What is a VPN and How Do I Know My VPN is Working?


What is a VPN and How Do I Know My VPN is Working?

It's possible that you've heard about VPNs even if you're new to the field of internet security. As someone just getting started, I was confused about what a VPN even is! Also, once I got a VPN, how could I tell if it was actually working to keep my browsing secure?


In this article, I’ll explain what a VPN is in simple terms. I'll also share signs to look for to confirm your VPN is active and anonymizing your internet connection. As a VPN newbie myself, I wanted tips to check everything is encrypted and routing properly. Read on for a beginner's guide to understanding VPNs and validating they work as advertised.

Demystifying VPNs: A Simple Explanation

Let's start by decoding what a VPN even is.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Essentially, it creates a private tunnel for your internet traffic to pass through. Inside this tunnel, your data is encrypted and secured from prying eyes.


When you connect through a VPN, your traffic exits through the VPN provider's server instead of your own IP address. This masks your real location and identity, providing anonymity online.

Think of a VPN like a private tunnel you enter on the way to the Internet. Inside the tunnel, snoops can't see what you're doing or where you're going. Your data is for your eyes only!

Your IP Address Should Be Different

Once you set up a VPN connection, the first thing to check is whether your IP address actually changes. This is the key indicator it’s working!


Without a VPN, your device's IP reveals your location and ISP information to every site you visit. Your IP stays fixed until you disconnect from the internet.

Connecting to a VPN assigns you a new virtual IP address every time. To check your public IP:

        On Windows/Mac search for "what is my IP" in your browser

        The IP shown should match your VPN provider's location, not your physical location

For example, if your VPN exits through New York but you live in Los Angeles, you'll now have a New York IP. This masks your true location.


Your IP changing confirms your traffic is routing through the VPN server correctly. No IP change likely means a VPN misconfiguration or connection drop.

Websites Should Show Your VPN Location

In addition to the IP address switch, websites you visit should now geolocate you to your VPN server location rather than your real one.


Tools like Google Maps and visitor geolocation widgets will display your VPN's city:

If websites still pinpoint your actual location, the VPN isn't masking your IP correctly. Troubleshoot your VPN settings or connection.

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) Should Be Hidden

VPNs also obscure your ISP, which can identify your internet provider account.

To confirm your ISP is hidden:

        Google "What is my ISP" to check your ISP name

        The listed provider should match your VPN, not your actual ISP

This ensures all traces of your real identity are masked from the websites you access. Your VPN connection is successfully encrypting and routing your traffic.

Websites Should Load Slower Than Normal

This may seem counterintuitive, but slower website load times can indicate your VPN is active.

VPNs add a bit of connection overhead as your traffic is encrypted and routed through remote servers.


This causes some speed loss - usually 10-30% slower versus direct connections.

Running a speed test without the VPN, then retesting with the VPN, shows this difference. Speeds don't have to tank, but expect a bit of a slowdown.


If your browsing feels just as fast through the VPN, it likely isn't encrypting your connection. Check for DNS or IPv6 leaks that bypass the VPN tunnel.

Log Into Your VPN Account

Most VPN such as IPVanish providers have a web portal or dashboard to access your IPVanish account details. This usually shows your current virtual IP address and connected VPN server.

Log in to confirm the IP matches what websites are showing in your browser. Activity logs may also indicate your connected time and browsing data usage.


Don't panic if your provider shows bandwidth usage - many log this for billing only, not storing actual browsing details. Contact their privacy team if you have concerns.

Checking your account portal provides another simple way to validate your VPN connection.

VPN Connection Status Icon

Your VPN software will display some sort of connection status icon when active. This is usually shown as a key, shield, or padlock icon in the system tray or menu bar. Mousing over it should indicate your current VPN IP.


No VPN icon means you're not protected! The icon provides a clear visual cue your VPN tunnel is engaged. Most VPNs will automatically reconnect when your internet comes back online.

I like having the ever-present connection icon. It reminds me my traffic is secure and alerts me to any drops. Don't ignore the status indicator!

What to Do if Your VPN Isn't Working

If the above checks reveal your VPN isn't working properly, there are a few steps to troubleshoot:

        Reconnect to the VPN -Find why does McAfee keep disconnecting and Try to reconnect.

        Switch protocols - If using OpenVPN, try IKEv2 or Wireguard. Some protocols work better than others for certain networks.

        Change servers - Connect to a different VPN server location in case an individual server is down.

        Update VPN apps - An outdated app can cause connectivity issues. Install the newest version.

        Whitelist VPN - Antivirus or firewalls may block unsanctioned VPN programs. Add your VPN app as an exception.

        Contact support - Reach out to the VPN provider's support for personalized troubleshooting help.

With a bit of trial and error, you can get your VPN working smoothly again. Consistent connections take a little practice for VPN novices.

How much slower will a VPN make my Internet?

Expect a 10-30% drop in Internet speeds with a VPN active. The performance loss is usually minimal thanks to modern protocols like WireGuard. Disable VPN for activities needing maximum speed.


The Bottom Line

Understanding VPN basics like masking your IP address and encrypting connections can seem daunting at first. I was certainly confused navigating the technical jargon around Virtual Private Networks!

But checking the simple signs like altered IP and geolocation is all you need to confirm your VPN is actually functioning. Tests only take a few minutes.

I feel much more confident browsing and accessing content safely now that I grasp the essential security concept behind VPN services. The privacy benefits are well worth taking the time to learn.

So don't be intimidated by the terminology. Follow the tips I outlined here to check you're adequately protected. With a working VPN encrypting your traffic, you can breathe easier!

What is the best free VPN?

Paid VPNs are most reliable for features and speeds. But if you must use a free VPN, ProtonVPN and TunnelBear offer the best experience with minimal advertising.

Can using a VPN be dangerous?

VPNs are very safe from a privacy perspective. However, some countries criminalize VPN usage. Be aware of local laws before using one internationally.

Should I leave my VPN on all the time?

I personally use my VPN whenever browsing the web. However, you can turn off your VPN temporarily for activities like streaming where location matters. It's entirely up to your preferences!


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