VPN tests: How to check if your VPN is working

Tips & tricks
9 mins
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VPNs are important tools for maintaining online privacy and security, but they are designed to work so seamlessly with your everyday browsing that it can be hard to know if your VPN is even doing anything.

A high-quality VPN, like ExpressVPN, is designed to secure your online activity through an encrypted tunnel, effectively shielding it from outside observation or theft. But not every VPN lives up to its promises, at times leaking DNS, your IP, and more information that should remain hidden.

So, whether you’re troubleshooting an issue with your VPN or simply conducting a routine quality check, here’s what you need to know.

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How to check if your VPN is working
Test your VPN for malware
Test your VPN speed
Why is my VPN connection not working?

5 easy ways to check if your VPN is working

If you suspect your VPN isn’t working, or you want to confirm it’s protecting you the way it should, here are five quick methods to verify your VPN’s functionality:

1. Check your IP address: is your real IP revealed?

IP addresses are unique identifiers tied to your device and are used to distinguish connections on a network. When you connect to a VPN, your IP address is swapped out with one of the VPN servers. IP addresses can be used to determine your location, track the websites you visit, and follow other aspects of your digital footprint. If your IP address is discoverable, you might not be connected to the VPN, your VPN connection might not be set up properly, or your VPN is not configured to hide your IP address.

How to check if you have an IP address leak

  • Step 1: With the VPN turned off, find out what your IP address is by searching in Google “what is my ip” or heading to ExpressVPN’s IP address checker. The result that pops up should be the IP address currently assigned to you by your ISP.
  • Step 2: Next, connect to a VPN server, ideally outside of your country.
  • Step 3: Refresh your browser.
  • Step 4: Check your IP again. Now, your IP address should be different and reflect the new location.

(ExpressVPN’s apps for iOS and Android come with built-in IP address checkers. Go to Options > Privacy & Security Tools > IP Address Checker.)

If you find that your IP and location haven’t changed, then it’s likely that your IP address is leaking.

Read more: How IP checkers work and why they’re sometimes wrong

2. Check for DNS leaks: are your DNS queries exposed?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is like the internet’s phonebook. DNS queries translate domain names (such as expressvpn.com) into long strings of machine-readable IP addresses so that whenever you enter a website URL into a browser, it knows which site to take you to. 

There are two scenarios where this might become a privacy issue. First, your DNS provider might keep logs of which sites you are querying, correlate them to your IP address, and even sell these records to advertisers.

Second, your DNS servers might inadvertently reveal your location. For example, if your computer automatically chooses the closest available DNS server.

A VPN should protect against both of these scenarios. A VPN service should not rely on a third party for DNS but instead run its own in accordance with its privacy policy. The DNS query should also come from the same location as your masked IP, not from your location near your “real” IP. If there is a misconfiguration or your VPN does not support DNS, you are facing a DNS leak.

How to check if you have a DNS leak

Head to ExpressVPN’s DNS leak test page. It will show you if you are connected to ExpressVPN, and it will list the IP addresses and countries of the servers you’re connected to. If you are using ExpressVPN, only the ExpressVPN server should be listed. If there are any other servers listed, then you have a DNS leak.

3. Check for WebRTC leaks

Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a technology that enables browsers to communicate with each other directly, helping things like peer-to-peer file transfers, audio and video calls, and more. 

When two devices talk to each other via WebRTC, they need to know each other’s real IP address. That’s why WebRTC leaks have privacy implications; third-party websites and the peers you are chatting or conferencing with could exploit the leak to identify you.

A WebRTC leak can be avoided by ensuring all traffic is routed through the VPN. We recommend installing the ExpressVPN browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, or Edge for additional protection, as it instructs the browser to never reveal its “real” IP address.

How to check if you have a WebRTC leak

Go to browserleaks.com to see if your public IP address is being leaked to your browser.

The ExpressVPN Digital Security Lab has conducted in-depth investigations into how various types of leaks can impact your privacy and security. Read the findings on different leak scenarios

4. Check your VPN status

To check if your VPN is active, look for an indicator in your VPN app, which typically changes color or shows “Connected” when the VPN is active. Additionally, most devices display a VPN icon in the system tray or menu bar. This icon usually appears as a small tick or lock when the VPN is on.

5. Check if you can bypass internet censorship

VPNs can be used to bypass internet censorship or access content restricted in your region*. To test this, try accessing a website or service that was previously blocked or unavailable in your location. If you can access it while connected to the VPN, it indicates that the VPN is functioning correctly. 

