VPN WireGuard: What is it and how does it work? (2024)

What is the WireGuard VPN protocol?

WireGuard is a VPN protocol, a collection of rules that determine how data is encrypted and moved within a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs are digital tools that hide user IP addresses and protect internet traffic from unwanted exposure.

In a VPN, internet traffic travels along encrypted tunnels between your device and a VPN server. The speed at which it is encrypted and decrypted, and the level of security provided by the encryption, is determined in large part by the VPN protocol used.

WireGuard is notable for a few reasons. It works very quickly, provides a high level of security, and is written with relatively few lines of code. The lightweight nature of the protocol code is important, because it makes deployment and debugging easier.

In short, WireGuard is a faster, more effective way to protect and transfer data across a VPN. Now that you know what WireGuard is, how does it work?

How does the WireGuard VPN work?

A WireGuard VPN usually involves a client (the app on your phone, for example) and a VPN server. Like other encryption protocols, WireGuard communicates with the server and establishes an encrypted tunnel between server and client. When data moves between these two nodes on the network — the WireGuard client and the server — it is encrypted, scrambled into code that is indecipherable without the proper encryption keys.

So far, so much like every other VPN protocol. Where the WireGuard protocol differs is in the speed with which it connects the client to the server and transfers data. Unlike other widely-adopted protocols which use AES-256, WireGuard employs ChaCha20-authenticated encryption. ChaCha20 works with shorter cryptographic keys than AES-256, allowing for faster encryption and decryption.

Adding to its speed is the fact that the WireGuard protocol runs within the Linux kernel on WireGuard servers and Linux desktops. While other protocols have to switch between kernel storage and userspace for full functionality, slowing them down slightly, WireGuard can run fully from the kernel.

These technical advancements give WireGuard several advantages over other protocols.

WireGuard VPN protocol: advantages and disadvantages

Before a VPN provider implements WireGuard, they should consider both its advantages and disadvantages.

WireGuard VPN advantages

Let’s start with the many benefits of WireGuard.

  • Speed. The biggest advantage of using WireGuard is the speed it provides. VPNs inevitably slow down your connection, because an extra step is being inserted into the data’s journey between the client device and the internet. With WireGuard, however, that reduction in speed will be so minor that you will almost never notice it.
  • Minimal codebase. WireGuard consists of fewer lines of code than many other VPN protocols, making it easier to deploy and to troubleshoot. Wireguard VPN providers can find and resolve bugs quickly, because there is just less code to sort through when trying to identify problems.
  • High security. While other protocols might be able to improve speeds by compromising on security, WireGuard provides very strong encryption. This combination of speed and security makes it one of the best VPN protocols available.
  • Rapid reconnection. WireGuard can establish a new connection very quickly, allowing you to switch between networks and routers without waiting for your VPN to slowly reconnect. With other protocols, a network switch could result in a slow VPN reconnection.
  • Open source software. WireGuard is open source, meaning that anyone can audit and edit its code. Consequently, tech experts and VPN providers alike can examine the code, find and fix problems, and even build on it to improve performance.

WireGuard VPN disadvantages

WireGuard does have a few disadvantages, though these are largely outweighed by its many benefits.

  • Lack of obfuscation. WireGuard does not provide obfuscation, meaning that internet service providers (ISPs) can see when you are using it — although, of course, they can’t see what you’re using it for. This means that a WireGuard VPN won’t necessarily be able to help you bypass firewalls. However, some VPNs that support WireGuard (including NordVPN) provide obfuscated servers, allowing you to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN connection.
  • Not integrated into all VPNs. While WireGuard is being widely adopted, not all VPN providers have integrated it into their apps yet. It is still a relatively new protocol, after all. Major players in the space are adopting it, however, and NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol — which provides the fastest VPN speeds currently available — is built on WireGuard. It is also likely that more VPN providers will support WireGuard over time.

Is the WireGuard VPN protocol secure?

WireGuard is a very secure protocol. While it uses shorter cryptographic keys than some previous protocols, it still provides strong encryption.

A longer key takes more time to crack, but it would still take millions of years to brute force WireGuard’s encryption keys. In practice, these “shorter” keys provide more than enough security to keep your data safe.

WireGuard VPN protocol vs other VPN protocols

WireGuard is just the latest in a long line of VPN protocols. How does it stack up against its predecessors?

WireGuard vs OpenVPN

While OpenVPN is the most widely used protocol at the moment, WireGuard is a better option across several fronts. For one thing, WireGuard’s smaller codebase makes it easier to implement and audit, with around 4,000 lines of code. Compare that with OpenVPN’s 600,000 lines, and you can see why WireGuard has an edge here.

WireGuard is also faster than OpenVPN for two reasons. Firstly, WireGuard uses the UDP transport layer to move data, while OpenVPN (despite being UDP-compatible) generally defaults to a slower TCP process. As previously discussed, WireGuard also employs shorter encryption keys, further boosting speed.

OpenVPN can be better for hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place, but if you use NordVPN’s obfuscated servers, you can use the WireGuard-based NordLynx profile while also obfuscating your VPN connection.

