The search for increased privacy and uninhibited content streaming has driven 25% of the global population to subscribe to a Virtual Private Network or VPN. These networks allow users to connect their Internet-enabled devices to different servers around the world instead of their local Internet service provider’s server. This is ideal for users who want to obscure their personal location and Internet activity.

VPNs were originally created to enable employees to operate on their company server no matter where they are. While a few companies still use VPNs for this reason, the majority of users seek Internet privacy or the ability to bypass geographic restrictions on content streaming websites. As VPNs became a product for the average consumer, many users were left wondering, “Is my VPN working?”

When a user browses the Internet without a VPN, their search history, location and information about their Internet service provider is accessible to advertisers, employers and governments. For the most part, VPNs protect online information from interested parties, but sometimes leaks can occur. Leaks in VPNs happen for a number of reasons. Parties that benefit from personal information might use code to disable VPNs and sometimes systems just break. When using a VPN for your day-to-day internet activity, it’s a good idea to check regularly for leaks.

graphic that shows how a vpn works

Types of VPN Leaks

Users typically subscribe to VPN providers thinking that the service they pay for will protect their online privacy. A VPN test that points to your information being leaked can be unsettling. There are three types of VPN leaks that can occur, and being able to identify them helps users be prepared to fix any leaks that they find.

IP Leak

Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are strings of numbers, separated by periods, that are assigned for specific computers or smart devices by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As you browse the Internet, your IP address is linked to your searches, clicks and visits. 

There are currently two types of IP addresses:

  • IPv4: The original protocol. Many VPN service providers only offer support for IPv4 addresses, which can cause an IP address leak. 
  • IPv6: The newer protocol, created to allow more IP addresses in the world, creates more security by making host identification more challenging to crack for attackers.

DNS Leak

Domain Name System (DNS) servers convert IP addresses into URLs with familiar domain names and vise-versa. This system is in place so that you don’t have to memorize an IP address every time you visit a website.

When you browse the Internet, your operating system sends a DNS request to fetch the IP address associated with the domain. Internet service providers can then log every DNS request that comes from your operating system, giving them your detailed browsing history. With a VPN, every DNS request will come from your VPN provider’s server instead of your personal server, securing your private information.

A DNS leak occurs when your conversion requests come from your personal DNS server instead of your VPN provider’s DNS server. When this leak happens, your browsing history, as well as the IP address and location of your Internet service provider, is revealed.

graphic that shows how a vpn leak happens

WebRTC Leak

Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) essentially allows for instantaneous video, voice and message sharing within the browser. 

This is very helpful for peer-to-peer, browser-based communication, but users have found that WebRTC opens up vulnerabilities in VPNs. These leaks occur in popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Brave and Opera. With just a few lines of code, any site can expose your IP address and location.

How Do I Know If My VPN is Working?

When a device is connected to a VPN correctly, 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. 

There are many services on the market that you can pay for to find out details about potential vulnerabilities in your VPN. If you would like to investigate your personal internet security, there are manual checks that are available as well.

IP Leak Test

While there are paid tools available to test if your VPN is working, a simple manual IP leak test with the steps below can reveal the same type of vulnerability. 

  1. Step 1: Find your personal IP address. Disconnect your VPN and type “what is my IP address” into the Google search bar. Your device’s assigned IP address will generate at the top of the page. Write that number down.

    IP-Leak-1
  2. Step 2: Go to your VPN account. Sign in to your VPN account and select the server of your choice.

    IP-Leak-2
  3. Step 3: Go to Google. Go back to Google and type in “what is my IP address” again. A new address should populate at the top of the screen. Confirm by checking the IP address that you wrote down.

    IP-Leak-3If your VPN test shows the new IP address matches your personal address, your VPN might be leaking.

DNS Leak Test

DNS leaks are 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. 

  1. Step 1: Go to your VPN account. Sign in to your VPN account and select a server in a different country.
  2. Step 2: Visit a geo-restricted website. Content streaming services that originated in the U.S. are the most commonly blocked by other countries.

If you are unable to access the website, you likely have a DNS leak.

WebRTC Leak Test

If your public IP address is displayed with your VPN enabled, you may have a WebRTC leak, and your VPN may not be working properly. Follow the three WebRTC leak test steps to find out if you have this type of leak. 

How-To-Test-VPN-DNS-WebRTC-Leaks

    1. Step 1: Enable your VPN. Select any server to operate from. 
    2. Step 2: Find your IP address. Type “what is my IP address” into Google. Your IP address assigned to your device by your VPN service will generate at the top of the page.
    3. Step 3: Search the address with IP. Copy and paste this IP address into the search bar and type “IP” before the numbers.

If your location comes up, this could indicate that you have a WebRTC leak.

How Can I Fix A VPN Leak?

If you find that your VPN is leaking, don’t panic. There are several ways that you can fix the leaks that you are experiencing. If you find that leaks are happening frequently, consider switching VPN providers to a service that is better equipped to protect your online activity.

How to Fix IP Leaks

The permanent solution for IP leaks is to subscribe to a VPN service that provides full support to IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. As a temporary fix, add IPv6 restrictions to your firewall.

How to Fix DNS Leaks

If you find a DNS leak on your device, secure your connection with the steps below.

  1. Disconnect your VPN and turn off your WiFi.
  2. 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.
  3. After your leak is fixed, perform another DNS leak test to verify that your connection is secure.

How to Fix WebRTC Leaks

The best way to fix a WebRTC link is to disable WebRTC in your browser of choice. This is possible in Firefox and several other browsers. For Chromium-based browsers such as Chrome or Brave, disabling WebRTC is not an option. For these browsers, use browser extensions to protect your privacy.

graphic that shows fixing a vpn leak

Tips To Protect VPN Software

VPNs are used to secure your device from unwanted attention. The tips below can ensure your VPN is working to the best of its ability to protect your online activity.

  • Frequently check your VPN with manual tests.
  • Verify that your VPN provider supports IPv6 addresses so that IP leaks will not happen.
  • Check with your VPN provider and make sure that their service does not allow any DNS leaks.
  • Disable WebRTC in your browser or add an extension to prevent WebRTC leaks.

Whether you’re seeking internet privacy or you would like to watch video content from other countries, a free VPN service can be a great tool for 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. 

Sources: Global Sign | PC Mag | Secure Thoughts | Life Hacker