A VPN prevents outside observers and surveillance from detecting your IP address by masking your online activities. However, not all VPNs are fool-proof, and your IP address may be ‘leaked’ by your secure connection, exposing you to the dangers of the web. Luckily, you can easily find out if your address has been compromised by following the steps in this guide!
What is an IP Leak, and Why Should I Care?
One of the main reasons people connect to the internet through virtual private networks is to mask their activity and identity from outside observers who mean them harm. A VPN routes users’ web traffic through their own encrypted servers before connecting to the web, effectively changing their IP address in the eyes of observers.
IP addresses are a type of digital identifier that connects a web request to the device that made it. They can identify users by pointing to their geographic location and thus their personal details. ISPs track users’ IP addresses and will share them with authorities upon request. Moreover, ISP databases, while secure, are not immune to hacks and cyber-attacks, adding to dangers facing users’ IP addresses.
When connecting through a VPN, internet requests are sent through a ‘tunnel’ the VPN creates to connect to its servers. This prevents ISPs from determining a device’s IP address and theoretically makes users invisible when connecting to the internet. However, sometimes VPNs are unable to capture all the web requests a device makes, and an ISP will instead see them, exposing a user’s real IP address in what is known as an IP leak. This lets anyone know where you are and track your activities or even steal your identity.
Moreover, recent revelations have shown that IP leaks are even more possible than ever. A security flaw in Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC, a feature common in the most popular browsers) causes users’ real IP addresses to be exposed. Hackers and other observers can easily exploit this weakness with a few lines of code to gain access to users’ identities for nefarious purposes. However, users are not completely helpless. There are great tools such as IPLeak that empower users to understand if their traffic is vulnerable, and most VPNs also host resources to help!
How to Test if Your VPN is Leaking Your IP Address
Most VPNs are good about preventing IP leaks, but sometimes external factors can be too great to overcome. In these cases, some VPN providers offer a ‘kill switch’ to sever a compromised connection. Even so, many times it’s not so easy to tell if your IP has been leaked. If you’ve attempted to connect to geo-restricted services like Netflix or Hulu through a VPN and are still unable to view them, your IP may have been leaked.
This isn’t to say it’s impossible to protect your IP. VPNs are still highly useful and recommended, and you can be proactive when it comes to detecting IP leaks. Some even offer users toolkits designed to detect and protect themselves against IP leaks, like Express VPN does with their new service. If your provider doesn’t provide these solutions, you can still perform an IP leak test in a few simple steps:
- Find your real IP address. There are straightforward ways to accomplish this, either from a site like WhatIsMyIPAdress.com, or from your computer’s command prompt if you’re on the more tech-savvy side.
- Connect to your VPN. Choose a server you want to test and enable your VPN connection. After this, find your IP address again
- Your new VPN IP address should be different from the original, and it should also register in a different geographic location.
- Test for leaks. Visit a website like IPLeak to test your internet connection. If the address you see shows your ISP’s geographic location, your VPN is not functioning properly.
You should also perform a WebRTC leak test to ensure your browser isn’t responsible for your IP leaks. ExpressVPN and some other VPNs offer services on their own websites. Furthermore, there are excellent free tools that you can explore online which will quickly tell you if your WebRTC is at fault.
How to Stop Your VPN From Leaking Your IP Address
If you find out your VPN has leaked your IP, don’t panic. The best VPNs are accompanied by a ‘kill switch’ feature which will immediately sever a connection if your IP is leaked, but even if yours doesn’t, you can still take quick steps to prevent your IP address from falling into the wrong hands.
Disable WebRTC From Your Browser
The most popular web browsers all use WebRTC, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Moreover, this feature is usually enabled by default, so users can be affected without even knowing it. However, once you’ve tested and determined if WebRTC is the problem, you can act quickly to prevent any more issues:
- For Chrome, you can download an application such as ScriptSafe from their app stores to disable WebRTC.
- Firefox users can download the Disable WebRTC app, or simply access their configuration tab by typing ‘about:config’ and changing the ‘media.peerconnection.enabled’ setting to false.
- Opera users can also use ScriptSafe, but the process may have several more steps relative to Chrome.
Choose the Right VPN
Not all VPNs were built equally, and some offer security features that go beyond the normal scope of most solutions. The best choice for privacy-oriented users is VPN services that have features designed to protect specifically against IP leaks. Finding a provider that offers DNS leak protection is crucial as it is a firewall that restricts all internet traffic from your device directly through its tunneled connection. Moreover, you should always go for VPNs that explicitly mention they offer Kill Switch functionality, as they can be the difference between a small blip and a major issue for your identity down the line.
Configuring Your VPN on Your Home Router
Another strategy some experts recommend, and one which could be safer than simply disabling WebRTC, is to install your VPN client directly onto your home router. This has several benefits including protecting all devices connecting to the router. Doing so may take a few steps, but protecting your home and all web traffic against IP leaks is a worthwhile reason for this extra effort.
- Start by logging in to your router’s administrative page and find the ‘security’ or ‘connection’ tabs.
- Some routers will have a section for VPNs, which will help you find your provider, as well as complete the installation process.
- If your router doesn’t have this feature your VPN provider may be able to help. Contact support and tell them what router you own, and they should be able to guide the installation process.
With your router protected, all your devices will have a masked IP address, and WebRTC will be less of a factor. Because the traffic is all being filtered at the exit point of your network instead of your computer, all requests will be directed by your VPN’s firewall instead.
No matter why you decide to use a VPN, there is no doubt that they protect your identity and keep you safe from prying eyes. However, even the best may sometimes have a slip-up, so it’s vital to be proactive and know how to detect and run an IP leak test to ensure your web traffic is safe. More importantly, you should be careful when choosing VPN services, and select an option that offers protection against IP leaks while giving you the tools needed to prevent and combat them if they do occur.
It’s also vital to disable WebRTC and set better protections like installing a VPN on your router. Whichever course you decide, make sure to learn about the different VPN alternatives available, and understand how they stack up against the toughest challenges. Protect your identity from an IP leak, and guarantee you’re always at the ready to thwart potential dangers!