How do you know whether your VPN is doing its job? You may think your VPN is working even while it leaks your identity and location. Leaks can be hard to spot, so use these tips to see if your VPN is really protecting you.
The most common VPN leaks
There are many reasons why your VPN might not be providing 100% security and exposing your private information. Here are the most common ways that your VPN could be leaking:
- IP leak
Your IP address says a lot about you, like your location or the websites you visit. A VPN protects you from snoopers trying to access this information, so if your original IP leaks it defeats the purpose of using a VPN. This usually happens due to two internet protocols, IPv4 and IPv6 and their incompatibility.
- DNS leak
Sometimes your IP might stay hidden while your DNS address secretly reveals your location. The DNS server changes plain text URLs into numerical IP addresses. If you’re not using a VPN, this process is handled by your ISP and their servers, which can see who visited what websites. If your DNS leaks, then anyone snooping on your traffic will be able to access this information too. It could even lead to a DNS hijacking attack.
- WebRTC leak
Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is built into most popular browsers (i.e., Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and Brave). It enables real-time communications such as voice and video chat, but it also presents another vulnerability for VPN users.
Some websites can take advantage of WebRTC by inserting a few lines of code to see past your VPN and discover your original IP. This is very useful for websites that provide or block content based on your geo-location.
It’s possible to prevent these leaks, but first, you have to identify them. You can do so by running some basic VPN tests that anyone can do.
How to do a VPN test check for IP and/or DNS leaks
- You need to find out your original IP address given by your ISP. If you are currently using a VPN, turn it off and head to this page.
- Make a note of your real IP address.
- Turn on your VPN and go back to the test website.
- It should now show a different IP address and the country you connected your VPN to. If the results show your original IP address, then, unfortunately, your VPN is leaking.
- Sometimes IPLeak tests fail to detect DNS leaks, which can also reveal your identity. So it’s advisable to check it on DNSLeakTest.
- If your VPN is on, DNSLeakTest should show the location you’ve chosen and your new IP.
- Select Extended Test to dig even deeper. This test might take a few minutes.
- If the results now show your new IP address and your chosen country, you are safe. Your VPN isn’t leaking.
What to do if your IP and/or DNS is leaking
The easiest way is to change your VPN provider to one that has dedicated DNS servers or offers DNS leak protection, like NordVPN. Or you could manually turn IPv6 off on your device. However, this might require some technical know-how.
How to check for WebRTC leaks
- If you haven’t already, find out your original IP address on the IPLeak website. Make a note of it.
- Connect to your VPN and refresh the webpage (or go to its alternative dedicated to WebRTC Testing). It should now show your new IP address and new location based on the country you’ve chosen.
- Under ‘Your IP addresses – WebRTC detection’ you should see a private IP that should be different from your original public IP address. Note that the website showing your private IP (usually begins with 10.xxx or 192.xxx or sometimes an alpha-numeric IPv6) doesn’t mean that your WebRTC is leaking.
What to do if your WebRTC is leaking
This time, changing your VPN or tinkering with your settings won’t help. However, you can:
- Use a browser that doesn’t have WebRTC. You can find the full list of browsers that exclude it on Wikipedia.
- Disable WebRTC by following these tips.
- Install browser extensions:
- Chrome: Install WebRTC Network Limiter.
My VPN is still not working
If you've performed all of these VPN tests and there's still an issue, there may be other reasons why it might seem that your VPN isn’t working:
- Your browsing speed has dropped. This might happen for several reasons. For example, you’ve chosen a server which is on the other side of the world, the server is overloaded, or your ISP is throttling bandwidth. However, you can check your VPN speed and increase it with a few simple tricks.
- Your ISP or your country is blocking VPN usage. In some countries, especially with online censorship, VPN usage can be blocked or considered illegal. In China, for example, only government-approved VPNs are legal.
- Your VPN connection has dropped. Most VPNs offer an automatic kill switch (including NordVPN), which means that if your VPN connection drops, it will terminate your internet connection ( application-level kill switches will only terminate individual programs). The kill switch makes sure that you don’t access the internet outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel and that your personal information isn’t exposed if the connection drops.
If your VPN connection dropped and activated your system-level kill switch, you will not be able to access the internet until you connect back to a VPN server.
- VPN malware. Technology experts would never recommend using a free VPN. Not only do most contain annoying ads, some actually contain malware. If you are using a free VPN, you might already be exposing more personal information than you wanted to.
- You’ve been hacked. You might think that your VPN isn’t working because someone has broken into it. In reality, it’s pretty difficult to do so. It’s more likely that you’ve visited a malicious website or fell for a phishing attack and someone has taken control of your device. Unfortunately, if someone hacks you, a VPN can’t do much to protect you.
Check the video below for a brief overview of the topic.
Protect yourself from IP and DNS leaks with a reliable VPN – NordVPN.