Deciding whether to download the custom software of a VPN provider or using OpenVPN with it’s GUI enabled can be a difficult decision. Both solutions offer the same ability to connect to a server of your choice, however with advantages and disadvantages of both it makes the decision all the more harder. Below I’m taking a look at what these advantages and disadvantages are and ultimately hoping to aid you in the decision of which to choose should it be custom software or OpenVPN directly.
What is Custom Software?
Custom software for desktops or custom apps for mobile devices are programs (or apps!) that have been created specifically for the provider of your VPN service. They are proprietary programs that enable the VPN connection, they are in most cases not a type of VPN connection but a basic overlay that takes out most set-up and allows easier or quicker connection to a server. Custom software usually allows as a minimum the ability to make connection via OpenVPN with some offering support for other VPN protocols such as PPTP, L2TP and SSTP.
What is OpenVPN?
OpenVPN is a type of VPN connection which may otherwise be known as a VPN protocol. There are three to four main VPN protocols which include PPTP, L2TP, SSTP and OpenVPN. OpenVPN + GUI is considered one of the more user friendly and also most secure, it is also open source which means that the source code or inner workings of it can be checked by security professionals to ensure that there are no hidden back doors. While the majority of everyday computer users can not read source code it does allow those involved in the security industry to investigate on users behalf. OpenVPN differs to other VPN protocols such as PPTP which are proprietary systems for which the source code is not able to be inspected.
- Easy to install and little set-up required
Custom software is very one click enabled, ie; from download it is simple to just double click on the software and have it installed. After entering your username and password, connection can usually be made within one or two clicks, so from a user perspective it is extremely easy to make use of with no technical know-how required.
- Additional options such as kill switch & DNS leak protection provided.
One of the biggest advantages are the wealth of options that some custom software solutions provide. While nearly all providers software differs and some are more in-depth than others, the majority have additional features. One of the more impressive features is when a kill switch is included which if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly automatically cuts off your main internet connection protecting you from leaking your real IP address. Such a feature is important for those who use torrents or other services that are critical to not leak your IP address.
- Many protocols
While using OpenVPN on it’s own only allows access to the OpenVPN protocol, custom software can and usually does include other VPN methods of connection, for example PPTP and L2TP. Many providers offer these facilities which takes out any manual set-up of those protocols and gives the user a wider range of options.
- Proprietary software
Although most VPN providers are reputable, from a privacy and security point of view closed software that is not open to scrutiny from the security industry is considered a disadvantage. While it is unlikely that a VPN provider would build a back door in to it’s own software the fact that this can not be checked goes against the grain of what a VPN service in the first instance offers.
- Limited systems
Custom software is a great addition should it be available for the system that you wish to use it on. While the most popular system for custom software is Windows there are less options available for Mac. The situation becomes even worse when we look at tablet and phone devices such as Android and iOS. There are a handful of the biggest providers who do offer such mobile solutions but these tend to be less likely across the board. In the case of Linux this is even less likely with only a very few providers who offer a custom solution.
As discussed earlier in this article, OpenVPN is extremely secure both in the methods it employs for connection and encryption possibilities but also from the angle that it is open source which allows the inner most workings to be scrutinised by security professionals and those within the industry.
- Multiple providers
One of the main advantages of installing and utilising OpenVPN plus it’s GUI directly is the possibility to use more than one provider. As you make use of server configurations there are no restrictions to using it for more than one provider which would be the case with custom software. While most people only tend to have one VPN account with a certain provider it still allows for changing in the future without bogging your system down with many different programs or apps that have to be uninstalled each time you change provider.
- Not great for beginners
While not technically challenging for the majority of people even the task of copying configuration files could be tricky for absolute beginners, especially if they have no interest in how computers work and only want to protect their privacy. From this angle custom software is a far superior solution.
- No added “features”
Although not to be expected from the bare bones VPN protocol, in comparison to custom software there are a range of features which make VPN use even more secure than just connecting to a VPN itself. The lack of built in DNS leak protection and a kill switch could very easily lead to new users having a false sense of privacy in relation to DNS leaks or a connection unexpectedly dropping. The are of course third party additions which can solve these tasks, however for the new user, custom software can offer this in an all in one package.
It is difficult to say which choice is ultimately the best and the answer is mostly subjective to the user. While extreme privacy advocates and those interested in the highest level of encryption and privacy will no doubt wish to compile their own source of OpenVPN and use this, at the other end of the scale are entry level users who may or may not be using a VPN for privacy reasons and could be using one solely for streaming geo-restricted content. Regardless of the use of an entry level user the basic issue remains that they will require the most user friendly option to even entertain the idea of using a VPN.
For new users custom software answers this query, while OpenVPN would be the solution for the more advanced user. While both options appear to be more suited to a particular user type the advantages and disadvantages that both can provide leads me to suggest that a combination of both for different purposes may be the ideal solution and is the solution I find most preferable for my own usage. While I advocate the direct use of OpenVPN where possible, with kill switch solutions from the likes of VPN.ac, there are times when custom software, especially on mobile devices are the most user friendly option.