What is OpenVPN? And what are the best OpenVPN clients?
In this article, we explain what OpenVPN is and list the important aspects of this encryption protocol. We will also list the five best OpenVPN clients in 2023 so you can stay secure online.
What is OpenVPN encryption?
OpenVPN is an open-source, Virtual Private Network (VPN) protocol that is recognized across the industry as being the most secure VPPN tunneling protocol available. It is reliable and secure because it can be implemented with strong AES encryption and strong standards for authentication.
As well as being extremely secure, OpenVPN is highly customizable and can be implemented in several different ways. OpenVPN encryption consists of a data and control channel. The control channel is there to handle key exchange whereas the data channel encrypts the VPN user’s web traffic.
What are the best OpenVPN clients?
Below, you’ll find our hand-picked list of the best OpenVPN clients around. If you’d like to know more, keep scrolling or head over to our VPN reviews.
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Best OpenVPN clients – In-depth Analysis
We’ve put together a list of the very best OpenVPN clients; all the services implement OpenVPN encryption to the highest standard and have custom OpenVPN clients, meaning they’re incredibly easy to set up. To learn more, be sure to click through and check out our detailed VPN reviews.
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The components of OpenVPN
OpenVPN is the most secure encryption around, but it relies on certain critical factors, and unless VPNs get every one of these vital components of the protocol right, the security of the whole encryption protocol comes crashing down. These components are as follows:
- The Cipher – A cipher is the algorithm that a VPN uses to encrypt the data. Encryption is only ever as strong as the cipher that the VPN protocol uses. The most common ciphers that VPN providers use are AES and Blowfish. Blowfish has been around since 1993. It is a cipher that has been cracked on a number of occasions and is not considered watertight in terms of security. It uses weaker keys than AES, but its main drawback is its 64-bit block size, which is why it struggles to encrypt large files.
- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a more modern form of encryption. AES has to be a minimum of 128-bit for it to be secure. Here at ProPrivacy.com, we generally prefer the 256-bit implementation. However, 128-bit AES is perfectly secure (and interestingly actually has a stronger key schedule).
- Encryption channels. OpenVPN uses two channels: the data channel and the control channel. The components for each one are as follows: Data channel – cipher + hash authentication. Control channel – cipher + TLS handshake encryption + hash authentication + whether perfect forward secrecy is used (and how).
- Handshake encryption. This is used to secure the TLS key exchange. RSA is usually used, but DHE or ECDH can be used instead and also provide PFS.
- Hash Authentication. This uses a cryptographic hash to verify that data has not been tampered with. In OpenVPN, it is usually done using HMAC SHA, but if an AES-GCM cipher is being used (instead of AES-CBC) then the GCM can provide the hash auth instead.
- Perfect Forward secrecy – PFS is a system in which a unique private encryption key is generated for each session. It means that each Transport Layer Security (TLS) session has its own set of keys. That’s why they’re referred to as “ephemeral keys” – they are used once only – and then they disappear.
As a result, OpenVPN encryption is only ever as strong as its weakest point, which is why OpenVPN must meet certain minimum requirements. The minimum settings we recommend for OpenVPN connections are:
Data channel: an AES-128-CBC cipher with HMAC SHA1 has authentication. If an AES-GCM cipher is used then addition authentication is not required.
Control channel: an AES-128-CBC cipher with RSA-2048 or ECDH-385 handshake encryption and HMAC SHA1 hash authentication (see notes about ASES-GCM above). Perfect forward secrecy may be provided by any DHE or ECDH key exchange.
Is OpenVPN safe to Use?
OpenVPN is safe to use, but it is possible to identify OpenVPN encrypted traffic using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). DPI can be performed at the ISP level on behalf of the government.
As a result, in countries where VPN use is blocked using ISP-level firewalls, it is essential that your VPN can disguise OpenVPN traffic as regular HTTPS. This is usually done by routing OpenVPN traffic over port 443 to disguise it as regular HTTPS.
Obfuscation can also be achieved via other methods including Stunnel, Obfsproxy, or XOR. These have varying ways of concealing VPN use and bypassing ISP firewalls (all of which are considered more robust than OpenVPN over port 443)
So, in order to be truly secure in a country where OpenVPN is illegal (Egypt, China, Russia, and Iran, for example), it’s essential that your VPN has one of the latter-mentioned obfuscation methods. We’d recommend checking this before you subscribe. Also, bear in mind that OpenVPN over port 443 can be spotted with even modest DPI, and a more robust form of cloaking is needed.
Why is OpenVPN the most secure VPN protocol?
