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Is My VPN Working?

How to Tell if your VPN is Working and Truly Hiding your IP Address 
Is My VPN Working? photo
A common question we get asked is: “how can I be sure my VPN is working?” or “how can I test my VPN?”

First off, you have to realize that there are different VPN checks depending on what you want to use your VPN for. For web browsing, the basic check immediately below may be all that you need. But for torrent file-sharing you will want to use the more advanced tests below, including DNS Leaks, to make sure your VPN is working and keeping you safe, including from torrent monitoring.

» below: Basic Checks | DNS Leaks | Connection Drops  | Torrent Checks «

As you’d expect, our select handful of top recommended VPNs, including Private Internet Access VPN, pass these tests with flying colors.

Standard VPN Tests (for web browsing, not torrenting)

There are several ways you can check whether your VPN is working properly but it is important you use reliable and reputable online tools that give accurate results. Here you will find some tried and true methods to check that your VPN is working the way it should.

Basic IP Address Test

One of the simplest ways to check your VPN is to do a conventional IP address check. First, before connecting to your VPN, visit an IP check page, and note the IP address detected. This will be your actual IP address, the one currently assigned to you by your ISP provider and that can be traced back to you personally from your ISP’s user log records.

Check Your IP Address (Web) Now >>

IPVanish proxy server location selection image

Figure: The best VPNs let you easily select a specific proxy server location (IPVanish shown; select to enlarge)

Next, connect to your VPN and use the same site to check the detected IP address. The IP address should be different. If it isn’t, something is wrong.

In addition, the new IP address issued by your VPN should correspond with the country you selected in your VPN app. For example, all of our recommended VPNs let you choose the country you want to appear to be in (see screenshot; IPVanish shown).

The Extended IP Address Test

For a more detailed analysis of your connection, conduct a check at IPLeak, first without your VPN enabled and then with it enabled.

IPLeak provides rich information about a number of aspects of your connection. Not only will IPLeak display your IP address, but it will detect DNS leaks too (see below).

What’s a DNS Leak?

DNS, short for domain name system, is used to translate numerical IP addresses into domain names (and vice versa) because domain names are much easier to remember than IP addresses.

When you visit a website (such as www.example.com), IP addresses are used invisibly in the background to point your web browser at the right IP address for a particular website. When you enter a domain name to visit a website, your operating system fetches the underlying IP address from a domain name system (or DNS) server. This action is independent from your web browser.

When a DNS leak occurs, your computer or Internet-enabled device starts using your regular (your ISP’s) DNS server instead of your VPN provider’s DNS server. When this happens it represents a significant risk as it can reveal your true IP address.

In other words, a DNS leak occurs when your browser ignores your VPN set up and sends the DNS request directly to your ISP. Yikes!

Testing your VPN for DNS Leaks

To test whether your VPN suffers DNS leaks, go to:

  • DNSLeak.com’s Test – select ‘Start’ and wait a few seconds for the results. If more than 5 seconds go by, open the link in an Incognito / Private Browsing tab. They also have a IPv6 Leak Test if you want to check that too
http://dnsleak.com/r/COGIPAS

Figure: DNSLeak.com test results. You should NOT see this warning when your VPN is enabled!

  • Hidester select ‘Test’ to check your VPN or proxy for DNS leaks
  • IPLeak and scroll down to see the information under the heading ‘DNS Address detection’ or
  • DNS leak test and choose either the ‘Standard test’ or ‘Extended test’.

If these tests show your ISP’s DNS server, you have a DNS leak. (Before you start freaking out, make sure you did enable your VPN).

The risk of DNS leaks is why any VPN you choose should have DNS Leak Protection. The best VPNs have a DNS Leak protection feature (see screenshots below for leading VPNs, Private Internet Access, IPVanish and NordVPN).

PIA VPN DNS leak protection

Figure: Private Internet Access’ DNS leak protection

IPVanish DNS Leak protection setting

NordVPN's DNS leak protection

Figure: NordVPN’s DNS leak protection

If you are not using a VPN you should really consider getting one. If you are using a VPN but it doesn’t support DNS leak protection you should consider switching VPN providers.

Connection Drop Protection (Kill Switch)

OK, so this isn’t a test or check but it is something you need to be aware of. A Kill Switch is an important feature to look for when choosing a VPN because it prevents your IP address from accidentally being leaked should your VPN connection unexpectedly drop. The kill switch works like a tripwire that is constantly keeping a check on your Internet connection to make sure it stays anonymized.

Kill Switch image

Figure: A Kill Switch protects your true IP address from ever leaking (select to enlarge)

As soon as a change is detected in your IP address status, the kill switch feature will immediately block your computer or device from using the unprotected Internet connection until the VPN connection is re-established.

Without a kill switch feature, your computer or device would automatically re-establish the Internet connection with your ISP provider and expose your true IP address and location in the process. If your connection drops and you are not protected with a kill switch, the web sites you visit and torrent connections you make can be monitored, logged and traced back to you through your ISP’s records.

Top Tip – Our top recommended VPNs for safe torrenting all have kill switches.

As you can see, a kill switch is particularly important if you want to keep any sensitive web browsing or torrent file-sharing activities private.

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Torrent-specific Checks (How to Make Sure your Torrent VPN is Working)

Before you start downloading and sharing torrents after reading our anonymous torrent guide, you should first check what IP address your torrent app is transmitting. You need to make sure that your torrent VPN or torrent proxy is working and masking your true IP address from the outside world. This way you can be assured that snoops will not be able to determine your true IP address.

Top Tip – Remember, our top recommended torrent VPN, Private Internet Access VPN, passes these tests.

