People choose to use a VPN for a lot of different reasons, including unblocking geo-restricted content, as well as securing data and masking IP addresses. When using a VPN we can also appear as though we are in a different country because we use the IP address of the VPN instead of the one provided by the ISP.
Making sure that your VPN is 100% secure it important as a leaky VPN renders the service useless. A VPN can leak for any number of reasons, resulting in your connection is open for interception by cybercriminals, marketers, government agencies and your ISP.
The most common VPN leaks are:
- WebRTC leaks
- DNS leaks
- Browser extension leaks
Public and Local IP Addresses
To know how a VPN protects your IP address we must first understand how IP addresses work. There are two types of IP addresses – public and local. Your “local” IP address is not unique and doesn’t identify you.
It’s your public IP address that is specific to you and forms your unique identity when browsing the internet. A privacy leak occurs when WebRTC discloses your public IP instead of the VPNs IP address.
WebRTC Revealing Your Actual IP Address
Websites can reveal your public IP address by using WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication). This is worrying because if a hacker uses this browser feature they could get access to your IP address, and what’s more frightening – they can find out your physical location.
The protection afforded by VPNs is voided if hackers use the WebRTC protocol to expose your actual ISP IP address. This means that anyone can then access your location. This protocol can be used on both Firefox and Chrome (on all devices) to reveal your IP address. This threat doesn’t apply to all VPNs and thankfully WebRTC is not enabled by default on Safari or Internet Explorer.
Is My VPN Affected?
Chrome on all devices is vulnerable when WebRTC is enabled. To find out if your VPN is affected by this type of hacking, follow these steps:
STEP 1 Find out your public IP address
Reveal your public IP address by switching off your VPN and typing:
“What Is My IP Address” into Google
N.B Make sure that you are NOT using the internet through your VPN at this stage.
STEP 2 Login & Connect to Your VPN
Log in to your VPN and connect to your preferred exit server, then repeat STEP 1, type – “What Is My IP Address” into Google. You should see the IP address of your chosen VPN server. Compare the IP address to the original IP address that you got in STEP 1.
If you have made sure to disable your VPN to reveal your actual public IP address and got the same IP address for both STEP 1 and 2, then your IP address is being leaked to the world. However, if you got a different answer for both then it pays to go onto STEP 3 to ensure that your IP address is truly secure.
STEP 3 Check Your IP on BrowserLeaks
You can ensure that your VPN is secure by checking the IP address on BrowserLeaks. The desired result is that you see your VPN’s IP here, and not your public IP address.
Make sure you are visiting BrowserLeaks through your VPN and double check the IP address against the IP address you got in STEP 1.
Protect Your Online Privacy
You can disable WebRTC on your on both Chrome and Firefox to protect yourself from this sort of leak. Most browsers have WebRTC enabled by default. However, some people find that when they disable WebRTC their browser runs slowly.
Surf More Securely with ScriptSafe
If you find that you are having security issues, then ScriptSafe is a neat browser extension that can enhance security and switch of WebRTC at the same time.
A DNS leak is a considerable privacy threat and a security flaw that can occur even when using a VPN. Much like the WebRTC issue, your public IP will be revealed if you have a DNS leak. If you have a DNS leak then your online activity will not be anonymous and can be monitored.
Some VPN providers like Hola suffer from both DNS and WebRTC leaks. This is possibly due to their more vulnerable peer to peer approach. Furthermore, Hola also logs your information, which is not a desirable feature from a VPN provider.
On the other hand, high-quality VPN providers like NordVPN have built-in WebRTC disablers in their apps and browser extensions.
How to Check for DNS Leaks
You can perform a DNS leak test automatically at DNSLeakTest.com to find out whether or not your VPN has a DNS leak. If you find that your VPN does have a DNS leak then you can change your VPN provider to a more anonymous network, or you can choose to fix the leak. Over on DNSLeakTest, you’ll find easy to follow instructions on how to secure a DNS Leak. For more advanced browser extension leaks follow the following steps to test and secure your IP.
Browser Extension Leaks
When surfing the web you can be tracked by many different methods. One such method is via a browser extension that can track your activity. Chrome browser extensions are particularly susceptible to browser extension leaks. On a more serious note, you can be formjacked, where you’d be sent to a different URL of your hackers choosing when using an online shopping cart.
Test for Browser Extension Leaks
Check if your VPN is susceptible to browser extension leaks
STEP 1 Activate The Chrome Plugin From Your VPN
STEP 2 Paste this URL in your browser: chrome://net-internals/#dns
STEP 3 Double tap “clear host cache”
STEP 4 Visit any website to confirm the vulnerability
Protect Yourself On Chrome
If you use chrome, then you can paste chrome://settings/ in the URL field and change your preferences to protect yourself. You can disable prediction features and enable something called ‘Do Not Track’. Which stops websites tracking your activity, and won’t allow them to market to you dependent to predicted interests.
Check for the three most common forms of VPN leaks – WebRTC leaks, DNS leaks and browser extension leaks to make sure that your VPN is 100% secure. Additionally make sure that you choose a high-quality VPN provider like NordVPN, TunnelBear or Windscribe to maximize the effectiveness of your VPN.