VPN usage has grown substantially in the past years. In fact, 25% of Internet users use a VPN at least once a month, and this is seen to grow more in the coming years. This is a pretty overwhelming number since half the world’s population are Internet users! Most of these VPN users find that […]
VPN usage has grown substantially in the past years. In fact, 25% of Internet users use a VPN at least once a month, and this is seen to grow more in the coming years. This is a pretty overwhelming number since half the world’s population are Internet users!
Most of these VPN users find that VPNs are great solutions for privacy and security, but there have been issues associated with it. These issues include logging, and WebRTC and DNS leaks which lead to the exposure of your real IP address and your real identity. While most of these issues can be traced back to unreliable VPN providers, it should be every user’s goal to test their VPNs regularly. You don’t even have to be super tech-savvy to be able to use a VPN, and not much more to test it.
I run one vpn on my mac, another in my windows and then ssh out from inside linux. pic.twitter.com/NpWIWQkEIP
— Scott (@ChinchiIIing) January 16, 2019
Here are tests you can do to make sure that your VPN is safe, and some tips on how to avoid leaks. Keep in mind that we have already done these tests for the top providers we have tested, such as these two right here:
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VPNs are popular mainly because they hide your real IP address and mask it with their own. This process ensures that your identity and activities remain private – you are virtually anonymous. However, a study by CSIRO in 2017 revealed that 84% of VPN providers leak user data. While the study involved 283 free Android VPN apps (which are universally terrible and not what we recommend on our site), which skews the data quite a bit in a bad way, it’s still important to check for leaks even when you are on a paid subscription plan.
Oftentimes, IP leaks are not intended by the VPN provider. Leakage can happen when the VPN connection drops for a moment while you are connected to the network and visiting some sites. During the few seconds that the VPN connection drops, your real IP address is exposed to the website or application you’re visiting.
This is why it is important to choose a VPN provider that has a high uptime. We’ve tested several providers with impressive uptime rate, and even one with zero drops in connection for weeks. Zero drops is rare even for top-tier VPN providers because of external factors – ISP latency, misconfigured firewall, and weak signal strengths, among many others.
Yeah, your VPN connection might just drop and your computer keeps sending traffic.
A simple software firewall mostly prevents this as well. Many VPN providers actually offer some sort of "kill switch" feature.
— email@example.com (@0xjomo) March 23, 2018
The best VPN providers – those who are truly out there to hide your IP address and identity – have come up with a Kill Switch feature that will prevent accidental IP leakage. Users have the option to turn this feature on or off, but the ideal is to turn the Kill Switch feature on all the time. When the VPN connection drops, the Kill Switch feature automatically shuts down the network connection too so you won’t be exposed.
A DNS, or Domain Name System, is a naming system that translates a website name (which is easy for people to remember) into a set of numbers called an IP address which is more readable for your computer. Here’s a quick video that will tell you what a DNS is and how it has helped with the dynamics of people using the Internet.
A DNS leak happens when the DNS requests still goes to the default DNS server instead of the VPN’s own DNS server. The default DNS servers are usually the ones maintained by your ISP. This may not be your VPN provider’s fault though. Your operating system (especially Windows) can actually ignore the fact that you are using a VPN and routes DNS requests to the default server. The effect of a DNS leak is two-fold:
So how do you do a VPN DNS leak test? First, connect to a VPN server located outside your country. Go to https://www.dnsleaktest.com/ or http://dnsleak.com/. If you see your ISP’s IP address and location, then there is definitely a DNS leak.
— Freedom Hacker (@FreedomHackerr) September 6, 2016
The method described above is quite risky since you are connected to the Internet, and the presence of a DNS leak makes you vulnerable. Thankfully, there is another way to do a DNS leak test without needing to connect to the Internet. Follow the steps below:
Like the IP leak issue discussed in the previous section, VPN providers have also developed ways to prevent DNS leaks. Here are ways to prevent DNS leaks while using a VPN:
As you can see, these methods to protect yourself from DNS leak all boil down to one thing: choosing the right VPN provider. The best VPN providers have anti-DNS leak measures that will ensure they’ll pass when you do a DNS leak test.
WebRTC is a useful innovation that allows real-time voice, video chat, and P2P file sharing within the browser without the need for browser extensions. However, it poses a privacy and security threat to VPN users since it reveals the user’s real IP address. Even the best VPN providers are vulnerable, especially since WebRTC is enabled by default in most browsers.
To avoid a WebRTC leak, you need to disable WebRTC in your browser. It’s easy to do with some browsers such as Chrome for Android, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, while for some browsers, you need to install addons. The section below will guide you in disabling WebRTC in different browsers:
Unlike its Android version, Chrome for desktop doesn’t have a built-in way to disable WebRTC. The same is true for Opera. However, there are extensions that you can add to help prevent WebRTC leaks, and here are some examples:
These extensions can block websites from collecting your IP address, but they do not fix the IP leak. Your IP address can still be stored in some websites.
There are extensions in Mozilla Firefox that can help prevent WebRTC leak, but you can do it directly in the browser which is better. Here’s how you do it:
For Safari on macOS, follow these steps to disable WebRTC:
For Safari for iOS, follow these instructions:
Follow these steps to disable WebRTC in Microsoft Edge:
Internet Explorer does not support WebRTC, so you shouldn’t have any WebRTC leak problem with it. We included WebRTC leak tests when we ranked the top VPN providers.
Aside from the IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests discussed above, you also want to regularly test the speed of your VPN. We also test the speed of the VPNs we review because we understand that latency is one of the most common issues encountered by VPN users. This is especially true when you use a VPN for streaming or gaming.
VPN speed is actually affected by several factors such as the following:
— PPI Activism (@PPI_Activism) May 23, 2016
With these factors in mind, you can do a VPN speed test by going to https://www.speedtest.net/, http://speedof.me/, or https://fast.com/. When we compared the speed of our connection without a VPN and with the VPNs we reviewed, the difference is only within 85% to 95%.
Finding out that there’s a leak in your system can be quite unnerving since you are using a VPN for anonymity, privacy, and security. You don’t want anyone to get hold of your personal data! If you’re still experiencing IP, DNS or WebRTC leaks even after putting up measures to avoid it, contact your VPN provider’s support team. There might be an issue on their end that is causing the leakage while using a VPN.
If worse comes to worst, save yourself from the hassle and change your VPN provider to one of these high-quality providers we have tested.
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