To check what IP address you are transmitting while torrenting, you will need to perform special checks. It is not sufficient to visit plain old “what’s my IP address” websites for checking whether your torrent VPN is working. In fact, this can be a dangerous practice because it can give you a completely false sense of anonymity.

It can be the case that an anonymizing service hides your IP address when browsing the web, but not for downloading torrents. “Free” VPNs and Tor (The Onion Router) are good examples of this.

If you used such a VPN and visited a “what’s my IP address” website it would display your masked IP address for web browsing, give you the impression that your online presence is anonymous and encourage you to download torrents thinking that you are protected. Unknown to you, it’s only your web browsing that’s being anonymized and not your torrent activities.

Therefore, a different way of checking your transmitted IP address is needed for confirming that your torrent activities are being protected.

The best way to check what IP address your torrent app is transmitting is to undergo a check developed specifically for torrents. Three test sites are listed below along with detailed instructions for each.

Top Tip – It is good to get in the habit of pausing your active torrents every time before shutting down your torrent app (see screenshot). That way, the next time you start your torrent app, no torrents will be active and this allows you to perform this confirmation step before activating them.

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Figure: Pause any active torrents in your torrent app (µTorrent shown)

Checking Your Torrent IP Address at TorGuard

TorGuard provides a free torrent IP address test. Go to their Torrent IP Check page (or go to any page on TorGuard and choose ‘Check my Torrent IP’ under the heading ‘TorGuard Links’).

Download the torrent featured on this page by selecting the ‘Check My Torrent IP Download Now’ icon (see screenshot).

TorGuard's CheckMyTorrentIP

You will be prompted to download a torrent file. Go ahead and download it.

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Figure: Downloading the CheckMyTorrentIp.png.torrent file

Once the torrent file is downloaded, open it with your torrent app just as you normally would for any other torrent. You will see that the torrent’s payload is a small image file, CheckMyTorrentIp.png (see screenshot). Select OK to start downloading it.

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Figure: Your torrent app will attempt to download the CheckMyTorrentIp.png payload

Your torrent app will try downloading the image, but it will never actually succeed. But that’s exactly the point. This keeps the torrent in a continually active downloading mode so that the CheckMyTorrentIP service can detect and regularly report the IP address that your torrent app is transmitting. Let’s check this.

To verify the IP address being transmitted by your torrent app, go to your torrent app’s list of torrents, select the torrent you just downloaded and check its Trackers. In µTorrent, trackers can be found displayed under the Trackers tab (at box 2 in the screenshot below).

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Figure: Checking the Trackers for the TorGuard CheckMyTorrentIP torrent in your app (µTorrent shown)

You will see that a short message is displayed reporting on the IP address that your torrent app is transmitting (see box 3 highlighted at the lower right of the screenshot above). Check it carefully. This IP address should not be your true IP address, but instead be the IP address assigned by your torrent VPN.

If the warning displayed under the Tracking tab shows your true IP address rather than your masked one, something is wrong. Either the VPN is not functioning (double-check that you did actually activate it) or it does not support torrents. If the Trackers for the CheckMyTorrentIP torrent report your masked IP address, you know that your torrent VPN works as it should.

Keep the CheckMyTorrentIP torrent active in your torrent app even though the payload image will never download. This way, every time you open your torrent app you can check the Trackers for this torrent and confirm that your torrent VPN is working and that your true IP address remains hidden from snoops.

Top Tip – If you are using a torrent app that displays ads, such as the free version of µTorrent, you can actually use these ads to your advantage. The ads can serve as an indication that your anonymizing torrent VPN is working. If your torrent app is displaying ads from a foreign country (matching the country location you chose when connecting to your VPN) rather than your actual location, this gives you further comfort that the VPN is working.

Checking your Torrent IP Address at IPLeak or ipMagnet

You can perform a similar, though slightly more complicated, torrent IP address check at IPLeak or ipMagnet.

For IPLeak, under the heading ‘Detected Torrent Address’, select the link ‘Activate’ and then follow the displayed instructions. In a nutshell, you download a small torrent file, open it and then re-check at http://ipleak.net/ to see what IP address your torrent app is transmitting.

IPLeak

Figure: A torrent IP address check is also available at ipleak.net

Figure: A torrent IP address check is also available at ipleak.net

Top Tip – As with TorGuard, you can also check under your torrent app’s Trackers tab for the ipleak.net torrent to see what IP address is being transmitted.

For ipMagnet, the process is exactly the same: download a torrent from the site and then either revisit the page to see the displayed IP address or check the Trackers tab in your torrent app.

Checking your Torrent VPN is Working by Monitoring Your Ports (Web & Torrents) [Advanced Users]

More advanced users may wish to monitor their active ports to ensure that their Internet traffic is actually being routed through their VPN, whether for torrents file-sharing or web browsing.

Figure: A screenshot of CurrPorts a free port monitoring utility

Figure: A screenshot of CurrPorts a free port monitoring utility

A port monitoring utility allows you to monitor the connections made to and from your computer or device and let you see which process (generally apps) has opened which port and shows the local and remote IP address of each connection. The port monitoring utility may even let you terminate a process (close the relevant app).

By monitoring your ports you can verify that your Internet traffic is actually being routed through the VPN.

For Windows, we recommend CurrPorts (free). If you see your VPN’s masked IP address in the ‘Remote Address’ column of CurrPort’s display for your relevant app process (for example, uTorrent for torrents or Chrome for web browsing), you can be confident that you are making connections through the VPN and that your true IP address is safe.

Conclusion to Is My VPN Working

You should now easily be able to answer the question, “is my VPN working?”. Whichever test you performed (or maybe you performed all of them), once you confirm your VPN is working and transmitting a masked IP address and not your true one, you can confidently go about your activities protected and anonymous, whether web browsing, mass downloading from the web, Usenet or sharing torrents.

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