A solid and secure internet connection is critical for our day-to-day business communications, especially with so many employees working remotely. While large corporations usually have security solutions in place, small and medium-sized businesses often remain unprotected, either because they lack proper technology infrastructure or have little knowledge of possible risks and how to defend against them.
A common quick fix that SMBs use is the VPN- a virtual private network that hides your identity and browsing activity by routing all your data through secure, encrypted channels.
While the whole idea of VPN is to secure your data, some providers completely betray this principle by exposing your data to third parties or, in extreme cases, allowing malware to be injected into your data streams and onto your devices.
VPNs Are Not All the Same
Before you rush into installing a VPN on all your teams’ computers, laptops, and mobile devices, it is highly recommended that you first test your VPN provider for possible problems, including:
- IP address leaks
- DNS leaks
- WebRTC leaks
- Inconsistent speed
Below, I’ll explain the main vulnerabilities of VPNs, what they can mean for your business, and how to protect against them.
What Is an IP Address Leak?
Your IP address is a unique identifier that reveals information about your location, operating system, device, and internet browsing history. Without proper encryption, the websites you visit can see this information and use it for different purposes, such as showing you personalized advertising.
If you only visit trusted websites, this may not sound like a big deal, but just as website owners can see your private information, so can hackers, attackers, and bots.
Hiding your IP address is one of the most basic functions you’d expect to have when connecting to the internet via a VPN. In other words, IP address leaks completely defeat the purpose of using a VPN.
A common cause for IP address leaks is the lack of compatibility between two internet protocols: IPv4 and IPv6. Since most VPNs run on IPv4, trying to access a website that runs solely on IPv6 throws you out of the secure VPN tunnel to an external IPv6 server, revealing your IP address and putting your private information at risk.
How To Test Your VPN for IP Address Leaks
If you haven’t done so already, find out your normal IP address without a VPN. To do this, you can use a website like whatismyipaddress.com. Save your result and then run the test again, this time with the VPN turned on.
The new test should show a different IP address, and the location should indicate the country from which you chose to connect your VPN.
In the example below, Test-IPv6.com reveals an IPv6 incompatibility. This means that even though my IP address remained hidden, any attempts I make to visit websites that run solely on IPv6 would expose my real IP address.
How To Detect DNS Leaks on Your VPN
DNS leaks are tested by sending several domain names for the VPN to resolve. If you see any of your Internet service provider’s IP addresses in the result, it means that DNS queries are bypassing your VPN.
If you’re not sure what your DNS addresses are, copy your real IP address to the URL bar on your browser and log in to your ISP.
In the example below, I was using ipleak.net to test for DNS leaks in my VPN. My actual location was Israel, and my ISP servers were located in Germany.
The DNS leak test results showed a US address location, and my real IP address and DNS remained hidden, but IPv6 was not reachable.
How To Test Your VPN for WebRTC Leaks
Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) is a free and open-source project by Google that allows web browsers and mobile applications such as Zoom and WhatsApp to quickly streamline real-time communications.
A WebRTC leak happens when WebRTC requests in your browser reveal your real IP address. Testing my VPN connection for WebRTC leaks on BrowserLeaks showed the following result:
Again, the IP address that came up in the test was a false one, and my real IP address remained hidden.
How To Test Your VPN Speed
Worried that using a VPN reduces the speed of your internet connection? A simple internet speed test can show you how fast your connection is with or without a VPN.
An internet speed test includes three main parameters:
- A download speed test determines how fast data is reaching you. The higher score you get, the faster you’ll be able to streamline videos, download files, and access web pages. Ideally, you want to see a download speed of around 20 to 25 Mbps.
- An Upload speed test is similar to the download speed test but refers to data that you send or upload to the web. A typical example is when you’re streaming a live video on social media or talking to someone on Zoom. If you need to stream high-quality videos to others, your upload speed should be about 10 Mbps. For home usage 3 Mbps is more than enough.
- A Ping test will tell you how many milliseconds it took for a data packet to be sent from your device to an external server and back. So, the lower your ping number, the faster your internet connection.
In my case, I used Speed Test By Ookla and noticed a big difference in internet speed, with the VPN being significantly slower than my normal internet connection. That said, my upload speed was still better than average, as indicated by the little upward arrow.
How Important Are These Tests Anyway?
Putting your faith in a VPN without validating its functionality causes serious damage to your business.
While a slow internet connection may hinder your team’s productivity, leaked IP addresses infringe on your privacy and make you vulnerable to attacks.
The worst thing about VPN leaks is that you won’t notice them until it’s too late. So don’t let your business be the next victim. Test your VPN and make sure it does what it’s designed for: Hiding your personal information across the world wide web.