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Is Open Source VPN Technology Better Than Paid Alternatives

Written by Kevin Liew on 04 Feb 2019
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Open source technology is prized for its transparency and flexibility. There are a core group of users who want nothing to do with anything that is not open source.

When it comes to open source VPN software, how do open source clients compare with some of the more popular VPN apps that charge for their services? These would include paid apps like ExpressVPN, IPVanish or NordVPN. Does an open source VPN client provide a better experience for users?

The answer to this question is a little bit tricky. The cut and dry answer would be not really. However, depending on your level of technical experience, how patient you are, and whom you opt to trust, the answer could be yes.

Getting to Know Open Source VPN Clients

There are a number of popular open source VPN clients. The majority of them are built on the OpenVPN protocol, which is open source.

Over the years, this VPN protocol has been audited an endless number of times, and most people would agree that it is one of the most secure VPN protocols that is available to this date. Interestingly, there are a number of closed source VPN clients that rely on OpenVPN to be their default VPN protocol.

Popular open source VPN clients include:

  • OpenVPN Connect for iOS
  • OpenVPN Connect for Android
  • OpenVPN GUI for Windows
  • Tunnelblick for Mac

Something that you should bear in mind is that these open source apps are designed to provide VPN client software and nothing more. You can go through the manual set up process, but it is like a never ending rabbit hole. Most people will sign up for a VPN service provider to get themselves connected.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Open Source VPN Clients?

Transparency is the number one benefit. The reason why people like open source products is because they can clearly see the source code.

When it comes to open source VPN clients, their source code has been examined, inspected, and audited time and time again. If there were any security loopholes, breaches, or vulnerabilities, they would have been exposed by now.

When you use paid proprietary VPN apps, you are unable to inspect the source code. You have no idea whether or not it is really protecting your privacy or how it is going about doing it. You are going to have to trust in the reputation of a paid proprietary VPN app.

If you do not feel that you can trust the paid VPN that you are using, it does not make a lot of sense for you to send traffic through its servers. Do your research before you sign up.

However, if you are not the trusting sort and do not think that a VPN provider should be trusted, you have the option to make your own virtual private server using a cloud provider, such as Amazon.

That being said, we want to warn you that this is an involved process that is going to take a lot longer than you probably think. It does not involve simply typing in a couple of IP addresses. You need to feel comfortable using the command line.

And, if things don’t work, you need to be ready to spend a few hours troubleshooting. If none of this sounds fun to you, then setting up a VPN in this way may not be the right option for you.

Another drawback is that you could make a mistake that exposes you online. You could think that you are surfing anonymously, but because of an undetected error on your part, your actual IP address, location, or identity could be exposed.

Benefits and Drawbacks of VPN Provider Apps

The biggest benefit you will get from using an app that is made by a VPN provider is that it’s going to be easy to use. VPN providers understand that their clients do not want to, do not have the ability to, or don’t want to waste time trying to understand the technical side of VPNs. They simply want to be able to push a button and have everything work.

Another benefit of VPN provider apps is that they have more privacy enhancing features. These would include things like:

  • Leak protection
  • Kill switches
  • VPN protocol switching

Many VPN apps are created by the same companies who manage or own the servers that the VPN connects to. This means that any important changes to the network are going to be automatically reflected in the application. Things will work smoothly without a lot of fuss on your side.

Consumer advocacy group Privacy Canada lists the best VPNs and has comprehensive reviews and tests of each one. This includes pros and cons information, logging policies (which are important for data privacy), as well as reviews to help you in making the most informed decision.

For example, if the server location in Minneapolis is down, VPN providers will simply remove it from the network. If a new group of servers are added in Houston, you’re going to see the new option reflected in the application.

If you use an open source client, you will be responsible for manually configuring the files that you get from the provider. If you have the technical know-how and the time, you can do it. But you have to know that it’s going to take you a lot longer to get the job done.

Which Option Is Better?

Open-source VPNs clients, like the ones we’ve mentioned above, will definitely get the job done. They will require a bit more set up on your part, so you’re going to need to have the technical know-how to set things up and to troubleshoot, and you will be responsible for manual upgrades in the future. This is why we feel it is best to use a VPN provider app.

That being said, if the VPN provider does not have an application for your device or if you just feel that VPN apps cannot be trusted, the option always exists to set up your own server in the cloud.

What do you think? Is it better to use an open source VPN or VPN apps? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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