VPN test: how to see if your VPN is working

When a VPN (Virtual Private Network) works properly, it hides your online tracks. It creates a virtual tunnel between your device and the online destination you want to reach. Your data stream is then encrypted, which means your Internet Service Provider (ISP) — or anyone else — can’t read what you’re doing. But how do you know your VPN is actually doing all that? With a VPN test, of course!

A reliable VPN service will hide your IP address as well as prevent Domain Name System (DNS) leaks and WebRTC leaks. If your IP isn’t hidden or you see any leaks, your VPN may not be working properly.

Table of contents

    4 ways to check if your VPN is working properly 

    Checking whether your Surfshark VPN works is a piece of cake — there are several methods you can use. The easiest one is to check the icons on your dock, toolbar, menu bar, etc.: 

    • If the icon is gray, your VPN is off;
    • If it’s green or blue, it’s on. 

    You can also check your VPN’s status by going to Settings > VPN on any device. However, if you need more proof that your VPN is working, follow any of the methods below: 

    • Check for DNS leaks;
    • Check for IP address leaks; 
    • Check for WebRTC leaks;
    • Check if you can bypass censorship.

    All tests provide equally accurate information about your VPN. You can perform just one test or all of them (for the “just in case” people).

    Check for DNS leaks

    The Domain Name System (DNS) is like a translator. It’s in charge of translating a request for a website, www.yourwebsite.com, into a specific IP (Internet Protocol) number, Humans aren’t great at remembering the latter, and computers can’t read the former. But with these DNS requests, we can navigate the internet easily — all we need to remember is a website’s name. 

    If you don’t use a VPN, these requests don’t go through a secure VPN tunnel. An unsecured connection may potentially leak DNS data and, consequently, your IP address to the websites you access. Your ISP could get their hands on this information as well. 

    Here’s how to check for DNS leaks:

    1. Turn off the VPN and perform a DNS leak test

    Here’s how unprotected DNS requests look like:

    DNS leak test window showing DNS requests as not protected.
    1. Turn on the VPN and perform the test again. 

    Here’s how protected DNS requests look like:

    DNS leak test window showing DNS requests as protected.

    You can repeat this test by connecting to different VPN servers. If one server on the VPN’s network is secure, this doesn’t automatically guarantee that others are also safe. Double-checking is the way to go. Even on a server you don’t use, a single leak may indicate trouble down the road.

    How to fix a DNS leak

    1. Replace your VPN: free VPNs are less secure than premium ones, so that may be the cause of the problem. 
    2. Check your network configuration: if you have your own VPN and servers, there may be an issue with how they’re configured.
    3. Disable Teredo: Teredo is Microsoft’s attempt to help with the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. It’s a tunneled connection, so sometimes, it may slip in before the VPN tunnel. 

    Check for IP address leaks

    Your IP address is like your home address but online. It’s a lot more personally identifiable than a DNS address, and there’s a lot that someone can do with your IP. A VPN masks your outgoing information source and the data that’s transferred along from website to website. That’s why it’s recommended to hide your IP with a VPN.

    Your real IP versus the IP given by your VPN provider should always be different. If not, your IP is leaking. You can run this test on any device that has a VPN installed. 

    Here’s how:

    1. Check your real IP address (with the VPN off).
    IP test showing an unprotected IP, browser type, OS, ISP and approximate location.
    1. Turn on your VPN and choose any country server.
    2. Check your IP address again by refreshing the page (with the VPN on).
    IP test showing the VPN server's IP, browser type, OS, the VPN as the IP and approximate location of the VPN server.
    1. That’s it. You’re protected. As you can see, the IP address is different, indicating that the VPN is working correctly. 

    Note: remember to check if the country server you connect to matches the country displayed in the IP address checker. If not, your IP may be leaking. 

    How to fix an IP leak  

    1. Replace your VPN: IP leaks are one of those things that specifically shouldn’t happen when you’re using a VPN. If a VPN is leaking your actual IP address, it’s a bad VPN. 
    2. Disable IPv6 on your device: not all VPNs can handle IPv6 yet. Here’s how you can do it on Windows
    3. Disable split tunneling: split tunneling explicitly allows some traffic to come and go without VPN protection. So if that’s the case, disable split tunneling on your VPN app (on Surfshark, it’s called Bypasser). 

    Check for WebRTC leaks

    Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a technology that lets web browsers directly communicate with one another. By using JavaScript, the WebRTC enables mobile and web browsers to run smoothly without external plugins

    These capabilities decrease the lag for specific applications when transferring files, using communication services like Skype, etc.

