WireGuard is a VPN protocol that has been implemented by many popular VPN providers in recent years. This includes the likes of Surfshark, CyberGhost, and IPVanish. Even NordVPN uses a modified version of WireGuard called NordLynx.
In this post, we’ll explain what WireGuard is and how it works. You can find out about its various pros and cons, particularly in comparison to other popular VPN protocols. That way, you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s the right VPN protocol for you to use.
What is WireGuard?
WireGuard is a relatively new open source VPN protocol that aims to provide fast and secure communication between online devices. Originally released for Linux in 2016, it’s now available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. WireGuard is used to secure the connection between your device and a VPN server. This is achieved with the creation of an encrypted tunnel through which your internet traffic is sent.
Instead of your data traveling directly to a website or service, it’s first routed via the VPN server, providing a layer of security and privacy protection. WireGuard has proven to be popular due to its efficiency and ease of use. However, there are valid alternatives available, the most popular of which is OpenVPN.
How does WireGuard work?
The WireGuard protocol works by using encryption and network code in order to create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. Most VPN protocols use AES-256 encryption but WireGuard uses ChaCha20 authenticated encryption by default. The key difference here is that ChaCha20 has a shorter key, making it faster than AES-256.
When you connect to a VPN server using the WireGuard protocol, here’s an idea of what’s going on in the background:
- Key generation: The server creates a symmetric key that will be used by both devices (on the server and client sides) to encrypt and decrypt data.
- Handshake: The client sends a request to the server, initiating what’s known as a handshake. The server responds by sending its public key to the client.
- Key exchange: The server and client exchange public keys in order to verify each other’s identities.
- Encryption: The server and client use the exchanged keys to create a unique key known only to them. This is used for symmetric encryption.
- Transport: WireGuard wraps the encrypted data using UDP. This communications protocol allows for fast and secure data travel.
- Routing: WireGuard uses cryptokey routing to send data to the appropriate destination (the website or service you’re attempting to access).
- Decryption: The data arrives at its destination and is then decrypted using the keys so that it becomes readable once again.
All of the above ensures that your data is secure from threats such as hackers and snoopers as it travels across the internet.
Is WireGuard secure?
WireGuard is designed with security in mind and would not be such a popular choice among top-rated VPNs if it wasn’t deemed to be secure. For starters, WireGuard is free and open source software which means transparency regarding its features. Furthermore, the VPN and security community as a whole can audit the code and help identify and fix any issues.
WireGuard uses far less code than most other VPN protocols. The likes of OpenVPN, L2TP, and IPsec can use anything from tens of thousands of lines of code to over a hundred thousand. This varies based on implementation and additional features. In contrast, WireGuard uses just 4,000 lines of code in all. This makes it easier to identify bugs and reduces the risk of mistakes and vulnerabilities.
Some VPN protocols use outdated encryption methods. A good example of this is PPTP which only uses 128-bit encryption. Fortunately, WireGuard uses an up-to-date encryption suite: ChaCha20, Curve25519, Blake2s, and Poly1305. It’s through this combination of cryptographic protocols that WireGuard is able to securely encrypt your data, making it highly suitable for VPN use.
What are the advantages of Wireguard?
It’s fair to say that WireGuard offers a number of advantages over traditional VPN protocols. This has contributed to its popularity among VPNs and their users.
Many of the fastest VPNs on the market use WireGuard. There are a number of contributing factors when it comes to WireGuard’s speed. In particular, it has a lightweight design thanks to its smaller codebase. It also uses more modern cryptographic algorithms such as ChaCha20 which is known for its fast encryption speed. We’ve witnessed VPNs that adopt Wireguard increase their speeds twofold.
WireGuard incorporates various security features that make it a safe choice. This starts with the use of Curve25519 for key exchange, ChaCha20 for encryption, and Poly1305 for message authentication. These are strong encryption algorithms that ensure the security of your data. WireGuard’s codebase is smaller than rival VPN protocols which makes it easier to identify and address vulnerabilities. WireGuard has been independently audited on multiple occasions.
Ease of use
Thanks to WireGuard’s smaller codebase, it’s much easier to review, understand, and manage. It also helps that WireGuard is available for multiple operating systems including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. As such, it has been implemented into the desktop and mobile apps of many VPN services.
Due to the fact that WireGuard is a newer VPN protocol, it’s still being actively supported and developed. This should ensure that it continues to improve in areas such as security as well as continue to add more features. Indeed, WireGuard is open source so the wider community is able to help by reporting bugs and providing general feedback.
Does WireGuard have any downsides?
The good news is that WireGuard offers far more pros than cons. Perhaps the main criticism is that it’s still relatively new compared to more established protocols such as OpenVPN. As such, it hasn’t had as much time to be tested for security vulnerabilities, for example.
Related to this point of being a newer protocol, you may find that some devices such as routers don’t yet support it as yet. This may require you to use specific software in order to get it set up.
Despite these disadvantages, WireGuard is still one of the best VPN protocols you can use. It just depends on what you need from your VPN.
Last but not least, while WireGuard is highly suitable for the VPNs that you’ll use for browsing, streaming, torrenting, and gaming, it’s not as versatile as OpenVPN when it comes to supporting site-to-site connections. OpenVPN has wider platform support when it comes to operating systems, networking equipment, and VPN clients. It also offers more features when it comes to both management and scalability and is therefore more suitable for corporate environments.
WireGuard protocol FAQs
Which VPNs support WireGuard (and which don’t)?
An increasing number of VPNs have adopted WireGuard thanks to the speed, security, and ease of use it offers. Here are some of the top-rated VPN providers offering WireGuard as part of their VPN protocol options:
- NordVPN (it uses NordLynx which is built around the WireGuard protocol).
- Atlas VPN
- Private Internet Access
- Hotspot Shield
There are still some VPNs that don’t yet support WireGuard however. This includes the following VPNs:
As you can see, there are far more popular VPN providers that now support WireGuard than don’t. This number should only increase in the near future.
Are there any free VPNs that use WireGuard?
Not many free VPNs have implemented WireGuard yet. A couple of exceptions include Windscribe and TunnelBear. However, we don’t recommend you use a free VPN service anyway for a number of reasons. In particular, you’ll be very limited by the number of servers and server locations. This may prevent you from unblocking and accessing content, particularly when you travel abroad.
Free VPNs cap data so you often can’t use them for anything more than very basic browsing. They commonly throttle bandwidth, which makes streaming and torrenting a challenge. There are also some security and privacy concerns. A free VPN may not properly encrypt your data, leaving it vulnerable to hackers. Furthermore, many free VPNs make money by collecting and selling user data to third parties.
What are the alternatives to using WireGuard?
While there are many advantages to using the WireGuard protocol, there are viable alternatives available. If you’re using a VPN that doesn’t support WireGuard just yet, that’s okay. Two of our top rated VPNs (ExpressVPN and PrivateVPN) don’t offer WireGuard. Instead, ExpressVPN has its own protocol called Lightway. However, like PrivateVPN, it also offers OpenVPN.
Here are some of the most common alternative VPN protocols available:
- OpenVPN: One of the most widely adopted VPN protocols, OpenVPN is known for its high level of security and versatility in that it can support many different encryption algorithms.
- IKEv2/IPSec: A good choice for mobile users thanks to its ability to quickly reconnect when the connection cuts. It’s not widely supported but is another secure option.
- L2TP/IPSec: L2TP is paired with IPSec for security. It offers strong security and is widely supported.