A complete guide to IP leak protection – Keep your armor intact
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When it comes to protecting your online security, hiding your IP address is imperative. Hence, you should have enough knowledge about IP leak protection.
If you are a new VPN user, you might question, “I use a VPN, what else do I need to do to protect my IP? Isn’t using a VPN enough?”
Well, the answer is; unfortunately, “IT IS your VPN that mainly LEAKS your IP address.”
So, what should you do now?
In this guide, we explain how and why VPNs leak IP address online. Also, we will guide you on how to prevent these IP leaks.
What is an IP leak or VPN leak?
An IP leak, also sometimes called a VPN leak, is just what the word says – leakage of your real IP address by your VPN.
IP leak happens due to multiple reasons. Sometimes, the browser extensions or other installed software on your device cause IP leaks. Whereas, in other instances, brief disconnection moments in your VPN connection can leak your real IP address online. (We’ll discuss how it all happens in the following sections.)
So, what happens is that despite an apparent active connection to a VPN server, your real IP address (the one provided by your ISP), your location, time zone, and other actual details are exposed online.
Consequently, from websites to web trackers to cyber-criminals, anyone can track your real details and chase you.
Thus, what happens is that while you happily use a VPN to protect your privacy, you face troubles while surfing.
For instance, you want to visit a website, but it fails to load, clearly mentioning that the service isn’t allowed in your area. You wonder how come the website guessed your correct location.
It’s because your VPN is leaking your real IP address and your location online.
Why should you care about IP leak?
IP leak through your VPN is a critical thing that you should care about. Precisely, this single behavior fails the sole purpose of using a VPN.
Still, for clarity, below, we explicitly mention the key reason why an IP leak demands your attention.
At first, leakage of your real IP address online is a blatant breach of your privacy.
While you’re trying to hide your actual details from the online world, a mere leakage of your IP address exposes everything about you to everyone online, be it the government, surveillance authorities, or the criminal hackers.
Inability to bypass content restrictions
A VPN lets you change your online location with a virtual IP address that masks your real one. However, your real IP leak exposes your actual location online. Thus, you become unable to access content otherwise prohibited in your area (a scenario similar to when you do not use a VPN).
No blocking to ISP tracking
IP leaks also lead to VPN detection by your ISP.
Thus, you are not only exposed to ISP tracking and subsequent surveillance. Instead, it also risks your physical security, especially if using a VPN isn’t allowed in your area.
How a VPN leaks IP address
Whether the fault lies in your VPN client or some other service, most IP leaks happen through one or more of the following ways:
Typically, an IP leak by a VPN refers to the online exposure of either of the two IP addresses – Ipv4 and IPv6.
For those who don’t know about these IP addresses, let us quickly review these two.
IPv4 address is the typical numerical identifier assigned to a device by an ISP. It belongs to the 32-bit internet address standard that is presently in use.
Whereas, the IPv6 address belongs to the new 128-bit address standard with far more numerical combinations. Hence, it will take over after IPv4 addresses exhaust.
While most websites have adopted IPv6 support, the ISPs haven’t. That’s why websites have a dual-tiered approach to support both IPv4 and IPv6 connections.
IPv4 leak isn’t common for a VPN. This type of leak means that the VPN has entirely failed to protect your IP address.
So, if it happens, you should either connect with a different server or consider switching your VPN service.
This is a relatively predictable error that occurs since most VPNs do not recognize IPv6. Hence, while they mask IPv4, they fail to detect an IPv6 address.
Thus, the websites supporting IPv6 connections can still track you via IPv6 even if they don’t see your IPv4.
Another common issue that leaks IP addresses online is the Domain Name System (DNS). Although most VPNs handle DNS queries through their own servers. That’s why these leaks are not so frequent today.
However, DNS leak may still happen because many operating systems continue to route DNS queries through the default DNS server, which would probably belong to your ISP.
Hence, this arising conflict between your online IP address (given by your VPN) and the DNS server is what causes VPN detection. Anyone can then trace you down to the level of your IP address.
WebRTC, today, is the main cause behind the failure of your VPN to protect your IP address. It’s because of WebRTC that from websites to ISP, anyone can detect your real location.
The reason why WebRTC leak remains viable today is that it isn’t a VPN issue. Nor does it lie with the operating system.
Then what is WebRTC, you might ask? WebRTC is primarily a browser feature responsible for audio and video communication. This feature broadcasts your real IP addresses to STUN servers that log both public and real IP addresses.
And that’s how the leak happens. Since it’s a browser issue, most VPNs cannot prevent WebRTC leak. Only the best VPNs from reputable firms can handle this problem as they takeover WebRTC.
This is another major cause of IP leak via VPNs. Even if you’re an IP geek and have employed everything to prevent IP exposure online, VPN disconnections can still ruin your efforts.
Like every other service, VPN clients are always vulnerable to connection dropouts.
