What is a VPN tunnel?

A VPN tunnel (often simply referred to as a VPN, or virtual private network) is an encrypted connection between your computer or mobile device and the wider internet. Since your connection is encrypted, nobody along the VPN tunnel is able to intercept, monitor, or alter your communications.

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How does VPN tunneling work?

When you use a VPN, your online activity and data is transmitted through the internet via a process called tunneling. 

Data traveling in a VPN tunnel is split into pieces called “packets”, which are then placed inside other data packets. This process is known as “encapsulation”. All this data is then encrypted, preventing intruders from seeing what’s inside.

Encrypted VPN connection

A VPN tunnel also shields your IP address from third parties, including your internet service provider (ISP), instead showing them a different IP address—one that is owned by the VPN provider and shared by numerous users. This means no one will be able to tell that your activity is yours.

VPN tunneling protects your browsing, chatting, and all other traffic from the prying eyes of your internet service provider, your government, or people trying to monitor your activity over free public Wi-Fi.

Brick wall.

A VPN tunnel hides your location

A VPN tunnel not only protects you from data being intercepted, but it also hides your IP address, which can otherwise be used to identify you when you are browsing the web. Instead of your real location, the sites you visit will only see the location of the VPN server you are connected to.

This is how VPN tunnels can help you both circumvent censorship imposed on your local network and censorship being imposed by the local network of the site you are visiting.

VPN tunneling protocols

ExpressVPN supports various types of VPN protocols for all your needs. The app will choose its optimal configuration automatically, but advanced users have the opportunity to configure their VPN tunnel manually.

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Types of VPN tunneling protocols

Lightway
Built from the ground up by ExpressVPN, Lightway provides a faster, more secure, and more reliable VPN experience. Lightway establishes a VPN connection in a fraction of a second and will even maintain a VPN connection when switching networks. Lightway is open source and uses the wolfSSL cryptography library.

OpenVPN
OpenVPN is a highly customizable, open-source VPN protocol that’s available for a wide variety of platforms. While it’s tricky to set up on its own, OpenVPN is great for speed, security, and encryption. ExpressVPN users can toggle between UDP (optimal for speed) or TCP (optimal for connection reliability.)

IKEv2
One of the newer VPN protocols available to consumers, IKEv2 is considered to be a lighter and more stable option than OpenVPN. IKEv2 is particularly great for use on mobile devices across all platforms. IKEv2 is only available over UDP, which is blocked by some firewalls.

L2TP/IPsec
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) is a tunneling protocol that, by itself, does not provide strong encryption or authentication. Internet Protocol security (IPsec) is a versatile and secure protocol that provides authentication and encryption for data packets. L2TP and IPsec are often used in conjunction with each other.

PPTP
The Point to Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) was one of the earliest protocols developed. Due to its lack of encryption and authentication features, PPTP is the fastest VPN protocol. However, this means that your internet traffic can be seen by third parties. We do not recommend using PPTP, and it is no longer supported on ExpressVPN apps.

Learn more about the different types of VPN tunneling protocols.

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FAQ: About VPN Tunneling

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What is VPN split tunneling?
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What is the difference between VPN and tunnel?
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