With more than 4 billion people currently using the Internet, concerns about privacy have reached a new level. With every possible threat lurking on the web, people have turned to Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers for the rescue. A VPN, simply put, is the safest way of browsing the Internet without putting your personal data at risk. It has a strong correlation with data privacy, because it makes online activities much more difficult for tracking, keeping you safe from hackers and third parties.
To emphasize the importance of VPNs, in 2016 a quarter of this large number of Internet users were also using a Virtual Private Network. It’s expected that the numbers are going to grow much more than this, as public awareness about online threats continues to rise. However, how safe are you really? And should you test your VPN to see whether it’s really protecting you?
While a VPN does primarily serve for protecting your privacy, over the years, concerns have been raised on whether this software could really protect you the way it promises to. With such a high rise of VPN providers on the market, chances are many of them are in the business solely for the profit. This means that a large portion of providers will make false claims in order to attract customers, but won’t deliver what they promised. Knowing this, all VPN users should test their provider to see if there are any VPN leaks or not. It’s the best way to see if what you paid for is really worth the price.
Types of Security Risks
One of the main reasons why people use a VPN is to mask their IP addresses, usually in order to bypass location-based restrictions and content. It’s also one of the main problems. More than 80 percent of all Android VPN apps leak IP addresses, a study shows. It’s a worrying fact that just points out a huge problem. Note that by revealing your IP address, not only will you be unable to reach blocked content, but your privacy and security are also at risk.
Moreover, a VPN provider can keep your IP address hidden, but reveal your Domain Name System (DNS). A DNS leak is the most common one, and in order to protect users, good VPN providers have DNS leak protection included in their features and price plans. But even then, you need to make sure that your VPN is not leaking your DNS. Even though this won’t expose your real IP address, it will leak the IP address and location of your Internet Service Provider (ISP), making you easily trackable.
Another security risk, connected mostly to your browser rather than the VPN you are using, is the WebRTC leak. It’s a feature built into most of the browsers, including Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. WebRTC or Web Real-Time Communication can reveal your IP address even if you are connected to a secure VPN. Although it’s primarily a browser-based vulnerability, any application that uses it can be a possible threat to your security, revealing your online identity and present location.
Not owning a kill-switch button on your VPN can also pose a serious threat to your online anonymity. A kill-switch is your safety net in case your VPN connection unexpectedly drops. Technically speaking, a kill-switch is a mechanism for switching off a machine abruptly, especially in case of an emergency. When it comes to a VPN kill-switch, it’s part of the software you are buying, which will drop all connections if your VPN suddenly disconnects. Not offering this type of protection can put you at risk, as it will reveal your real IP address the moment your connection crashes.
How to Check If Your Safety Is Endangered?
Starting from the most obvious solution, when it comes to the kill-switch problem, the only thing you can do is to find a VPN that offers this feature. Fortunately, over time, more and more providers seem to include it in their plans, making the choice easier.
However, when it comes to other security risks, the process is a bit different.
One of the worst things that can happen to you as a VPN user are IP leaks. At this point, using a VPN provider for your protection becomes completely useless. You won’t be able to access Geo-blocked content and you might even get into trouble for things such as torrenting or streaming. After all, it’s considered illegal in many countries around the world, because the content is subjected to copyright. To test whether your IP is showing, you can use a tool for IP leaks. They can be easily found on the Internet, and some providers even offer them on their websites. The best way to check for leaks is by connecting with and without a VPN provider. If the IP address showing on the tool is the same one in both cases, this means that your VPN is not working the way you expected.
Most VPNs will leak your IP address when reconnecting after a dropped connection. To see if this is the case with your provider do the following: First, disconnect your Internet but keep the VPN running. Once the connection has dropped, reconnect and open multiple tabs of the IP testing the website, and keep refreshing them to see the test results. This should be done as quickly as possible. If your real IP address cannot be seen in either of the tabs, this means that you are safe.
If your real IP address is safe and masked, the next thing to do is to check whether your ISP location is showing.
With a DNS leak problem, you will have to use a similar tool to check whether your provider is leaking the location of your ISP. In order to do this, simply connect to a VPN server outside your country and then use a DNS leak tool, which you can easily find on the Internet. It will show which DNS address appears when you try to reach certain content on the web. If the address is located in your country, it means that your provider is, unfortunately, leaking.
Last but not the least, the WebRTC leak is easily handled. To see whether a leak of this kind occurs, you can run a test by using an online tool. An even better option is to disable WebRTC in your browser to prevent any leak from happening whatsoever. Depending on the browser, this is usually done by installing a plug-in.
Your online security is much more important than you think. You can easily be exposed to identity theft, surveillance, or even more dangerous online threats. It’s important to do everything you can to protect yourself. Make sure you choose the right VPN provider for you and do regular checkups to see whether you are indeed anonymously using the web.