GlobalSign Blog

19 Jul 2017

How to Check If Your VPN Is Leaking Your IP Address on Your Computer or Smartphone

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are great for security, but one of the big reasons many people use one is to mask or change their IP address. Thus, one of the essential motivations to utilize a VPN is to conceal your actual IP address. In addition, while using a VPN, all of your web movements are encoded and sent to a VPN server. These servers, which handle all the data on the server side and is run by your VPN provider, are encrypted.

This implies that outside eyewitnesses can only see the IP address of the VPN server and not your actual IP. VPN providers take strong measures to protect user IPs, including using shared IPs and not maintaining logs. However, there is still a chance that your IP address can be discovered while using a VPN. Read on to learn how to find out if your VPN is leaking your IP and what you can do about it.

What Is an IP Leak?

An IP leak is the leaking of a user's real IP address while connected to a VPN service. It can occur in a situation where a user's computer is unknowingly accessing default servers rather than the anonymous VPN servers assigned by the network such as VPN. Here is simple example to understand IP leak while you are using a VPN:

Say you want to access some content that is not accessible (i.e. geo-restricted) from your home country. When you log into your VPN account, usually you can choose between servers in different countries. The VPN will “pretend" you're actually located in the selected region. Usually that's enough to convince you that you are now virtually in a supported country – all good so far!

But, if you go to access that content and are still facing the geo-restrictions, this means that service you are trying to access from a restricted country is actually tracking your original IP rather than the IP from the VPN server. This means your VPN is leaking your original IP.

Most IP leak types can affect any network protocol at one time or another on your smartphones, but the best VPN providers have built workarounds into their software to minimize the likelihood of an IP leakage. IP leaks aren’t normally the fault of your VPN service provider. They are often caused by vulnerabilities in existing technology like browser plugins (flash), web browsing software and operating systems on our smartphones.

Similarly, some DNS leaks can expose your original IP address to the DNS server. If your VPN has the “DNS Leak,” it means your DNS requests are being sent to an unsafe DNS server (usually one controlled by your internet provider). Some VPNs have built-in DNS leak protection, use their custom DNS servers, and use special technology to assure that your DNS requests are always routed securely, inside the encrypted VPN tunnel.

Some ISPs use a technology called “transparent DNS proxy”. Using this technology, they can intercept all DNS requests moving through their servers. If you specify the different DNS server on your home PC or router, it’s possible these requests could still be intercepted. If you have changed your DNS settings to use an 'open' DNS service such as Google or OpenDNS, expecting that your DNS traffic is no longer being sent to your internet provider's DNS server, you may be shocked to find out that they are using transparent DNS proxying.

How to Check If Your VPN Is Leaking Your IP

Your ‘real’ IP address is the one which is assigned to you by your internet service provider and can be used to identify your unique internet subscription specifically. All devices on your home network will share the same IP address.

Here are few useful steps through which you can check whether your VPN is working fine and not leaking your IP address:

Step 1: Check your IP - Make sure that your VPN is NOT connected. If you are sure that your VPN is disconnected, then go to Google and type “what is my IP address” to check your real IP.

Step 2: Sign in to VPN - Log into your VPN account and connect to the server of your choice. Verify twice that you are connected.

Step 3: Check your IP again - Go to Google and type “what is my iIP address” again to check your new IP. You should see a new address, one that corresponds with your VPN and the country you selected.

Step 4: Do IP Leak test - Several free websites allow you to check if your VPN is leaking IP. There is a good tool for IP Leak tests in regards to user’s online privacy. It’s unique because it's a modern web app and includes a free API to use on your smartphones. Most IP or DNS  leak tests used today are generally not mobile friendly, but more importantly outdated. For example, this tool’s API checks if DNS over TLS is enabled, which is missing from the older DNS leak test sites. This may be a relatively new protocol, but will become an increasingly important feature since it keeps your DNS requests encrypted. Its API also checks to see if DNSSEC is enabled or "Checking Disabled" is on or off. DNSSEC provides origin authority, data integrity, and authenticated denial of existence. So overall these results give you a more complete picture of your privacy and security settings.

What Other Leaks Can Expose Your IP Address? And How Can You Fix Them?

There is another common leak named ‘Dropped Connection’ which occurs if your VPN disconnects suddenly, in which case all your web traffic will be routed through your regular Internet connection (less secure). This is the common IP leak and also the easiest to prevent.

Choosing a VPN service with a kill-switch feature is the right choice even for your smartphones. A kill-switch is a critical piece of your VPN client software that continuously monitors your network connection and makes sure that your true IP address is never exposed online in the event of a dropped VPN connection. If it detects a change, it will instantly stop all internet connectivity and try to reconnect to the VPN automatically. I recommend looking for this feature when you are comparing VPNs.

VPNs can be a great tool for protecting your privacy online, but sometimes they can be undermined. I hope this post has opened your eyes to risks of IP leaks and the importance of regularly checking for them to ensure your information is staying safe.

Looking for more on VPNs? Check out my recent post Top 10 VPNs That Take Your Privacy and Security Seriously.

About The Author

Anas Baig is a cybersecurity journalist by profession with a profound interest in online privacy, security and IoT. Follow him on Twitter @anasbaigdm, or email him directly by clicking here.

Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign

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