Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are software tools that enable you to access the internet anonymously. But while they do offer a great service, a few tiny errors can put your privacy at risk in incidents known as IP leaks.
Basically, an IP leak occurs when your Internet Protocol address is exposed outside your VPN tunnel. When this happens, your IP along with other critical details like DNS or Domain Name Server and WebRTC information will be revealed to the internet. Naturally, this is a major concern and should be dealt with immediately by any VPN users.
This guide explores and explains the reasons behind IP leaks and how you can address them. It will help you ensure you do not get compromised when using a VPN and can enjoy anonymous browsing.
What Is An IP leak?
Understanding IP leaks requires you to understand what IP addresses are and what they mean for you. Your IP address is a unique identifier used to locate your device on the internet. When you use a VPN, it masks your true IP address by assigning you another. The internet now sees the changed IP address.
When this works well your location is hidden on the internet. However, if you have an IP leak then your real IP address will be exposed regardless of VPN use.
Let’s discuss the risks associated with an IP leak.
IP leaks can be a serious security threat if you’re trying to access content that’s geo-restricted by law. If the nation has a policy against VPN use, then you can be liable for prosecution. Even if they only know you accessed a prohibited website, they can still prosecute you.
On the other hand, if you use VPN with public Wi-Fi, an IP leak can expose you to hackers. If this happens, then you will be exposing your device to all kinds of malicious elements on open Wi-Fi networks. Using this breach in your VPN tunnel, hackers can steal your vital information.
So, it goes without saying that using a VPN with IP leak protection is of paramount importance.
Any unmasked IP address can easily reveal vital details about a user’s connection. This includes their location, anyone with the right expertise can find your position easily. Further, your ISP can see all of your online activities and they can share these details with the government.
A VPN doesn’t just hide your IP address but also encrypts your connection so your details are hidden.
Further, the IP address can be used as a general online passport. Using social engineering and other means, hackers can find out other vital information about you. This can potentially include all the personal information about you that exists online. So, for the security-conscious internet user, understanding how IP leaks work and how they can be plugged is an important topic.
What Other Leaks Can Expose Your IP Address? And How Can You Fix Them?
IP leaks are not the only means by with IP addresses can be unmasked. In fact, there are a few others including dropped connections.
These kinds of errors occur when VPN connections are disrupted abruptly. In such cases, the user’s connection will be rerouted through the regular online traffic. That’s why it is also rather easy to identify and address these kinds of errors.
The best way to avoid these kinds of problems is to select a VPN with a kill switch. Ideally, a VPN that offer kill switch options should allow it on both computer and smartphones. In case of dropped connections or IP leaks of any kind, the kill switch will cease the connection. This will prevent your IP address from being flashed or anyone exploiting the breach in your security.
How Can I Protect Myself?
While kill switches are definitely a good feature to have, there are other means of protecting your privacy as well. A number of tricks allow users to handle leaks by installing plugins or simply disabling browser WebRTCs.
1. The Straight Up Method: Turning Off Your Browser’s WebRTC
All the major browsers in the market like Firefox, Chrome, MS Edge etc. have WebRTC enabled by default. The same happens with any browser based on the template of these browsers.
Safari and the old Internet Explorer don’t have this feature on by default. If you are on your browser right now, then you can use a simple test to check your WebRTC status.
Search online and you will find a number of tools which can be used to check your status. Otherwise, the simpler way is to switch to a browser which does not have WebRTC enabled by default.
- Chrome and Opera: Get the ScriptSafe plugin for both of these browsers. While you will not need the complete functions of this plugin, it will grant you access to many features including WebRTC. When installing this plugin on Opera you may experience some trouble, so be sure to follow the detailed installation guide.
- Firefox: On Firefox, there are two options. The first involves simply getting the disable WebRTC add-on from the browser store. Otherwise, you can simply open a new tab and type “about:config” in the address bar. Once you are there, all you need to do is turn the “media.peerconnection.enabled” option to false.
Now, before you set about turning off your WebRTC config, you should know it can interfere with website performance.
Certain apps which might be using your camera or microphone or location permission will become disabled. So, you will need to re-enable any such permissions manually if you want to use them like that.
IP leaks of any kind can be a major problem for VPN users. However, knowing the right protocol for fixing them can come in handy.
Aside from the kill switch, you should keep a vigilant eye on your web traffic. Above all else, it is critical to use any privacy tool with a proper understanding of its limitations. Stay informed to stay safe!