When a VPN (Virtual Private Network) works properly, it prevents your online activity from being tracked. By connecting your devices to different servers around the world instead of your internet provider’s local server, VPNs encrypt your data streams and prevent your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from reading what you’re doing. However, not all VPNs work perfectly at all times, and a failed VPN can open the door to a number of security issues.
While your VPN app may say you’re connected, that alone isn’t a guarantee that your VPN doesn’t have a leak. This may leave you wondering—is my VPN working? Luckily, there are several quick tests you can perform to check if your VPN is working properly and spot any potential vulnerabilities that may be causing issues.
How Do I Know If My VPN Is Working?
When a device is properly connected to a VPN, the IP address should show the location of the server the device is connected to through the VPN. If you find your IP address shows your device’s actual IP while connected to a VPN, you may have a leak.
If you’re not sure whether or not your VPN is working properly, there are a few things you can do to check for potential vulnerabilities. Follow the steps for these simple VPN tests to quickly identify and resolve any leaks you may have.
IP Address Leaks
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique string of numbers assigned to any device connected to the internet. As you browse the internet, your IP address is linked to your searches, clicks, visits and geographical location. Masking IP addresses is one of the most popular reasons for using a VPN, and when a leak occurs, your IP address becomes vulnerable.
How to Test for an IP Leak
One of the primary features of a good VPN is to keep your IP address hidden, and a simple manual IP leak test can reveal whether your IP address is secure or not.
- Identify your device’s IP address: Make sure your VPN is disconnected, then type “what is my IP address” into the Google search bar. Your device’s assigned IP address will be shown at the top of the page. Write that number down.
- Go to your VPN account: Turn on your VPN and connect to any server.
- Go to Google and re-check your IP address: In the Google search bar, type “what is my IP address” again. A new address will populate at the top of the screen. Compare this IP address to the first IP address you wrote down in the previous step.
If you find that the new IP address is the same as your personal IP address from the first step, your VPN might be leaking. If the two addresses are different, you know your VPN is effectively hiding your real IP address.
How to Fix an IP Leak
If your VPN failed the test above, try connecting to another VPN server and testing again. If that doesn’t solve the problem, the best solution is to switch to a new VPN service that provides better security.
A Domain Name Systems (DNS) server functions like a translator. It’s job is to translate a request for a website into a specific IP number, allowing users to navigate the internet with ease. This system is in place so you don’t have to memorize an IP address every time you visit a website—all you need to do is remember a website’s name.
When you browse the internet, DNS requests are sent to fetch the IP addresses of the domains you want to visit. Without a VPN, these requests go through the unsecured tunnel of your ISP, giving your ISP a detailed browsing history of every DNS request you send. If your VPN has a DNS leak, your browsing history, IP address and location of your ISP are revealed.
How to Test for a DNS Leak
Checking for DNS leaks is similar to testing your VPN for a protected IP address. They’re easy to spot manually by searching geo-restricted sites with your server set in a different location. Use the manual DNS leak test to uncover an unarmed VPN.
- Go to your VPN account: Sign in to your VPN account and select a server in a different country.
- Visit a geo-restricted website: Head over to a geo-restricted website of the country you’ve selected. For example, Netflix US if you chose US as your country.
If you are unable to access the website, you likely have a DNS leak.
To catch any vulnerabilities that might have slipped through the cracks, it’s a good idea to go a step further and test with a tool like DNSLeakTest.
- With your VPN turned off, head to DNSLeakTest, which will show your IP address and general location. Select the “Standard Test” option.
- Check the IP addresses of the domains that show up. Take a photo or write them down.
- Turn your VPN on and run a new test. The IP addresses displayed should be different from those that appeared in the first step.
If the IP addresses didn’t change after you turned your back VPN on, you might have a DNS leak.
How to Fix a DNS Leak
If you think you have a DNS leak, secure your connection with the steps below.