WireGuard vs IPSec/IKEv2

While IKEv2/IPsec could rival OpenVPN in several areas — offering better speeds and lower CPU-usage, for example — this older protocol really can’t compete with WireGuard.

WireGuard is faster than IKEv2/IPsec, offers stronger encryption, and uses a far smaller codebase. For most users, WireGuard will always be a better option.

IKEv2/IPsec might be your preferred option if you want to run legacy encryption methods. WireGuard supports a more limited selection of modern encryption processes. However, the majority of people looking for a VPN will be wanting the most up-to-date encryption possible, and on that parameter WireGuard wins.

Is the WireGuard protocol important?

The WireGuard protocol is important because it makes VPNs an attractive option to more people. Many internet users who could benefit greatly from using a VPN have previously been put off by the idea that these applications slow down their connection, but WireGuard’s remarkable speeds can change that.

WireGuard allows users to enjoy a fast, stable internet experience while simultaneously protecting their online privacy. The more people who end up using a VPN as a result of WireGuard, the safer the internet will be.

WireGuard is also important as a building block for even more powerful protocols. Because the code is open source, a large community of developers can now improve upon WireGuard, as NordVPN has done with the NordLynx protocol.

How to configure the WireGuard protocol

To set up WireGuard on your device, the simplest option is to download the NordVPN application and turn on NordLynx. NordLynx is a protocol founded on WireGuard, but with some added benefits to make browsing even more private and secure.

Follow these simple steps to get started with NordLynx, the fastest WireGuard-based protocol available:

    1. Download the NordVPN app.
    2. Log in to your account, or set one up.
    3. Open “Settings” and select “Protocol.”
    4. Choose “NordLynx” from the protocols available.

    Once this process is complete, your VPN will be configured to get all the benefits of WireGuard through the NordLynx protocol, and you’ll enjoy the fastest VPN speeds available.

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    VPN WireGuard: What is it and how does it work? (2024)


    What is WireGuard and how does it work? ›

    WireGuard is an open-source communication protocol for setting up secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Using advanced cryptographic primitives to secure exchanged data, it seals it within an encrypted tunnel.

    What are the benefits of WireGuard? ›

    It works very quickly, provides a high level of security, and is written with relatively few lines of code. The lightweight nature of the protocol code is important, because it makes deployment and debugging easier. In short, WireGuard is a faster, more effective way to protect and transfer data across a VPN.

    Do you need a VPN with WireGuard? ›

    WireGuard is an extremely fast yet secure VPN protocol that can also be used as a standalone VPN. In fact, it's considered the fastest VPN protocol available today, making it a better option than IPsec/IKEv2 or OpenVPN when you're looking for speed and performance.

    What are the disadvantages of WireGuard? ›

    Known Limitations
    • Deep Packet Inspection. WireGuard does not focus on obfuscation. ...
    • TCP Mode. ...
    • Hardware Crypto. ...
    • Roaming Mischief. ...
    • Identity Hiding Forward Secrecy. ...
    • Post-Quantum Secrecy. ...
    • Denial of Service. ...
    • Unreliable Monotonic Counter.

    What does WireGuard mean in VPN? ›

    WireGuard® is a new VPN protocol used to secure the connection between your device and a VPN server. Learn more about how VPNs work. WireGuard uses state-of-the-art cryptography to keep your connection secure and is extremely lightweight.

    What is the difference between VPN and WireGuard? ›

    SUMMARY: OpenVPN offers greater freedom when it comes to encryption and security, but WireGuard is easier to audit and has a smaller attack surface. Both protocols are very secure, but less tech-savvy users may prefer to trust the experts at WireGuard, rather than take matters into their own hands.

    How much does WireGuard cost? ›

    Cost and Licensing

    Since WireGuard and OpenVPN are free software, there is no expense associated with using them. Though there are some free solutions, you'll still need to pay for a VPN subscription. Since WireGuard and OpenVPN are free software, there is no expense associated with using them.

    Can WireGuard be detected? ›

    UDP: WireGuard uses UDP as its transport protocol. There is no standard port and typically WireGuard is detected through heuristics.

    Why not to use WireGuard? ›

    It is extensible that new cryptographic primitives can be added. WireGuard does not have that. That means WireGuard will break at some point, because one of the cryptographic primitives will weaken or entirely break at some point.

    Can WireGuard hide my IP? ›

    As explained above WireGuard does not allocate a dynamic IP address to the VPN user. And, it indefinitely stores user IP addresses on the VPN server until the server reboots. So, there is no anonymity and privacy in WireGuard.

    Does WireGuard mask your IP? ›

    To give you a static IP address, WireGuard® tries to log your real IP address on the VPN server you're using. While your IP address is still masked to outsiders, some argue this may put your privacy at risk if the server or system were compromised at any point.

    Does WireGuard slow down Internet? ›

    - Perform speed tests with wireguard connection, it is indeed significantly (x10) slower when connected through wireguard.

    How safe is the WireGuard? ›

    WireGuard is considered by many to be one of the safest, most secure VPN protocol options available today. Simplified design using less code equals fewer bugs and security vulnerabilities, while WireGuard's faster state-of-the-art cryptography employs superior default security settings.

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