Is My VPN Working? Here's How to Test if Your VPN Is Working
More people nowadays are utilizing VPNs to keep themselves safe while browsing the internet. It’s easier than ever for someone’s identity to be stolen if a VPN isn’t installed to protect information stored on a computer.
While you can invest in software that prevents spam or viruses from infecting your computer, a VPN is a much more secure agent against cyberattacks. However, it may be difficult for you to tell if your VPN is working when you first set it up.
To make sure you’re prepared, we’re sharing a complete guide on VPNs and answer the question, “Is my VPN working?”
What is a VPN?
A VPN, or a virtual private network, establishes a network connection that is protected while using public networks. Think of public networks like the internet you can access in public space, like the free Wi-Fi at coffee shops or fast-food restaurants. These networks are more dangerous to use compared to the Wi-Fi you have at home. This is because the number of people who have access to public Wi-Fi is larger than people who can access your private network. Therefore, more people have access to the information you are making available while using the network.
Even if you only access a public Wi-Fi network to check your email or do some quick online shopping quickly, the risk is still very much there. However, a VPN will hide your IP address from potential hackers. An IP Address is a unique set of characters that identifies a device on a local network or internet. This allows the internet to differentiate between websites, routers, and computers. Think of it as an address to your house — it’s a unique identifier associated with you.
If someone with ill intent gets access to you to your IP address, like through a public Wi-Fi connection, they can potentially have access to your personal information. However, a VPN is designed to protect you and your information in such a scenario.
How Does a VPN Work?
So, how does a VPN protect your information? How exactly does it work?
Essentially, it acts as a high-tech, digital filter for your data. The VPN server itself hides your IP address by redirecting the network connection through a remote server run by the host. When this happens, this VPN server is now the source of your data. This means that third parties like potential hackers and even your internet service provider cannot see any data you send, websites you visit, or any data you receive online.
Basically, all of your data becomes gibberish. So even if someone were to obtain your data through hacking, it wouldn’t be useful or comprehendible.
Why Should I Use a VPN?
By now, you get the idea that having a VPN is important for data security. While this is very important, it’s just one of the many benefits that using a VPN provides. Here are some great examples.
Secure Data Transfer
Of course, we’ve already discussed the advantage of protecting your identity and personal data. However, VPNs also protect sensitive information on work computers and facilitate safe data transfers.
This is especially helpful if you work remotely and don’t use a secure workplace-provided internet. Your VPN will make it possible to exchange data anywhere without the risk of a cybersecurity breach.
Accessing Regional Content
Certain websites and services can be accessed from certain parts of the world. This used to mean that if you lived outside that specific area, you simply wouldn’t have access. This may not seem like a big deal if you spend most of your time surfing websites in your home country. However, if you are traveling, you may not access the same data as you would be back home. Plus, you’ll never be able to access international websites and explore every site the internet has to offer.
VPNs can also provide something called “location spoofing,” meaning you can switch your server to another country to digitally change your location if necessary.
Disguising Your Location
In addition to “changing” your location altogether, having your own virtual public network means you also have the option of disguising where you are. If you have switched your server to another country’s, demographic location data will come from that country and not your actual location.
Most VPN services don’t store records of your activities, in which case your user behavior can stay hidden permanently.
An encryption key is needed to read data. This is often an issue when hackers use a method called a “brute force attack.” In this scenario, hackers simply use trial-and-error to guess your login info, including encryption keys. Then, all possible options are used until the correct guess is entered, providing access to your data.
If a hacker tries to use a brute force attack to get your information, they’ll have no clues to signify what your login information might be. So they’ll lose hope and move on to another person.
Can Be Used on Your Phone
It is true that many of us only think of a VPN for our personal or work computers, but they can also be used on phones! Several VPN options are available for both Apple and Android phones, so it’s easy to install a VPN for the device you have and reap the benefits of increased security.
Most people use their smartphones more than their computers to surf the internet anyway, so it makes sense to protect your phone data as well. Many VPN providers also offer mobile companions to their software, which can be downloaded from the app store of your choice.
What Exactly Does a VPN Do?
Now that you know the benefits of having a VPN let’s take a look at the specific services any good VPN should offer.
- Two-factor authentication. A strong VPN will check anyone who attempts to log in by using more than one authentication method. For example, you may need to enter your password in addition to a code that has been sent to your phone. This way, even if someone has obtained your password, they won’t be able to log in.
- Kill switch. If your VPN connection is interrupted suddenly and without warning, your secure connection will also be interrupted. If a VPN is of good quality, it will detect this interruption and terminate any preselected programs. This will reduce the likelihood of your data becoming compromised.
- Encryption protocols. As a basic necessity, a good VPN needs to prevent you from leaving traces. These could include your search history, cookies, or your internet history in general. Encrypting cookies is especially important since it will prevent third parties from having access to personal data. This also includes content on other websites, so data such as your bank login information would also be compromised.
- Encrypting your IP address. This is the first and most important job that your VPN has. Hiding your ISP and IP address from third parties allows you to receive and send information online without worrying about anyone but you seeing it.