- Disconnect your VPN and turn off your WiFi.
- After a minute, turn your WiFi back on and reconnect to your VPN. If this doesn’t fix the issue it could be beneficial to go to your VPN and choose a different server to connect to.
- After your leak is fixed, perform another DNS leak test to verify that your connection is secure.
If this doesn’t solve the issue, your VPN provider’s customer support may be able to troubleshoot the issue. Otherwise, it’s best to switch to a more secure VPN provider—you’ll want to find one with its own encrypted DNS servers. This ensures your VPN won’t reveal your DNS information.
Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) essentially allows for instantaneous video, voice and message sharing within the browser—in other words, a technology that lets web browsers directly communicate with each other online.
This is very helpful for peer-to-peer, browser-based communication, but users have found that WebRTC opens up vulnerabilities in VPNs. A WebRTC leak occurs when your browser reveals your IP address when making WebRTC requests, even while connected to a VPN. With just a few lines of code, any site can expose your IP address and location.
How to Test for a WebRTC Leak
A WebRTC leak occurs when your browser displays your actual IP address even when your VPN is enabled. Follow the three WebRTC leak test steps to find out if you have this type of leak.
- Turn your VPN off and head to BrowserLeaks. You should see your actual IP address under Public IP Address.
- Connect to your VPN and refresh the page. Under Public IP Address, you should see a different IP address listed, which would be the masked IP address of your VPN.
If you still see your actual IP address after the WebRTC test, your VPN is leaking your IP address when your browser makes WebRTC requests.
How to Fix a WebRTC Leak
The most effective way to fix a WebRTC leak is to switch to a VPN that specifically protects against them. If you don’t want to switch VPN providers, you can disable WebRTC in your browser. This is done differently for each browser, either by changing its settings or installing a plug-in. WebRTC Leak Prevent is the leading Chrome extension for preventing WebRTC leaks. Or, simply use a browser that doesn’t have WebRTC—you can find a full list of browsers here.
My VPN Still Isn’t Working—What Now?
If you’ve performed the VPN tests above and you’re still having issues, there are a handful of other reasons why your VPN isn’t working properly.
- Faulty or offline server: If you’re dealing with a faulty server, it might be because the server is overloaded or your ISP is almost out of bandwidth. You can do a quick test to check your VPN speed for free here. You can also try connecting to a different server.
- Your ISP or country is blocking your VPN: Some countries have strict online censorship in place, which can result in a blocked VPN. In China, for example, only a few government-approved VPNs are legal.
- Dropped VPN connection: Most VPNs come with an automatic kill switch that terminates your internet connection if your VPN connection drops. The kill switch is to prevent you from accessing web pages while you’re not connected to your VPN, keeping your personal information secure.
- Port or protocol issue: Similar to a faulty server, the issue may be tied to your port or internet protocol. You can contact your ISP customer support to troubleshoot this.
- VPN software issue: If it’s none of the above, the issue is likely tied to the VPN itself. You can contact customer support, or switch VPN providers entirely.
Tips to Protect Your VPN Software
Ideally, your VPN software runs automatically and won’t require much manual attention from you. However, periodically checking that your software is running properly can help you catch any vulnerabilities ahead of time. Use the tips below to ensure your VPN is working to the best of its ability.
- Frequently check your VPN by running the manual tests outlined above
- Verify that your VPN provider supports IPv6 addresses so that IP leaks will not happen.
- Check whether your VPN provider automatically blocks DNS leaks. Some do and some don’t—if yours doesn’t, you might want to switch to a provider who provides this service for more security.
- Disable WebRTC in your browser or add an extension to prevent WebRTC leaks.
Whether you’re seeking more control over your online privacy or you would like to watch video content from other countries, a free VPN service is a great tool for quickly and effectively securing your location and online activity. To keep your browsing history leak-free and protected, ask yourself, “Is my VPN working?” and be sure to check your connections frequently.