IP Leak

What Is an IP Leak?

An IP leak occurs when your VPN unintentionally fails to properly mask your IP address, resulting in an exposure. Initially, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) were designed to switch your native IP address with a temporary one belonging to a server in your selected country. If done correctly, a reliable VPN enhances your online privacy, not allowing third parties to track your online activity.

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It’s worth noting that VPN services are not always to blame for IP leaks. Such leaks can also occur due to vulnerabilities in browser plugins, technical issues in a browser or device software, or even a DNS leak, which is typically caused by your Internet provider. It’s important to understand that there are various types of IP leaks, which we’ll explore in more detail.

IP Address Explained

Each device at your home that uses the network connection owns two IP addresses: a public IP address and a private IP address. Typically, private IP addresses are meant to connect your home devices. Meanwhile, a public IP address is issued by a router and is used to connect to the internet.

IPv4 and IPv6 are two types of both public and private IP addresses. IPv4 addresses are made up of four groups of up to three digits, separated by periods. In contrast, IPv6 addresses use eight groups of four hexadecimal digits, separated by colons.

Example of an IPv4 address: 192.168. 10.150
Example of an IPv6 address: 3002:0bd6:0210:0320:0040:ee01:0183:6778

The reason for having two types of IP addresses is that, with the constantly growing number of internet users, ISPs eventually exhausted the supply of IPv4 addresses. It’s also possible that your ISP assigns both IP addresses, so when using a VPN, you need to protect both to prevent any leakage.

Different Types of IP Leaks

There are various IP leaks, including DNS, WebRTC, and IPv4 or IPv6 leaks. They are all the same regarding your online privacy and security risks. Nevertheless, each IP leak has a different nature, causes, and consequences. 

IPv4 and IPv6 Leaks

IPv4 leak is one of the rarest types of IP leak. Plus, it’s one of a few cases that identifies the VPN provider’s fault. If you experience an IPv4 leak, your VPN fails to establish the connection properly. Therefore, it’s recommended that you switch to a more reliable VPN provider, such as Surfshark.

Even though IPv4 address combination supplies are running out, many VPN providers still haven’t adapted their infrastructure for IPv6 addresses. If you use one of these VPNs and connect to a VPN server with an IPv6 address, you may experience an IPv6 leak. This is because the VPN provider will route your IPv4 through an encrypted tunnel without being able to detect the IPv6 address. Currently, only a few reliable VPN services support IPv6, such as Hide.me VPN and ProtonVPN

DNS Leaks

A DNS leak is a cybersecurity gap that happens when an online inquiry is sent to the ISP’s DNS server instead of the in-tunnel VPN DNS server.

The DNS (Domain Name System) allows you to find websites by names instead of IP addresses. When using a VPN, these website searches are usually concealed unless a DNS request escapes an encrypted tunnel.

DNS requests may escape these VPN tunnels due to an improperly configured VPN, unsupported IPv6, transparent DNS proxies, and certain Windows features. If there’s a DNS leak, your browsing history, geographical location, and other details become accessible to your ISP. It’s almost like you weren’t using a VPN at all. 

WebRTC Leaks

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is a technology that allows you to have a better real-time communication experience via Discord, Messenger, and other platforms without having to use an intermediate server.

A WebRTC leak occurs when you intend to have a video or audio call with another person via a WebRTC browser, and it unexpectedly exposes your IP address, resulting in compromised online privacy. 

There is a risk of coming across a WebRTC leak if WebRTC technology is enabled in your browser. So, to prevent WebRTC leaks, you’d need to turn off WebRTC in each browser you’re using

What Are the Risks of an IP Address Leak?