Now That I Have a VPN, How Do I Use It?
Simple! You don’t need to be an expert with technology or the internet to start up your VPN and protect yourself online. While different VPN providers may use different encryption processes, these all function around the three steps listed below.
- First, start your VPN once you are online. This can be done through the interface of your VPN provider or through your internet extension, whichever option you’ve chosen as your VPN. If you’re having trouble with this step, simply call customer service can they can guide you through your first time connecting.
- Now, your device is connected to your VPN and is operating on that network. Your IP address can now be changed to one that is provided by the VPN server.
- Lastly, you’re free to browse the internet safely! If you want to be extra sure your VPN is working properly, simply employ the methods listed below to put your mind at ease.
Determining if You Have a Leak
So, we’ve listed several benefits of using a VPN and showed you how to set yours up. But you may be wondering, is it still possible to have data exposed after I install it?
You may have even heard of a “leak,” a term which many people use to describe data exposure despite having a VPN set up. It’s a common concern that leads many people to wonder if their VPN is working and how they can make sure it’s set up properly.
Below, you’ll learn about the most common leaks that occur, how to check for each leak, and what to do if you find one.
What is an IP Address Leak?
To put it simply, an IP address leak is exactly what it sounds like: your real IP address leaking while having a connection to a VPN service. This means that your computer is accessing its default servers instead of the anonymous VPN ones, making your IP address available to tracking systems or anyone trying to hack you.
If someone has access to your real IP address, then they can monitor your online activity, track your behavior, and have access to your location, right down to your town or city.
The other issue with leaks is that three types of leaks can occur, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with all of them. These are:
- VPN Leaks
- DNS Leaks
- WebRTC Leaks
How Can I Check My VPN for an IP Address Leak?
Protecting your actual IP address is considered a basic level of protection, so checking periodically to see if you have a potential leak is always a good idea.
The good news is, this process is pretty simple and easy to do, even if you are in a hurry. Just follow the steps below, and you’ll be able to answer the question, “Is my VPN working?”
- First, you will need to determine what your actual IP address is. To do this, you need to turn off your VPN to ensure you have access to your real information. Then you can simply go online to search for your correct IP address. There are a plethora of lookup websites that will do this for you for free. Once you find it, make sure to save it because you’ll need to refer to it later.
- Next, turn your VPN back on and connect to your server. Once again, you need to search the internet for your IP address.
- Now you need to compare your real IP address to the one provided by your VPN. If you get a different result from the first time you did this, then that means your virtual private network is successfully masking your real IP address. If they are the same, it means you have a leak.
How to Fix an IP Address Leak
First, try choosing a different VPN server to connect to and try the same testing process once more. If you get the same result, you should choose a different VPN provider that has better security.
One common problem that you may encounter can involve IPv6, which is the sixth version of the internet protocol. This network layer protocol allows data and communication transfers to happen over the network. This is an update from the previous version, IPv4.
If you think this may be your problem, make sure to choose a VPN that covers IPv6 traffic. Since this system was updated in 1998, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a VPN that fits these criteria.
What is a DNS Leak?
The DNS, or domain name system, can be called the phone book of the internet. While all websites have their own IP address, it isn’t the most practical thing for your system to remember a unique set of numbers for every website you happen to visit. To remedy this, a DNS will match a website’s URL to its IP address. Think of it as your phone matching a phone number to a name when you add it to your contact list. It’s much easier to remember the name rather than the number.
If you’re not utilizing a VPN, it is your internet service provider that handles all of your DNS requests. When this happens, each website you visit can see where these DNS requests came from, meaning each website will have access to your internet service provider.
When you have a DNS leak, websites can see this information even if you’re utilizing a VPN.
How Can I Check My VPN for a DNS Leak?
Luckily, this process isn’t too different from checking for an IP address leak. If you’re familiar with testing one, learning how to test the other will be a breeze.
- First, with your VPN turned on, select a server based in a different county. For example, if you’re in the United States, you can select the United Kingdom. This means that your VPN should assign you a UK-based IP address.
- Once you’ve done that, go to a website that is geo-restricted, meaning you won’t be able to access it from a UK-based IP address. The easiest way to do this is to visit a common website such as Netflix.
- While using your virtual private network, try to visit Netflix US. Netflix only allows United States-based IP addresses to access this website.
If you can still visit the website without any problems, it is recognizing your actual US IP address and your VPN has a DNS leak.
How to Fix a DNS Leak
If you’ve done the process above and discovered a DNS leak, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start looking for another VPN. The first thing you do should is contact the customer support department of your chosen VPN company and see if they can fix the issue.
Unfortunately, if customer service can’t help, you will need to find a new VPN provider to use. During your search, make sure you prioritize a virtual protected network that has its own encrypted DNS servers, so you can avoid another leak happening again.
What is a WebRTC Leak?
WebRTC, or Web Real-Time Communication, is a solution that lets apps and websites host video or audio communications in real-time. Think of websites that offer live streaming or live photo sharing. WebRTC also enables file sharing that doesn’t need to use third-party software like plugins or extensions.
