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How to Find Out If a VPN is Leaking Data

Vlad CONSTANTINESCU

October 07, 2022

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How to Find Out If a VPN is Leaking Data

VPNs are among the best privacy tools on the market. They create a safe environment for you to connect to the Internet and engage in activities such as reading emails, browsing websites, playing online games, and streaming media privately.

The promise of anonymity is the very foundation of services like VPNs. From a privacy standpoint, anonymity should be treated as a superlative. In other words, nobody should be able to figure out the identity of someone using an anonymity service.

However, in reality, most VPN services deal in various degrees of privacy. Since VPNs route your entire connection through a proprietary server network, providers can see your data.

Trustworthy VPNs refrain from shady practices such as monitoring or logging your data, making it impossible to link your online activity with your real identity. Unfortunately, not even dependable VPN services are exempt from technical issues or cybernetic attacks that could lead to inadvertent data leaks.

Major service providers often figure out if there’s been a breach and take all necessary steps to keep things under control and mitigate damage. However, if you want to be extra cautious, you can perform a series of tests to assess if your VPN connection is stable and airtight.

VPN leaks explained

Most of the time, VPN leaks go unnoticed without jeopardizing the security and privacy of the end-user. However, if the user is an organization or a target of interest for hackers, even a minor slip-up could expose their real identity to malicious actors.

A VPN can leak several pieces of information about you that can be used to expose your real identity, including:

  • Your IP address
  • DNS requests
  • Geolocation data
  • WebRTC

Domain Name System (DNS) is a technology used to translate human-readable domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. Usually, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) handles your DNS requests.

This implies that your ISP can keep tabs on your online activity and see every website and service you access. VPN providers with private DNS servers redirect your DNS queries and prevent your ISP from monitoring these requests.

However, if your VPN leaks DNS data, your connection will default the queries back to your ISP, which will be able to see your requests, even though the rest of your connection is private.

A renowned feature of VPN is IP spoofing, cloaking or hiding. VPNs change your IP address and assign you the same address as the server you’re connected to. An IP leak exposes your real IP address to the Internet, rendering one of the VPN’s core functionalities useless. Keeping your IP address hidden is crucial if you’re worried about being monitored, tracked or restricted from various online services.

Although GPS geolocation can be easily disabled on most systems, certain entities can still extract your approximate geographical location from your IP address. This emphasizes the importance of using a service that doesn’t leak your IP address.

Last but not least, WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) leaks can expose a series of details about your true identity. However, WebRTC leaks are not a VPN-related issue but a browser-based situation. Simply disabling WebRTC in your browser should be enough to prevent these leaks, but you could also opt for a VPN service with complete WebRTC leak protection.

Testing your VPN for data leaks

There are various ways to assess if your VPN connection is airtight or if it leaks data. If you’re a seasoned user, you could use advanced network tools such as packet analyzer tool Wireshark to test your VPN tunnel.

You can find several open-source network analyzer tools that allow you to probe your connection and spot potential leaks in a controlled environment before becoming loyal to a VPN provider.

User-friendly services such as BrowserLeaks can give similar results without too much effort. These services are usually browser-based and host a battery of tests to analyze your connection, helping you identify any leaks and take measures promptly.

Note that even specialized leak detection tools sometimes generate false-positive results, especially browser-based ones. If you’re using such a service and notice DNS, IP or WebRTC leaks, make sure to clear your browser’s cache and cookies and attempt the test again.

Picking the right VPN provider

Trustworthy VPN services such as Bitdefender VPN don’t leak anything outside their private tunnel, whether it’s your IP address, DNS requests, geolocation or WebRTC. When you choose a VPN provider for the long run, do not compromise, as even minor leaks could expose your true identity online.

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