There are numerous ways to check whether your VPN is working or not, with the list of options varying in terms of both complexity and reliability. From websites to local queries directed at your OS, this article covers all of them. Why should you even care?
Because, believe it or not, most VPNs suck and will eventually leak your data, intentionally or not. That issue is particularly prominent in the freemium land of mobile apps, as illustrated by this Berkeley research which found that eight in ten Android VPN apps aren’t to be trusted to get the job done.
The basic query
Reviewing the status of your VPN connection can often (but not always – read on) be boiled down to checking the global IP address some website or online service is associating with you. That isn’t to say your private IP address can’t leak as well but that sort of information tends to be way less useful to hackers and other malevolent third parties that might be after your data.
Web apps had the power of accessing client IP addresses since the dawn of the Internet era, so finding such a tool shouldn’t be too difficult, though WhatIsMyIP and WhatIsMyIPAddress have been among the most popular choices for many years. If you don’t mind using the always data-hungry Google, a mere “whats my ip” Google search does the job as well.
All of these sites should work on any platform, so please, for the love of everything that’s private, don’t download some trash find-my-IP app on your Android smartphone or iPad; there’s a decent chance such a basic piece of software is sideloaded with some sort of malicious code, as per the paper linked above.
Alternatively, most modern VPN software offers some degree of self-inspection as well. If nothing else, your VPN provider of choice probably has a working IP checker on its pages. Everyone else at the very least offers an FAQ page detailing how you can check the effectiveness of their software suites, so consult with such sources as needed.
The (more) manual method
Alternatively, you can check the status of all of your networks locally. On Windows, just open your Command Prompt, type down “netsh interface show interface” without the commas, hit enter, and your VPN network should be on the list of results, alongside its status – connected or disconnected.
On a MacOS system, you can check the status of your VPN and other networks by launching the Terminal and type in “ifconfig |grep inet” without the commas. Many Linux distros such as the popular Ubuntu family perform the same check if you type in “hostname -I” (the I as in “Iowa”) into their Terminal app. If that doesn’t work, any one of “ifconfig” (that’s not a typo), “ip addr”, or even just “ip a” should.
Note that there isn’t a universal method to check your global IP if you’re connected to the Internet via a router without relying on an online service from a website because in that kind of setup (e.g. being on Wi-Fi), your network hardware isn’t communicating with the World Wide Web directly. In other words, it isn’t assigned an external, public IP address in the first place.
Regardless of the VPN testing method you choose, the end result should at the very least deliver an IPv4 address. In many cases, you’ll also see an IPv6 one – these will eventually make their IPv4 counterparts obsolete, but until that happens, all IPv6 addresses are also assigned their less secure identifiers.
Beyond the IP land – DNS and WebRTC
IP leaks are just one potential issue with VPNs; another common point of failure of such setups comes in the form of DNS leaks. These less-talked-about concerns come with their fair share of risks but aren’t too difficult to identify. In fact, some modern IP checkers are often able to do so, though you should always turn to a specialized service just in case.
Arguably the most trusted option in that field is the DNSLeakTest.com, which even many established VPN providers recommend. Another thing to note here is that DNS leaks are naturally less concerning than global IP leaks seeing how they only lead back to your ISP and not you directly. Then again, DNS hijacking is nothing to scoff at.
The third and final aspect of reviewing the status of your VPN connection is checking for WebRTC leaks. This set of protocols is responsible for much greatness you can find on the Internet these days, but still isn’t completely bulletproof when it comes to privacy, even though the implications of a WebRTC leak are generally less damning than if your private IP gets harvested by some horribly shady company you never heard of.
Browser Leaks is a rather versatile suite of tools that performs all manners of WebRTC leak detection with just a few taps or mouse clicks.
In overall, your best bet when checking whether your VPN is working as intended is relying on a comprehensive suite of white-hat security probing tools. While using first-party VPN test tools may not seem like the brightest idea given how they might be inherently biased toward associated products, that isn’t an issue if you stick with open-source software.
A more straightforward option would be something in the vein of IPLeak.net, which may look like it just woke up from a coma induced by a server crash in the ‘90s, but its interface is super simple to use.
“How do I know my VPN is working?” was written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.
If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.