that its code is open to the public, so it has been inspected, vetted and tested by many different people and organisations.
  • It features military-grade, 256-bit encryption and can use multiple different encryption techniques and algorithms.
  • It’s extremely secure, and very flexible.
  • It can be used on almost any platform, including Windows, Linux and macOS as well as Android and iOS.

While this makes it an adaptive and powerful too, it also suffers from a couple of drawbacks.

First, it isn't a standalone VPN service and requires third-party applications to function. This means, to some extent, that it is only as useful as the applications that it’s relying on – which isn’t a problem if they are legitimate and professionally developed and run.

Second, it requires technical knowledge to configure, but this is handled by whichever VPN service you choose, so isn't really a drawback at all.

The OpenVPN project has its own VPN service called Private Tunnel, but it isn't free. You can find our recommendations for the best VPN services.