A double VPN is a system of two virtual private networks communicating with one another in order to make your Internet activities and identity more secure and private than either would manage on their own. While the very term “system” can imply carefully designed support between the two, even accessing the World Wide Web through a VPN that you’re accessing via another, completely unrelated server is a type of a double VPN, as well.
That’s basically how this sort of technology started in the first place and is almost as old as VPNs themselves. Now, let’s take an in-depth look at this curious networking niche.
What are the advantages of a double VPN?
The main advantage a double VPN offers over its single-server alternative is that your second node doesn’t know who you are and what data you’re requesting like the first one does. Therefore, it stands to reason that you should pair two VPN providers that are headquartered in different countries to maximize this effect.
In that sense, what is a double VPN if not just a redundancy measure? Not much, actually. By utilizing it, you’re lowering the risk of having your Internet browsing history tracked back to you in any way. Some would say you do so by a factor or two, but it’s difficult to assign numerical values to such complex things.
For example, if your traffic is encrypted and decrypted twice before reaching its destination, that doesn’t mean its encryption is twice as effective, except if you’re somehow expecting your data to be targeted by a brute force attack. Assuming you’re running an AES 256-bit system or two, that wouldn’t pose any realistic danger in the 2020s, unless your attacker is planning on spending aeons on decrypting your traffic.
Are double VPNs an overkill?
Most would argue they are, though the answer to this question really varies on a case-by-case basis. Still, if the first VPN in your chain is already at a low risk of being compromised due to a combination of its technologies and HQ location, having a second one on top of it can often be more trouble than it’s worth.
Any performance concerns associated with VPNs also increase when you add another node to the mix. That isn’t to say your connection’s guaranteed to be significantly crippled with a double VPN compared to using a single encryption point but you should be aware of the possibility regardless. After all, even the fastest VPNs money can buy usually come with some minor caveats in terms of Internet speeds.
Much like any privacy and security technique, a double VPN is only as good as its weakest link. In other words, if you cut costs on your second point of anonymization and go with a provider that either gets compromised or outright sells your data, you might as well be running a single VPN.
An even worse case would be a scenario wherein the first VPN in your chain somehow fails, which renders the entire point of having a second VPN meaningless.
Is there a place for proxies in double VPN setups?
You can’t reach the level of data security and online anonymity a double VPN offers with a proxy. A proxy is not a VPN and is generally thought of as an inferior solution between the two. Will you be more secure and protected with a proxy than without if you’re already running a VPN? Sure, but be prepared to pay extra for the privilege of doing so as most reliable proxy services cost money. At that point, you might as well just shell out the difference for a double VPN.
If you’re wondering whether you’re running a double VPN system or not, a rule of thumb is that – you aren’t. Given how this type of an Internet access setup serves a rather niche role, not that many VPN providers are even offering it, i.e. supporting it natively. Those that do hence advertise that point accordingly as it acts as a relatively unique selling point.
Still, checking whether you’re running a double VPN is essentially checking whether your second anonymization point is working. E.g. if you’re accessing the Internet through a Windows VPN program and running another browser extension on top of it, any IP checker should present you with the IP address of the latter.
No, that wouldn’t necessarily mean your desktop VPN software was working as intended, but any half-decent secondary tool you’d use in such a scenario should be able to help you check that first line of defense.
“What is a double VPN?” 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.