If you find yourself wanting to view a live stream or have access to those services, your IP address needs to make a request to the host website, meaning they can see that information. When a WebRTC leak occurs, your browser reveals your real IP address when making these requests even if connected to a VPN.
How Can I Check My VPN for a WebRTC Leak?
Even if you don’t use live streaming or visit sharing sites often, it’s still a good idea to check for a WebRTC leak every once in a while.
- First, make sure you have a connection to your VPN. If your VPN has been turned off, you won’t be able to see accurate results.
- Using the search engine you normally use, search the phrase “what is my IP address.” You should be able to see the IP address at the top of the screen, or you could select one of the many free IP address search websites to find out.
- Now, copy and paste your IP address into the search bar. Make sure to type “IP” right before the numbers, then hit search. If your correct location comes up, it means you have a VPN with a WebRTC leak. Alternatively, you can perform a WebRTC leak test.
How to Fix a WebRTC Leak
You may use WebRTC more than you think. Using your computer to video-call your doctor, colleague, or to video chat with your family can all leave you exploded if you happen to have a WebRTC leak. Getting this fixed right away is important for ensuring you can do all those activities with peace of mind.
To achieve peace of mind and no longer worry if your VPN is working, search for a VPN provider that specifically states they protect against WebRTC leaks. This service isn’t a given when researching other options, so if it isn’t explicitly stated, then it probably isn’t offered.
Test Your VPN Speed
Even though leaks are possible, that doesn’t mean you should jump to conclusions and assume that’s the only reason you’re asking, “Is my VPN working?” It could all be down to speed and not necessarily any of the leaks mentioned above.
Many things could be slowing down your VPN that isn’t due to the VPN itself. Even the most secure virtual private networks are not immune to a slow internet connection.
Some reasons to test your VPN speed include:
- Your internet connection. If your connection to the internet is slow, then your VPN will also be slow. It’s unfortunate, but this can sometimes be the issue.
- Physical distance. Believe it or not, the distance between you and your server matters. The closer you are, the more likely you’ll have a faster connection. We’ve all experienced that one room in the house having a terrible internet connection because it’s so far from the router; the same logic applies here.
- High traffic internet usage. If there are a lot of people around you who are also trying to connect to the same server, it could be bogged down with all of that demand. It’s worth it to try to escape the chaos of all those simultaneous connections to move to a different server a little bit farther away from everyone else.
- Processing power. As your computer uses your VPN, it decrypts and encrypts data. If your computer is out-of-date, not updated, or simply doesn’t have the power, it can struggle to accommodate this effort.
- Bandwidth limits. The speed of your internet may also suffer because of your If location. If the region you are in has limits or restrictions on your bandwidth, the speed of your VPN may suffer because of it.
No need to worry if you are having speed problems due to any of the reasons listed above. If you search online for an “internet speed test,” one of the top search results will be available to you. Just click “run speed test,” and you’ll see how fast your internet connection is. If the results determine your connection is runny smoothly, but you’re still experiencing issues, then at least you know the cause isn’t the speed of your internet.
How to Fix Your VPN Speed Problems
You have a few options when it comes to fixing any speed problems with your virtual private network. Remember, while you can try these options, your VPN can only run as fast as your ISP allows.
- Scan for malware. If your device is infected with malicious software, it could be eating up its resources and slowing it down. This one is a quick fix; just try a virus removal tool and see if that helps your speed.
- Close all of your apps. The more apps or programs you have open, the more resources you are using up. Try to close all of these, or at least as many as you can, and see if that helps. Some programs may be using up more resources than others, so taking a look at the task manager on your computer may be helpful.
- Attempt a wired connection. Ethernet, or a physical cable connection, is usually faster than a Wi-Fi connection. Your speed will most likely increase once you make this switch. Even if slow Wi-Fi is something you need to eventually address, this method is great to use in emergencies.
- Change servers. Try to connect to different servers to determine if your speed changes. Depending on your VPN provider, you may also have an option for your VPN to connect you to whatever the fastest server is at the time.
- Disconnect then reconnect. Last but not least, there is always the tried and true turning it off and then on again. While this may not be the solution, it’s always worth a try.
What if My VPN Still Isn’t Working?
At least one of the above methods will likely work, but there is one last thing you can do if your VPN has failed all the tests listed above.
You can always contact the customer service department of the VPN you are currently using and explain your problems or any concerns you may have. If you are working with a reputable company, they should resolve any issue.
If this isn’t the case, investing in a virtual private network that is secure and trustworthy is your best option. Don’t settle for a VPN that doesn’t work with a non-responsive company. Feel free to move on and explore other options.
Now that you’ve reviewed everything you need to know about having a VPN, what a VPN is, you’re ready to run those tests and answer the question, “Is my VPN working?”
Whether you discover an IP address leak, a DNS leak, a WebRTC leak, or have figured out that your internet is too slow, you’ll likely resolve the issue in a matter of hours.
Above all else, making sure you have a VPN that works as promised should be your highest priority.