If you’re unable to unblock content, this does not mean your VPN isn’t working (i.e., encrypting your online activity and giving you a different IP address). It could be that the site knows you’re using a VPN and does not want VPN users accessing. It could also just be a matter of having to refresh the site or app you’re on.

It’s important to remember that while VPNs can be used for this purpose, you should always ensure that you’re complying with the terms of use of the platform and of ExpressVPN.

Test your VPN for malware

Malware in VPN software can not only hinder its performance but also pose a significant risk to your device’s security. 

Here’s how you can test your VPN for malicious software:

Conduct a malware scan 

Free tools like VirusTotal are effective at detecting malware quickly and easily. Simply visit the VirusTotal website, upload the VPN software file, and the service will scan it using a multitude of antivirus engines. This comprehensive check will reveal if the VPN software harbors any malicious components.

Utilize antivirus software

Antivirus software plays a defensive role, scanning downloaded files for potential threats. When you download a VPN client, a thorough scan by your antivirus program can provide an additional layer of assurance. Just ensure that your antivirus tool is always updated to the latest version, ensuring maximum protection against new and emerging threats.

What to do if you detect malware 

Discovering malware in your VPN is a serious issue that requires immediate action:

  1. The first step is to uninstall the VPN application from your device. 
  2. Then, use your antivirus software to remove any traces of the malware. 
  3. In severe cases, where the malware is deeply embedded or resistant to removal attempts, you may need to consider more drastic measures such as resetting your device to its factory settings. This step should eradicate any lingering threats and provide you with a clean slate.

Test your VPN speed: step-by-step instructions

Testing the speed of your VPN is another straightforward way to ensure your VPN is performing optimally. Here’s how you can do it:

Step 1: Initial speed check 

  • Start with a baseline speed test of your internet connection without the VPN enabled. This will give you a standard to compare against.
  • Visit a speed testing website and run the test to note down your internet speed (both download and upload speeds).

VPN Speed Test Tools

Here are some reliable options:

  • Speedtest.net: A widely-used tool for internet speed tests, providing comprehensive results for both download and upload speeds.
  • Speedof.me: This tool offers fast and reliable testing and is known for not selling user data to third parties, ensuring privacy.
  • Testmy.net: A simple and dependable site for testing internet speeds, Testmy.net gives accurate results for both VPN and regular internet connections.

Step 2: Connect to the VPN

  • Turn on your VPN and connect to the server you wish to test.

Step 3: Run the speed test again

  • With the VPN active, revisit the speed testing website and run the test once more.
  • Record the download and upload speeds while connected to the VPN.

Step 4: Compare the results

  • Compare these speeds with your baseline speeds. A slight decrease in speed is normal due to the encryption process.

Factors affecting VPN speed

Several factors can influence the speed of your VPN connection:

  • Distance between you and the VPN server: The greater the distance between your location and the VPN server, the longer it takes for data to travel, potentially slowing down your connection.
  • Number of users on the VPN server: If many users are connected to the same VPN server, it can lead to slower speeds. Read about ExpressVPN’s 10Gbps servers.
  • Processing power: The device you are using can affect VPN speeds. VPNs require processing power to encrypt and decrypt data and older or less powerful devices may struggle with this, resulting in slower speeds. 
  • VPN protocol: Some protocols are slower than others, and they offer different levels of security. Choose a faster protocol if you want to speed up your VPN. We recommend our own Lightway protocol for fast, secure VPN use.

Why is my VPN connection not working?

If you’re facing issues with your VPN connection, it’s not always immediately clear what’s causing the problem. VPNs are complex systems, and a range of factors can disrupt their functionality. Here’s a look at some common reasons why your VPN might not be working:

  • Internet connection issues. You need to be connected to the internet to use a VPN. If your VPN isn’t connecting, there is a high chance your internet isn’t working. Reboot your router, or contact your internet service provider if the problem persists.
  • Firewall settings. Firewalls are designed to block incoming network traffic that doesn’t meet certain security criteria. Sometimes, a firewall may block your VPN connection. The quickest fix would be to turn off your firewall.
  • VPN protocol problems. The protocol you are using might not be optimal for your network conditions. You can try changing the protocol within your VPN app. 
  • VPN server is down. If you are having trouble connecting to a VPN, it could be due to downtime or connectivity issues with the VPN server. You could simply try changing VPN servers to a different location.
  • You didn’t give enough time to connect. In countries that try to restrict internet and VPN use, sometimes it just takes longer to connect to the VPN. Give it a minute or two.
  • Outdated app version. If you are using a very old version without updates in a long time, your version might not be working properly any more. Update your app.

FAQ: Is my VPN working?

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