Going through an IP leak poses various risks to your online safety and privacy. Here are the main risks and consequences of an IP leak: 

  • Identity exposure – Each public IP address identifies where data originates from. If your original IP address gets leaked, snoopers get to see your original location.
  • Compromised privacy – An exposed IP address allows third parties to monitor your activities and keep track of your online habits. This can result in an increased amount of personalized ads.
  • Weakened security – If you’re using a VPN and your IP address is leaking, then you lose part of the protection layer that comes with VPN features, such as the IP rotator or a double VPN.
  • Targeted attacks – Once the IP address is leaked, cybercriminals may attempt a targeted attack, such as a Distributed Denial of Service attack or a malware attack.
  • ISP tracking – An IP leak allows your ISP to throttle your connection and restrict you from certain content. Hence, you may experience speed drops and restricted access to desired websites.
  • Geo-blocked content – A leaking IP address exposes your real geographical location, limiting your possibilities of accessing geo-restricted content. 

How Do You Test if Your IP Was Leaked?

Checking for IP leaks doesn’t require much technical knowledge or time. When using a VPN service, the most noticeable sign of an IP leak would be the inability to access desired content, such as a Netflix region that matches the VPN server location you intended to connect to.

However, other ways exist to test if your IP is leaking. What you need to do is choose one of the websites that have IP leak tests, such as ipleak.net, browserleaks.com, or even your VPN provider’s official website, and compare your results while connected and disconnected from a VPN.

IP leaking testing
IP leak testing

When running a test with a VPN enabled and disabled, see if any of the IP addresses match during both of these stages. If they do, then it means you’re experiencing an IP leak.

Overall, you don’t need to wait to get restricted from desired geo-blocked websites to learn that your IP is leaking. Often, users may not realize that their IP address is leaking. Therefore, making IP leak testing a regular part of your online routine is a good idea.

How to Fix the IP Leak?

Fixing the IP leak is crucial in keeping your online identity private and protected. These are the first actions to take after you learn that your IP is leaking:

  • Update the VPN software – Your IP might be leaking due to an outdated VPN application. Therefore, you’d need to check the software for possible updates and install them if available.
  • Enable the kill switch feature – A kill switch is one of the most crucial VPN features. It ensures your network connection is disabled and the IP address is protected if a VPN connection unexpectedly fails.
  • Contact VPN’s customer support – Before jumping to conclusions, it’s best to contact your VPN’s customer support team and see if the issue lies on your or their side.
  • Disable IPv6 – Even the most reputable VPNs still don’t support IPv6 addresses, resulting in IPv6 leaks. Hence, it’s best to disable IPv6 on your device or a router and use IPv4 only if possible.
  • Review the firewall settings – It may be that your firewall blocks certain ports that a VPN uses, resulting in the inability of your traffic to communicate with a VPN. In this case, you should adjust the firewall settings, ensuring it’s not blocking the VPN traffic.
  • Update the WebRTC settings – To prevent WebRTC leaks, you should disable WebRTC in your browser. Alternatively, you can utilize a browser extension for blocking WebRTC.
  • Switch to another VPN service – If you have tried all the solutions listed above, then it’s time to consider switching to a more reliable VPN provider. Our top recommendation is Surfshark, which hasn’t leaked our IP address even once throughout multiple tests.

The Bottom Line

Understanding different types of IP leaks, including IPv4, IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks is crucial. Without a quick response, your online privacy can be compromised, allowing snoopers to monitor your online habits and location.

Although VPNs were designed to offer complete online privacy and security, sometimes technical errors can lead to IP exposure. Yet, IP leaks don’t always happen because of poor VPN performance, as they can also occur due to the use of IPv6 addresses, incorrect firewall settings, WebRTC technology, and other reasons.

So, to prevent IP leaks, it’s crucial to choose a reliable VPN service that uses next-gen security features and has been tested by experts for consistent IP protection. 

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Michael Simon

Michael is a Tech Content Editor at Techopedia, who is passionate about delivering high-quality tech content online and ensuring the accuracy of our guides. With over a decade of experience in editorial and marketing, he has worked with leading publishers and a range of SaaS firms, gaining expertise in the tech sector. Outside of work, Michael's interests include current affairs and behavioral economics.