A VPN is a wonderful tool that can provide online safety. By now you read all about the encrypted tunnels, changing your IP address, etc… which is great. BUT there are a few other things that can get on the way of your anonymity, especially web browsers.
And in case you are thinking: “I don’t care about browser safety, I use a VPN when I’m torrenting“! Well… think again! You have to realize that torrenting goes beyond your BitTorrent client! The surveillance is not only in the trackers of the torrent files. The websites where you are going to look for torrents are also being monitored. Even if it’s not always a governmental agency looking at your activity, it can also be your ISP snooping on your torrenting activity, or even a hacker.
The problem with browsers is that most of them have the wrong options enabled by default. Some of those options can compromise your anonymity, even when using a good VPN. Let’s see what you can do to avoid this kind of exposure:
Web real-time communications (WebRTC) is a technology that gives more functionality to web browsers. It allows browsers to communicate with each other. It makes it possible for browsers to use apps like skype voice and video calling. It basically allows browsers of different users to communicate directly.
That sounds very nice, but there’s a huge drawback. WebRTC allows every website to see your real IP address immediately, even if you are using a VPN. As simple as that!
If what you want is anonymity, then there’s only one way to go: Disable WebRTC. This feature is turned on by default in the most popular browsers. Here’s what you have to do:
Disable WebRTC in Chrome
Chrome does not allow you to do this with an on and off switch. This can only be achieved by installing an extension like WebRTC leak prevent. Install it, activate it and test if you are still leaking your real IP address (test tool at the end of the post).
Disable WebRTC in Firefox
In Mozilla Firefox, this can be done in two ways. You can also install an add-on, or you can go to the browser settings and disable it manually. We strongly recommend using the second option, it turns it off for good! To do so, do the following:
- In the search bar, type about:config
- You will see a warning to be careful with the settings. To continue, click on “I accept the risk“
- You will see a list with a search bar. In that bar, type media.peerconnection.enabled and press enter
- There will be only one match, double click to make the value “false“
- And it’s done! Just close the tab, there’s no saving settings
Disable Third Party cookies
Third party cookies have the objective to track you so that advertisers know what you like. That way, they know exactly which ads to show you, increasing their chances of making money. For VPN users, the IP address shown is still the IP from the VPN server. But it’s still not the safest thing to do. Someone may try to follow your activity based on your preferences. It will be easier to associate the anonymous IP you’re using with your real IP. To avoid any risks, it’s advised that you just turn third-party cookies off! To do it for Chrome, please follow their guidelines. And here’s the link with the instructions for Firefox.
The geolocation feature has a similar purpose as the cookies. It is meant to track you to know your preferences. In this case, they are able to send you suggestions relevant to the place where you are at that moment. This can also increase the chances of relating the VPN IP you are using with your real one. Again, we recommend to turn this feature off.
Disable Geolocation in Chrome
- Go to “Settings“
- Hit “Advanced Settings“
- Under “Privacy” select “Content Settings“
- Scroll down until “Location” and select the option “Do not allow any site to track your physical location“
- Hit Done
Disable Geolocation in Firefox
Just like when we disabled WebRTC, we are going to the same place. Here’s what you have to do this time:
- In the search bar, type about:config
- Again, click on “I accept the risk“
- The list will appear. In the search bar, type geo.enabled and press enter.
- There will be only one match, double click on it to make the value “false“
- It’s done! Close the tab
Use tools to check if you are protected
It’s good practice to use some tools from time to time to make sure you’re not leaking info that can expose you. Keep in mind that sometimes settings change because of browser updates. These options may come back to default without any warning. We are not trying to make you obsessed and check it all the time. But it’s a good thing to take a few seconds and perform a test every couple of weeks, or at least once a month.
We like ipleak.net and doileak.com. They are very thorough, giving you results for the topics we just discussed, and more. They even have a torrent test for you to make sure there are no leaks when you are torrenting.
What about the Incognito mode?
This is a subject that causes confusion because the name is misleading. The incognito mode (or private window) won’t protect you against entities trying to monitor you. It doesn’t bring any protection in this area.
What it does is preventing your browser to save information. That can be useful if you are using a public computer. With the incognito mode on, the person who will use the same computer after you won’t have access to anything. That person won’t be able to see any of your history, saved cookies, or saved passwords because the browser didn’t save it.
But we’ll repeat: It does not protect you from hackers, government entities, marketing agencies, etc… We wrote an article about the incognito mode. In case you want more info on this topic, make sure you have a look.
Browsers are great, but they can be false friends too. Especially for the ones who care enough to use a VPN. It’s a waste of money and resources to expose a connection that was supposed to be encrypted. And especially by a such a “simple” thing as a browser.
By doing these tweaks, you will greatly decrease the risks of exposing your real identity. Your VPN connection won’t be at risk.