There are several VPN encryption protocols out there. These include the following:
- Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PP2P) – which is now considered outdated and insecure)
- Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)
- Internet Protocol Security (IPsec). This is an authentication protocol that needs to be paired with a tunneling suite to make it suitable for VPN encryption purposes. IPsec is usually combined with L2TP to make L2TP/IPsec or with IKEv2 to make IKEv2/IPsec. It is worth noting that this commonly used auth method cannot exist on its own without being paired with a tunneling suite. Also, L2TP/IPsec is secure enough for most stuff, but the Snowden papers showed it can be cracked by the NSA.
- Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
- Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2).
All these protocols are secure – with the exception of PPTP, which should be avoided if you’re serious about your online privacy. However, none of them can match up the level of security that OpenVPN provides.
OpenVPN’s security and streaming capability – particularly if you stick to OpenVPN UDP – put it top of the class, but do bear in mind that it’s generally the slowest VPN protocol out of the bunch.
What’s more, OpenVPN cannot be penetrated by anyone trying to snoop on your data; it’s proven to be secure. In fact, when implemented to our minimum standards or above (the ones in this guide are all implemented in excess of our minimum standards) it cannot even be penetrated by government intelligence agencies.
What are OpenVPN tunnels?
A VPN “tunnel” is the name given to the encrypted connection between a device and the VPN server. When a VPN user’s traffic is encrypted and “tunneled” to a VPN server, the user’s ISP is unable to detect the content of the traffic. This means the ISP is unable to analyze any of your data as it passes through its servers. This is how the VPN provides digital privacy.
And it’s not just your ISP. Local network administrators in workplaces, schools, on public WiFi, landlords – and even the government – are unable to monitor traffic thanks to the encryption “tunnel” provided by the VPN software.
OpenVPN SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Encryption)
The OpenVPN protocol makes use of Secure Sockets Layer Encryption (SSL). This is a popular method for encrypting data between a computer and the server it is connected to. Specifically, it makes use of the TLS protocol and the OpenSSL library.
This means you can configure OpenVPN to run on any port, making it possible to use OpenVPN to get around firewalls. By running OpenVPN TCP over port 443, OpenVPN traffic is disguised. This is because TCP port 443 is used for regular SSL traffic (https). This makes it very difficult for ISPs to detect OpenVPN use. This is often referred to as “stealth mode.”
It is worth noting that this is only one method of concealing the use of a VPN. Other popular methods include Stunnel and Obfsproxy. In addition, some VPNs such as [[post-object type=”gotolink” provider=”expressvpn” tag=”openvpn”]]ExpressVPN[[/post-object]] and [[post-object type=”gotolink” provider=”vyprvpn” tag=”openvpn”]]VyprVPN[[/post-object]] have their own proprietary cloaking features, which are known to work extremely well for anyone attempting to circumnavigate firewalls – like the great firewall of China.
Setting up OpenVPN
Setting up and using OpenVPN can be done in one of two ways, and we’ve detailed them below:
Custom OpenVPN Clients
The easiest method is by subscribing to a VPN that has custom VPN software with native OpenVPN functionality. We have listed the best OpenVPN clients above, all of which implement OpenVPN to the highest standard.
Open-source OpenVPN Clients
The second method is by using config files provided by the VPN provider (.ovpn files) and a third-party OpenVPN client. The developers of the OpenVPN protocol also produce an open-source client that anybody can use on any platform. In addition, there are other third-party OpenVPN clients available such as OpenVPN connect and OpenVPN for Android.
These third-party clients are a bit more tricky to set up and are often missing extra features such as a kill switch. If you want to use a third-party client, you will be able to follow a setup guide on your VPNs website. However, on the whole, we recommend you stick to the custom client if you can.
All the VPNs in this guide have been selected because they provide OpenVPN on all popular platforms. Let’s take a closer look:
Android VPN OpenVPN
In order to use one of our OpenVPN VPN picks on an Android device, you’ll need to make sure you download the correct client from the VPN’s site. Alternatively, you can find the OpenVPN client on the Google Play Store. After you have downloaded the VPN software to your Android device, you can log in using the credentials you inserted when you subscribed.
OpenVPN for iPhone
OpenVPN for iOS is a bit rarer than on the other platforms. Apple makes it harder to implement OpenVPN, which is why IKEv2 is generally the encryption of choice on iOS devices. OpenVPN is only currently available on iOS using the OpenVPN Connect (third party) app.
As long as your favorite VPN provides .ovpn config files you can install the app from the iTunes store and use it. Please follow your VPN’s setup guide to download the config files and set up the OpenVPN Connect client. Check out this OpenVPN Connect review for more details. Also, if you want a list of the best VPN service for iPhone, check out our best iPhone VPN article.
