When a plumber installs your central heating, leaks are easy to find, you just look for the drips – right? But when it comes to your VPN, how do you make sure that it isn’t leaking?
Many people decide to use a VPN to unblock censored content or mask their IP address. VPNs are the ideal solution for you to appear as though you are in another location and also protect your sensitive data. You can even use a VPN to view Netflix or Youtube videos that are not available in your country, or to torrent.
VPNs Can Fail
There is one problem, VPNs can fail. You need to make sure that your VPN is working effectively before you put your full trust in your VPN. Thankfully you can take matters into your own hands and take measures to protect yourself by ensuring that your VPN is 100% leak proof.
In this article, I’ll go over the ins and outs of testing your VPN to make sure it is secure and doing its job. After all, there is no point in using a VPN and assuming that you are safe when in reality your IP or data is being leaked.
What does “Leak” Mean In A VPN?
A VPN is designed to cloak your IP address and also provide a safe tunnel through which your data gets transported. The data is also encrypted via a variety of protocols, depending on what VPN provider you choose to use.
If any of your information is made available, your IP address, your data or online activity – that is known as a “leak”. Your private information should be kept private and if not then that is considered a leak. Logging on and logging off are two points where leaks are prevalent. For that reason, your VPN should use kill switches and other methods to protect your activity.
How Do VPNs Leak?
Before we discuss how to test your VPN and make sure that it’s not leaking, it is a good idea to understand how a VPN can leak in the first place. There are many ways that a VPN can leak that you need to know about, these include:
ISSUE #1 IP Address Leak
Your IP address is how you are identified online. Reverse engineered, it can even point hackers in the direction of your actual physical location. Your IP address will also provide information about your online footprint. That is the websites that you visit and what you do online.
The common reason for an IP address leak is due to IPv4 and IPv6 incompatibility.
ISSUE #2 DNS Leak
Domain Name System (DNS) are how domain names become IP addresses and vice versa. Basically us humans understand words (the domain name) and computers understand numbers (the IP address). The DNS is the translator that makes sense of it all so that we can communicate with computers and surf the web.
In some cases, a DNS can disclose your location. The way that this works is due to your ISP (internet service provider) turning long IP addresses into text URLs (Domain names). When you visit a website, the website will request your IP address. This can be used to translate an online store into local currency or simply to make the connection to your computer.
If you are not using a VPN then your IP address can be disclosed in this way. Why does this matter? A DNS leak may not seem serious, but it can lead to what is called a “DNS hijacking attack”. Also, DNS leaks can be intercepted by hackers to see what you are doing.
What is DNS hijacking?
When requesting information from a website your query is sent along a string of servers. This query can be redirected and this is known as “DNS hijacking”. This becomes particularly sinister when hackers make a copy of a website that looks the same to steal your details. This can also leave your device open to being injected with malware.
ISSUE # 3 WebRTC leak
Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a built-in program that comes with browsers. WebRTC can be manipulated when code is inserted in the program. Code that can take off the cloak of your VPN and see underneath. This can lead to your data being exposed.
Test Your VPN in 4 Steps
It is easy to test your VPN. Here are three easy steps that you can follow to test your VPN in a few seconds
- Step 1 – Make sure your VPN is turned off and type in “what is my IP” in Google.
- Step 2 – Copy and paste your IP address into a document
- Step 3 – Turn on your VPN and repeat step 2.
- Step 4 – Compare IP addresses
Check your IP address in Step 4 against the one you got in Step 2. Once you have returned to check your IP address, after switching on your VPN you should find that it has changed (to your VPNs IP address).
If your IP address doesn’t change then your VPN is leaking.
Check For DNS Leaks
You can test your DNS on DNSLeakTest.com. They have both a “standard” and an “extended” test that you can take to find out more information about the strength of your VPN. DNS Leak Test is an invaluable tool for VPN users to test the anonymity of their provider.
How To Fix DNS Leaks
If you find that your DNS is leaking there are a few things that you can do. Here are three options for you to consider:
- Turn off IPv6 on your device
- Contact your VPN provider
- Make sure that your VPN has DNS Leak protection. If not – change your VPN provider.
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Check for WebRTC Leaks in 3 Steps
- Step 1 – Make sure your VPN is switched off
- Step 2 – Go to IPLeakTest – copy your IP address into a notepad
- Step 3 – Connect your VPN and you should see a new IP address that should be coming from your VPN provider
Another great resource for this is BrowserLeaks.com.
Browser Leaks offers detailed information about your internet connection. You should be able to view your public and private IP address on Browser Leaks.
How to Fix WebRTC Leaks
WebRTC is not connected to your VPN, so changing VPN won’t help. Browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Opera usually have WebRTC enabled by default. To fix WebRTC try the following:
Disable WebRTC – by installing a browser that excludes WebRTC. Safari and Internet Explorer don’t have WebRTC deployed by default, so you can use one of those browsers to fix WebRTC leaks.
Alternatively, you can install WebRTC Network Limiter.
What To Do If Your VPN Isn’t Working
If you’ve followed all of the steps above and your VPN still isn’t working then it could be for one of the following reasons:
- VPNs Can Be Considered Illegal – In some countries/ regions, for example, China, VPNs are considered illegal. If you are in this position you can choose a government-approved VPN.
- Speed Drop – If you use a VPN that is far away from your physical location then you might experience a sudden drop in browsing speed. This can also happen when ISP restricts bandwidth or when a server is too busy. Some VPNs get busy at peak times and as such users can experience a drop in speed at these times, meaning your VPN won’t work as it should.
- Malware – Free VPNs often don’t work, unless they are capped versions of premium solutions. You might get a virus due to a dodgy VPN, so we’d always suggest opting for a premium VPN for your security and peace of mind.
- VPN Connect Drop – From time to time a VPN connection can just drop. That is where the automatic kill switch from your VPN is essential. Kill switches will keep you secure and allow you to use the internet within the security of your VPN tunnel.
- Hackers – If you have visited a website that has malware or opened an email that contains a virus you could be hacked. In this instance, your VPN won’t be able to protect you.
The Bottom Line
Ensuring that your VPN is working properly is an important step to take. Otherwise, you might be exposing yourself when you had thought you were protected. The easy steps that I’ve outlined should help you to navigate whether your VPN is working or not. If not, then you can contact your VPN provider to make sure that they provide DNS leak protection and ask them to help you to set things up. That’s why I always advise you to go with a VPN with great customer service. Once you have established that you are protected, make sure to check your VPN once in a while to ensure that you are still fully protected.