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Is My VPN Working? Here‘s How to Check

Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to protect your privacy and security online. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through a server in another location, hiding your real IP address. This prevents hackers, your internet service provider (ISP), and even government agencies from viewing your online activities.

But how can you be sure your VPN is actually working? Even the best VPNs can occasionally have leaks, DNS issues, or speed problems. Running a few simple tests allows you to verify your VPN connection and ensure you stay anonymous online.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the key things to check to confirm your VPN is functioning properly:

We’ll also provide troubleshooting tips to resolve any issues you discover and recommend the most secure VPNs to use. Let‘s get started!

Check for IP address leaks

One of the most important things to verify is that your VPN isn‘t leaking your IP address. An IP address leak occurs when your real public IP address is exposed, rather than the IP address of your VPN server.

This can happen if your VPN disconnects or isn‘t configured properly on your device. It could also occur if you‘re using an unreliable free VPN.

Here‘s a simple way to check for IP address leaks:

  1. First, disconnect from your VPN.

  2. Go to a website like WhatIsMyIPAddress.com and note down your IP address and location. This is your real public IP address provided by your ISP.

  3. Now connect to your VPN and select a server in a different country. For example, if you‘re based in the U.S., connect to a server in Canada.

  4. Check your IP address again at WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. You should now see the IP address of your VPN server, which should be located in Canada if you connected to a Canadian server.

  5. If the IP address and location are still your original ones, your VPN is leaking your IP address.

IP address leak test example

If your VPN is leaking your IP address, it‘s not doing its job of hiding your identity. Follow these tips to stop the leak:

  • Make sure your VPN software is up to date, as the leak could be caused by an issue in an outdated app version.

  • Try connecting to a different VPN server location in case there are issues with a specific server.

  • Contact your VPN provider‘s customer support. They may have a fix or need to adjust their service.

  • As a last resort, change VPN providers. Recommended privacy-focused VPNs include NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.

How to test for DNS leaks

Along with your IP address, you also want to ensure your VPN isn‘t leaking your DNS information. The Domain Name System (DNS) is like the phone book of the internet, translating domain names into IP addresses.

By default, your device uses your ISP‘s DNS servers. When you connect to a VPN, it should switch to using the VPN provider‘s private DNS servers.

If your DNS settings aren‘t configured properly, your device may continue to use your ISP‘s public DNS servers instead. This exposes your browsing history to your ISP and also means your traffic isn‘t routed through your VPN.

Checking for DNS leaks is straightforward:

  1. Connect to your VPN and select a server.

  2. Go to a site like DNSLeakTest.com.

  3. The site will check what DNS servers you‘re using. If you see your ISP‘s DNS servers instead of your VPN provider‘s, you have a DNS leak.

DNS leak test showing ISP DNS servers

Here are a few steps to stop DNS leaks:

  • Try connecting to a different VPN server, as DNS leaks can sometimes be specific to certain servers.

  • Manually set your DNS settings to use your VPN provider‘s DNS servers instead of your ISP‘s.

  • Update your VPN app or change VPN providers if issues persist. Many leading VPNs like ExpressVPN automatically block DNS leaks.

Check for WebRTC leaks

WebRTC is an emerging technology that allows web browsers to make voice and video calls without any additional software. It can be handy for features like video chat in Gmail or Facebook Messenger.

However, WebRTC has the potential downside of leaking your real IP address. This is because WebRTC connections don‘t route through your VPN.

Here‘s how to check if WebRTC is compromising your VPN:

  1. Connect to your VPN and visit the site ipleak.net.

  2. Scroll down and go to the WebRTC section.

  3. If your public IP address is displayed, you have a WebRTC leak. If you only see your VPN IP address, your WebRTC traffic is blocked as it should be.

WebRTC leak test example

Here are a few tips to prevent WebRTC leaks:

  • Use your VPN provider‘s dedicated WebRTC leak protection. Many leading VPNs like NordVPN automatically block WebRTC at the network level.

  • Disable WebRTC in your browser. In Chrome, go to Settings > Privacy and security > Use Secure DNS.

  • Use a VPN browser extension that blocks WebRTC like ExpressVPN‘s Chrome and Firefox add-on.

  • Disable WebRTC-related browser features like location sharing and microphone/camera access.

Test VPN speeds

VPNs add extra steps to your internet connection by encrypting and routing your traffic through remote servers. This can potentially slow down your speeds.

Testing your speeds with a VPN enabled is important to get a sense of any impact to performance:

  1. Connect to your VPN and select a server.

  2. Use a speed testing site like Speedtest.net or Fast.com.

  3. Note down the speed test results, especially the ping time and download/upload speeds.

  4. Now disconnect from your VPN and run a speed test again on the same site.

  5. Compare the results between having your VPN on and off. If there‘s a major difference, your VPN is slowing your speeds.