Windows VPN OpenVPN
All the VPNs we have recommended in this guide have excellent Windows clients with built-in OpenVPN functionality. For this reason, all you will need to do is subscribe, download the windows client, select OpenVPN in the settings, and connect to the VPN. If you want to know more information about using a VPN with Windows, then take a look at our Windows VPN guide.
If for any reason you want to use a third-party client on Windows, we recommend: OpenVPN.
OpenVPN for Mac
As with iOS, it is possible that you will need to use a third-party client to connect to OpenVPN on a Mac. The very best OpenVPN providers do implement OpenVPN on their Mac clients, so as long as you stick to one of the VPNs higher in this list, you will be fine. If you are a Mac user and you want more information about using a VPN, take a look at our Mac VPN guide.
However, it is not hard to set up OpenVPN using a third-party client because your VPN will have a setup guide to help you do so. You will want to use Tunnelblick as this is the best third-party client for Mac OSX. If you use Apple TV, check out our VPN for apple tv guide for more information.
Using an OpenVPN Router
Another option is to use an OpenVPN router. Some routers come with an OpenVPN client built in that can be set up to work with a VPN of your choice (using .ovpn config files).
A VPN router is extremely handy because it means that you don’t have to connect every single device in your house to the VPN separately. As soon as the router is connected to the VPN, all the devices in your home are automatically protected by the OpenVPN encryption.
What Can I Do with an OpenVPN VPN?
Your privacy is guaranteed with strong OpenVPN encryption; you’ll be free to access whichever content you’d like without worrying about ISPs, governments, corporations, advertisers, or WiFi hackers keeping tabs on you. No third parties will be able to see what you get up to online, and what’s more, you’ll be able to bypass government-imposed restrictions and censorship.
Additionally, with a VPN, you won’t be beholden to geo-restrictions. You can access online services and websites that are supposed to be inaccessible in your country. You can watch foreign TV streams and international sports competitions. If you are an Expat, a VPN can be a very useful tool, as you are able to access websites from back home. In the end, there’s no limit to what you can do online with a VPN, especially when you’re safe in the knowledge that you have the very best privacy protection in place: OpenVPN encryption.
Should I use OpenVPN for streaming?
Although OpenVPN UDP is a fast tunneling protocol, it is worth noting that many VPN providers nowadays also provide WireGuard. This is a protocol that has been specifically designed to provide even faster speeds, which makes it a great option for >Ultimately, you are free to try any of the protocols that your VPN provider comes with. If one of the protocols works better when streaming on your devices, then this will be the best protocol to use for you.
If your VPN provides the option to connect using OpenVPN UDP or OpenVPN TCP, we would recommend sticking to OpenVPN UDP for streaming. However, if you also have the option to switch to WireGuard, or if your VPN has a custom protocol that is designed to be fast (some VPNs have their own protocol) then we recommend trying this for streaming.
The good news is that both WireGuard and OpenVPN are secure and future-proof. This means that while they are fast, you are not sacrificing data security when you use either of these protocols. This is not true of protocols like PPTP, which is fast but does not offer reliable data protection.
Despite being a little slower than other protocols, OpenVPN’s robust encryption makes it the best around. Make sure to subscribe to one of the best OpenVPN clients to keep yourself as secure as possible:
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The best OpenVPN clients – FAQs
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Are there any free VPNs with OpenVPN encryption?” answer=”Yes, some free VPNs, including <a href=’/vpn/review/atlasvpn’>AtlasVPN</a> and <a href=’/vpn/review/hideme’>Hide.me</a> offer OpenVPN encryption. However, these free providers may not turn out to be what you expected, as they tend to impose many limitations on their free plans – reduced speeds, data caps, bandwidth limitations, and such. That’s because their free services are not their main products, but more of a VPN testing sample you can try for free, using a limited number of servers or data allowance.
If you wish to use the full potential of these services, you will have to upgrade to their paid plans. Alternatively, you can use some of the unlimited free VPN services, but these services usually don’t come with OpenVPN protocol and have little to no regard for your online privacy and security.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Is OpenVPN the best protocol for streaming?” answer=”OpenVPN is a super secure and super fast VPN protocol, making it an ideal choice for streaming and all your other demanding online tasks. Besides, VPNs that come with OpenVPN encryption are usually the prominent names of the VPN industry, meaning you’ll get plenty of servers to choose from and excellent geo-spoofing features to help you access nearly any streaming platform in the world. Also, with encryption as strong as OpenVPN, you don’t have to fear that somebody will be able to decipher your sensitive online data, or other types of intrusions.
Currently, the only slightly faster VPN protocol for streaming than OpenVPN is <a href=’/privacy-news/wireguard-vpn-protocol’>WireGuard</a>, so if you feel you’re not getting as fast a VPN service for streaming as you hoped for, you can try this excellent OpenVPN alternative.” /]]