Of course, when they’re connecting your device to a faraway server, they are likely to face trouble due to poor internet connection at your end, or some other technical issue at the VPN’s end. So, such dropouts aren’t a big deal.
But what creates trouble for the user is the spontaneous exposure of your real IP address. Even if the connection drops for a second, the data generated from your device during this period transmits with all your real information, that is, your real IP address, real location, etc.
This brief period is enough for the sniffers, web trackers, websites, your ISP, and all other entities to sniff your data and know your real details.
After that, when your VPN reconnects, your anonymous status no more prevails since those specific data packets with your real details are enough for anyone to track you.
It means all your efforts to stay anonymous online go in vain with just one glitch.
This situation can be specifically horrifying for VPN users in regions where VPNs are banned. Or, for the users who were in the middle of downloading a torrent.
How to detect what leaks affect my VPN?
If you doubt your VPN is leaking your IP address, then you can test your VPN to detect the underlying issue.
While an IP leak is rare, DNS and WebRTC leaks are quite common. So, if you face trouble accessing restricted websites, then you need to perform the following tests.
IP and DNS leak test
The first thing to do while assessing your VPN is to test the IP address and DNS leak. Most VPN leak tests give you a report for both parameters together. So, you can have a good idea about how efficient your VPN is in protecting you.
Or, you can perform individual tests, such as https://www.dnsleaktest.com/, which gives you the results regarding DNS leaks.
These tools assess your public IP address and try to grab other system information through your IP. Hence, the details they display are enough to know what information of yours is available online despite using a VPN.
In most cases, the amount of information displayed will surely surprise you as it would not only include your IP address. Instead, it will also reveal details about your device, your operating system, browser version in use, other browsers, time zone, location, and a lot more.
So, you see, this single leak of IP addresses can occur through various spots. And, this is how websites, ISPs, and other entities such as Five Eyes monitor your online activities.
WebRTC leak test
Even if your VPN passes IP leak and DNS leak tests, it will most certainly fail here.
WebRTC leak, as we stated above, is something related to your browser, and not your VPN. That’s why your VPN won’t control any leaks occurring through your browser.
To know whether you’re using a leaky browser or a safe one, you can perform WebRTC tests by visiting relevant websites. Some of these (the tested resources) include https://browserleaks.com/webrtc, https://www.hidemyass.com/en-us/webrtc-leak-test, https://whatismyipaddress.com/webrtc-test, https://hide.me/en/webrtc-leak-test, and https://ip8.com/webrtc-test.
After visiting these websites, if you see your real IP address and location visible, despite using a VPN, then it shows you are not anonymous online.
In such a case, you need to fix the leak by following the solutions we explain below.
IP leak protection: How to fix VPN IP leak problems?
Now that you know what things expose your IP address online, even with a VPN; let’s look at how to fix these problems.
Below we explain all the solutions concerning the individual IP leak issues.
Perhaps, if you are an IP leak victim, then, by now, you would have figured it out what exactly is the issue exposing your IP.
So, you can either jump on to the section with the solution to your problem. Or, you can read all the fixes to learn how to fix an IP leak at any time.
Ways to fix IPv6 leak
Are you wondering why did we omit IPv4 leak protection? Well, as we already mentioned, this error isn’t so common. And if it happens, it typically hints to a poor VPN service.
Whereas, to protect yourself from an IPv6 leak, you can try the following two solutions.
1. Manually disable IPv6:
The first thing you can do is to disable IPv6 on your device entirely. This will ensure a thorough IP leak protection for any IPv6 exposures.
To do so, you can simply go to your device network settings and locate IPv6.
If you’re a Windows user, then uncheck the IPv6 option appearing in the Network Properties.
For macOS users, go to the WiFi settings and click on the ‘TCP/IP/‘ tab, below which you’ll find the option ‘Configure IPv6.’ Simply toggle it Off.
2. Use VPN that prevents IPv6 leak
This one is a hassle-free method for all non-technical users who do not want to meddle with their device’s network settings.
So, what you should do is to subscribe to a VPN that offers IPv6 leak protection. Both the VPNs, ExpressVPN and NordVPN, mentioned above will do the job here.
Such VPNs recognize IPv6 connections and route them through their servers. So, you don’t have to do anything on your device to hide IPv6.
If you cannot manage to switch your VPN, you can use third-party apps that block IPv6 leaks. For example, you can download the OpenVPN app according to your device.
Ways to Fix DNS leak
Although, disabling IPv6 offers partial protection against DNS leaks as well.
However, the chances of IPv4 DNS leaks are still there. So, you can try the following methods to block DNS leaks.
1. Change DNS Settings Manually
The first thing you can do to prevent your ISP and all others from tracking you via DNS leaks is to change your DNS settings.
Precisely, in your device’s network settings, you’ll find an IPv4 DNS server address, and in some cases, an IPv6 DNS address. These addresses automatically come from your ISP and persist even when you use a VPN.
