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What is a VPN tunnel?

Hackers, snoopers, ISPs, and governments can turn your digital life into a living hell. It doesn’t take much to get hacked on the internet, face censorship or hit a wall when trying to access certain services. A VPN tunnel will help protect you from all these troubles. Let’s learn more about VPN tunneling and the various protocols that form these tunnels.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez

Mar 26, 2021 · 3 min read

What is a VPN tunnel?

How does a VPN tunnel work?

A VPN (virtual private network) tunnel is an encrypted connection between your device and the internet.

Let’s say you want to send an email to a friend. While your ISP won’t be able to read its contents, it will see where it was sent from and where it lands. ISPs can also view your IP address, monitor your online activity, track what websites you visit, how much data you download, and what device you are using. ISPs have one big reason to dig around your private life — to sell your browsing data to the highest bidder. They can also throttle your bandwidth if you frequently download large files.

Hackers have their own motives. They use malware, phishing, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and other techniques to intercept data, strip your bank accounts, and ruin your mood.

When you connect to the internet through a VPN, your data packets go through an encrypted tunnel, securing your data, masking your IP address, and redirecting it to one of the servers of the VPN provider. You can sit in front of your computer in the UK and pretend to be from Canada. Neither ISPs nor hackers can identify you, snoop around your data, or track your location.

VPN tunnels

Enhance your privacy and security with VPN encryption.

Types of VPN tunnels

There are many different VPN tunneling protocols varying in speed, level of security, and other features. Let’s explore the most common types.


OpenVPN is an open-source protocol that works with all major operating systems. You can download the source code, review it, and modify it however you like. OpenVPN can run over the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol) internet protocols. It is also considered to be one of the most secure VPN tunneling protocols.


The IKEv2/IPSec protocol boasts the security benefits of IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) and the high speeds of IKEv2 (Internet key exchange version two), which makes it a serious rival in the VPN tunneling industry. When your VPN connection is interrupted, or you’re switching between networks, the IKEv2/IPSec auto-connect feature restores everything back to normal.


WireGuard is the freshest and fastest of all the VPN tunneling protocols. It’s still in the early stages of development and therefore has some security flaws. In 2019, NordVPN introduced NordLynx, a protocol that has inherited the speed of WireGuard but guarantees the strong encryption and security everyone is striving for.


SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) is a VPN protocol that was created by Microsoft but is also available on other systems. A lot of VPN providers take SSTP skeptically, as Microsoft is known to collaborate with the NSA (National Security Agency). However, there is no evidence that the protocol has been misused.

What is split tunneling?

A VPN tunnel encrypts all your traffic, but there are certain situations when you might not want it to. This is exactly what split tunneling is all about — you can create exceptions for certain apps or websites and access them without a VPN.

This way, you can stream Netflix in the US while still accessing local resources from your hometown in France. NordVPN supports split tunneling on Chrome and Mozilla browser extensions as well as on mobile apps.

Which VPN protocol should you use?

Everything depends on your needs, but OpenVPN is a top choice among most VPN providers. NordVPN uses OpenVPN as its default protocol, but users can also switch to IKEv2/IPsec or NordLynx. Each has its strengths and weaknesses that different users will prefer.

Establish your own private, secure VPN tunnel with NordVPN. Try it risk-free for 30 days!