Poor VPN speeds are often caused by distance to the VPN server, an overloaded server, or incompatible network protocols. Try connecting to a different VPN server to see if that helps. Also consider trying protocols like OpenVPN or WireGuard® that are faster than alternatives like PPTP.

Upgrading your Internet connection will also improve VPN performance. If speeds are still slow across different servers, you may need to switch VPN providers. Look for providers with large server networks like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

Use a VPN leak test tool

Rather than running individual tests for IP leaks, DNS leaks, and other issues, you can use an all-in-one VPN leak testing tool. These will automatically check for various leaks and other vulnerabilities.

Some top options include:

  • IPVanish Leak Test – IPVanish‘s leak testing tool is easy to use with clear results. It checks for DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and WebRTC leaks.

  • Perfect Privacy VPN Test – This free tool checks for DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and WebRTC leaks. It also lets you test your VPN speeds.

  • ExpressVPN Leak Testing – ExpressVPN‘s leak test checks for IPv6 leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTC leaks. It also displays your IP address and location.

  • NordVPN Diagnostics – NordVPN offers a diagnostics tool that checks for DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and WebRTC leaks.

These comprehensive leak detectors scan your connection for weak points and vulnerabilities that could compromise your VPN. Run them regularly even if you don‘t suspect any issues to verify your VPN remains secure.

Why your VPN may not be working

There are a few common reasons why your VPN may not be working correctly or developing leaks and other issues:

Software bugs – VPN services frequently release software updates to add new features and fix bugs. Using an outdated VPN app version could cause problems. Always keep your apps updated.

Server outages – Server downtime is another source of VPN issues. Your provider may have network problems on some of their servers. Switching servers usually resolves connection problems.

Protocol mismatches – Your VPN app and the server must use compatible network protocols to establish a connection. If protocols conflict, try changing to a different protocol like OpenVPN.

Weak encryption – Strong encryption like AES 256-bit is important for optimal security. Weak encryption could make your traffic easier to intercept.

ISP blocking – Some restrictive ISPs make an effort to block or throttle VPN traffic. This disrupts connections and can prevent your VPN from routing traffic correctly.

Internet connection problems – An unstable or slow internet connection can disrupt your VPN. It‘s important to have a fast, reliable home internet service.

Following troubleshooting tips like changing VPN servers, reinstalling your VPN app, and contacting customer support can resolve most issues.

For maximum reliability and performance, choose a top-tier VPN provider like ExpressVPN that offers robust apps, large server networks, and reliable connections.

How to choose a secure VPN

When shopping for a VPN, you want one that‘s fast, reliable, easy to use, and offers bulletproof security with minimal leaks.

Here are a few key factors that make up a secure, leak-free VPN:

  • Strong encryption – AES 256-bit encryption is the gold standard for securing your traffic. Weaker encryption is easier to crack.

  • No-logs policy – A strict no-logs policy means your VPN provider isn‘t keeping records of your activity. This protects you in case authorities request data.

  • Kill switch – A kill switch blocks your internet access if your VPN connection drops. This prevents accidental IP address leaks.

  • Leak protection – Your VPN should have built-in protection against DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, and WebRTC leaks.

  • Reliable connections – Minimal downtime and fast speeds ensure your VPN tunnel remains active at all times.

  • Trusted jurisdiction – Using a VPN outside survillance-friendly countries like the US and UK enhances privacy.

Based on these criteria, we recommend the following secure, no-leak VPN services:

Recommended VPNs

VPN Starting Price Encryption Leak Protection Servers More Info
NordVPN $2.99/mo AES 256-bit DNS leak protection, Kill switch 5700+ servers NordVPN review
Surfshark $2.49/mo AES 256-bit CleanWeb ad blocking, Kill switch 3200+ servers Surfshark review
ExpressVPN $8.32/mo AES 256-bit Split tunneling, Kill switch 3000+ servers ExpressVPN review

Still not sure which VPN is best for you? Read our guide on how to choose a VPN for additional advice.

The bottom line

A VPN can only protect your online privacy if it‘s properly configured and not leaking your personal data. Running IP address leak tests, DNS leak tests, WebRTC leak tests, and speed tests allows you to confirm your VPN is working correctly.

Fix any leaks using solutions like changing servers, updating your VPN app, disabling WebRTC, and manually configuring DNS settings. For maximum reliability, use a top-rated VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN.

Testing your VPN takes just a few minutes but gives you peace of mind knowing your identity and IP address are concealed when browsing the web. Check your VPN regularly to ensure optimal privacy and security.

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Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.