    Many browsers use this technology by default. That’s why the devices using WebRTC need to see each other’s IP addresses to communicate. This might permit third-party websites to use WebRTC to find a device’s IP address

    Once someone detects an IP, they can identify the device user. This may all sound confusing, but checking for these leaks isn’t

    Just follow these steps: 

    1. Perform a WebRTC leak test with the VPN off. 
    WebRTC leak test window indicating a possible leak.
    1. Perform the test again with the VPN on.
    WebRTC leak test window showing no leaks.

    As you can see, this test indicates potential WebRTC leaks in red. It also shows that the IP address is different with and without a VPN, meaning it’s working well. 

    How to fix a WebRTC leak 

    1. Replace your VPN: a good VPN should handle WebRTC leaks.
    2. Disable split tunneling: if some of your traffic isn’t protected by the VPN, this may be where the leak has sprung. 
    3. Disable WebRTC: it can be done on your browser, and each has its own instructions. 

    Check if you can bypass censorship

    If your reason for buying a VPN was to get around government censorship or the network firewalls put up by your workplace or school, you can check if the VPN is working by trying to access that specific content.

    So if you connect to a VPN server and are able to enter a previously unreachable website or service, the VPN is working!

    Disclaimer: we prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

    How to do a VPN speed test

    If your VPN is working, you may want to conduct a VPN speed test. This way, you can see the speed allowed by each VPN server. Here’s how: 

    1. Connect to the desired server on your VPN app; 
    2. Open a speed test website:
      1. speedtest.net is the speed testing website used by basically everyone;
      2. fast.com is an internet speed test site run by Netflix.
    3. Launch the test and wait for the results. 

    Surfshark VPN users can also use Surfshark’s inbuilt speed test. For more information, refer to our article on VPN speed tests

    How to do a VPN malware test

    You should do a VPN malware test before you install it. This is especially important if you’re going for a free VPN (which we don’t recommend) — they are likely to contain malware. 

    Fortunately, the check is very simple. 

    1. Go to VirusTotal.
    2. Click Choose file and choose the install file for the VPN.
    Virus Total window
    1. Check the test results once it’s done. 
    Virus Total showing that SurfsharkSetup.exe has passed all the tests

    See? That was simplicity itself. Just make sure not to use a VPN that rings any of the alarm bells on the site. 

    What to do if your VPN isn’t working

    Sometimes you may run into situations where your VPN is not working. Often, it isn’t anything serious, but it’s best to check the source of the problem as soon as possible. 

    Here are some VPN troubleshooting tips you can try:

    1. Change servers: there may be an issue on the server end — changing to a different server will check if that’s the case; 
    2. Change protocols: some VPNs still offer less-than-secure protocols, so see if any of their other protocols work better; 
    3. Check if Kill Switch is on: Kill Switch prevents you from connecting to the internet if the VPN isn’t connected; 
    4. Check your internet connection: if your internet connection isn’t working, your VPN won’t be working either;
    5. Disable WebRTC: you can do that via the browser settings — they’re different for every browser, but you can find some tips here;
    6. Update your VPN app: keep your apps updated. For Surfshark, you can do so by going to Settings > App Settings > App Version; 
    7. Contact the support team: the customer support team of any VPN developer should be able to help you with any questions.

    Other reasons your VPN is still not working

    So, you’ve tried everything I recommended above, but you still keep getting the “VPN not connecting” problem. A few other things might trigger this.

    These handy articles will help you research the problem further. They give a more in-depth take on other potential issues:

    In conclusion: don’t let a faulty VPN put your data at risk  

    Checking if your VPN works is simple. Choose from any VPN tests mentioned to identify DNS, IP, or WebRTC leaks, or see if you can reach previously unreachable services. If these tests don’t work with your VPN on, something may be wrong.   

    Using a VPN provider like Surfshark guarantees a stable connection. It also helps you avoid data breaches and keeps you far from sneaky ISPs and hackers. I recommend anyone using  an electronic device stay protected and safe in the cyber world with a VPN.

    Not convinced yet? Then read an independent Surfshark VPN review.

    A reliable VPN is a safe VPN
    Try it with a 30-day money-back guarantee


    What’s my VPN test plan?

    A regular plan to test if a VPN works is to run checks for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

    What are advanced VPN tests?

    Advanced VPN tests check data packages to see how the VPNs handle them. These tests are time-intensive and require some technical skill on the user’s behalf. 

    How do I check if my VPN is working on Android?

    Checking a VPN app on Android isn’t much harder than on a PC.

    First, run these tests without a VPN and write down the results:

    Now run these tests with a VPN. If the results are the same, your VPN isn’t working. 

    How do I check if my VPN is working on my iPhone?

    iPhone VPN tests are easy. 

    First, run these tests without a VPN:

    Note the results, then run these tests with a VPN. If the results are the same, your VPN isn’t working.