Windows users may also find two options for IPv4 DNS, a preferred DNS server, and an alternate DNS server. You need to change both on your Windows PC.
However, changing DNS settings may still not provide thorough protection as the ISP can still track you even when it’s not handling DNS requests.
Users may also adjust these settings in their browsers to stay protected.
Here’s how to do it in Mozilla Firefox:
Settings (three bars on the top right of your browser) > Options > General > Network Settings (Click on the Settings button) > Enable DNS over HTTPS. You can then choose a service as your DNS.
Whereas Google Chrome users can follow this path:
Settings (three vertical dots on the top right of your browser) > Settings > Privacy and Security > Security > Use Secure DNS (scroll down to see this option in the ‘Advanced’ section) > Check ‘With’ and choose your desired DNS service.
Microsoft Edge also offers similar protection settings to its users. However, the settings are not publicly visible in the settings menu.
So, you need to visit browser flags to enable secure DNS. Simply type “edge://flags/#dns-over-https” and press ‘Enter.’ You’ll then see the following screen. Choose ‘Enable’ from the dropdown menu.
Your browser is now ready to encrypt your DNS data. You can now adjust your Windows network settings to set up a DNS server and enjoy DoH.
2. Use VPN with DNS leak protection
A second way to prevent DNS leaks without meddling with network and browser settings is to use a VPN that offers DNS leak protection.
Simply look for a VPN service that provides this feature, and once installed, make sure to enable this feature. (Unfortunately, many good VPNs, despite offering DNS leak protection, have it disabled by default. So, you need to activate it manually).
Once done, all your DNS requests will proceed through the encrypted VPN tunnel.
Also, the OpenVPN app comes in handy here as well if you cannot manage to switch your existing VPN client.
Ways to Fix WebRTC leak
Although WebRTC is one of the most common sources of IP leak. Yet, you can still try the following to ensure IP leak protection.
1. Manually Disable WebRTC
Although WebRTC is a critical feature for adequate audio/video communication. However, if you aren’t concerned much with such communication, you can simply disable this feature for thorough protection instead of worrying about your privacy.
Though, you may not find an easy option to disable this feature in your browser. Perhaps, you may need to visit the ‘flags,’ in case of Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, or the ‘about:config,’ in case of Mozilla Firefox, and lookup for WebRTC settings.
However, as an easy alternative, you can simply download appropriate browser plugins that disable WebRTC.
2. Use VPN with WebRTC leak protection
Many VPN providers also offer dedicated browser extensions that disable WebRTC leaks.
Whereas, for the VPN clients themselves, you can choose such services that offer WebRTC leak protection. These VPN services have special firewall settings to prevent WebRTC leaks.
However, in the latter case, the chances of browser leaks still persist through other means. Hence, we still recommend disabling WebRTC in the browser even if you’re using a good VPN like ExpressVPN (our top recommendation for this).
Ways to fix IP leak due to VPN disconnection
The last source exposing your anonymity online for which you need IP leak protection is connection dropouts.
For this, you need to switch your VPN client and choose a service that offers ‘Kill Switch.’ (Both of the VPNs ExpressVPN and NordVPN we recommended above boast kill switch feature.)
As we stated above, VPN disconnections let your ISP takeover your internet connection thereby exposing your real details.
So, VPNs with Kill Switch prevent such leaks as they break your internet connection in case of service disconnection. In simple words, your internet will only work when the VPN connection is active.
Hence, this feature ensures that during the time your VPN re-establishes its connection, you remain anonymous.
Bonus tip: Use secure browsers
Regardless of your VPN client, if you’re browser is leaky, your online privacy remains vulnerable. It means you have to go through the hassle of manual browser adjustments to prevent various leak sources.
However, if you change your default browser to a secure one, you do not have to worry about IP leak protection.
Secure browsers, such as Tor, Tenta, and more, usually have built-in features that protect your privacy, such as built-in VPN, malware protection, and more.
Although, using a VPN is your basic right to protect your privacy. However, the snoopers are always there to exploit various means to invade your privacy and track you.
Hence, you also deserve the right to stay anonymous online, for which you need a thorough IP leak protection.
If you’re using a VPN, then make sure to double-check the service for any known/unknown sources through which you’re being exposed. If you find one, you can block all such areas by merely following the steps we have shared above.
Besides all manual settings, make sure to subscribe only to a reputable VPN service that is as eager for your privacy as you are.
We hope this guide will surely help you prevent IP leaks. Yet, if you face any trouble at any step, feel free to drop your query via the comments section. We will get back to you as soon as we can.
Images via Pixabay.
About the author
Abeerah is a passionate technology blogger and cybersecurity enthusiast. She yearns to know everything about the latest technology developments. Specifically, she’s crazy about the three C’s; computing, cybersecurity, and communication. When she is not writing, she’s reading about the tech world.