The use of VPNs has been rising as governments continue to impose censorship and ISPs geo-restrict content, not to mention the threat of hackers. ExpressVPN is one of the leading providers offering security protection and ways to overcome restrictions. However, how do you know that the provider is providing the protection promised? One way is to check for potential leaks from the app using a leak-testing tool but how do you use it and is it really useful?
Many people simply sign up with ExpressVPN, download an app, and use it for security and unblocking restricted websites without giving leaks any thought. However, others are more curious and want to find out for themselves whether the apps live up to the name and provide the security they should.
The provider understands this. ExpressVPN have made it easy to check for leaks by providing the tools required to do so. By the way, it is currently first of our VPN comparison and ranking and for many good reasons.
How leaks affect security and privacy
So, is it really useful to check for leaks? Do leaks pose a threat and if so how big a threat?
One of the main points of a VPN is to protect users from security risks, including hackers. The provider does this by offering apps to download that allows users to connect to a server to take on an alternate IP address and remain behind an encrypted tunnel.
Data sent over the internet with a virtual tunnel in place is impossible to read. It also stops the users own IP from spying on the websites visited and more. Therefore it comes in handy not just for adult websites but also any other sites that might be restricted.
However, if an app fails and leaks occur full protection is lost as some data goes outside of the encrypted tunnel.
What are ExpressVPN leak testing tools?
The Privacy Research Lab of the provider originally designed the suite of tools for automated and manual leak testing.
However, it was not long before the provider realised that they could also be utilised by users of the apps and so released them as open source.
The tools quickly became a way for users to independently verify the quality of the apps. Of course, at the same time, they are a way of assessing security risks.
3 things leak testing tools tell you
This is where the leak testing tool come in handy. So, what do the tools tell you?
- The tool can tell a user if their true IP address is at risk. If so, hackers or any other third-party could dig to find out the users identity.
- It can be used to find if leaks exposed any data that had not been encrypted. This may happen if the app crashes or the server cannot be reached.
- Whether any data or browsing activity suffered exposure due to switching connections. This may occur when moving from a wired connection to WiFi.
How to use the ExpressVPN leak testing tool
The leak testing tool is readily available for users to download here.
The download package does come with a handy “Readme file” on how to use the suite of tools, however, you can check out the overview below.
- Download the file using the link above. A single Python script launches the suite of tools. In the root directory of the tools run the command ./run_tests.sh -c configs/case_studies/vanilla_leaks.py to begin the test
- Each test makes a check for a certain leak type under certain conditions. For instance, network conditions and shows you whether it has passed, failed or whether there are any errors
- The tests are generic for using on different VPN or network configurations. The configuration file is passed onto the test suite with it listing all tests to run, along with the configuration.
Setup of the tools
Below is an overview of the setup of the tools.
On Windows, macOS and Linux run the command directly on the devices. There is also support for mobile devices but this is indirect.
ExpressVPN highly recommends the use of Virtual Machines when undertaking single quick device tests. Of course, only physical hardware testing gives a more in-depth test.
A more thorough explanation of the setup and using the tests is available in the “Readme file”.
ExpressVPN offers a range of apps for various devices, with the apps running in the background unobtrusively. While you may wish to trust in the provider for offering security online via the apps, the leak tools are available if you wish to check for yourself and you are familiar with using Python.
The apps offer military-grade encryption to help keep your data safe from hackers and at the same time it stops the ISP from spying on your online activities.
Apps from the provider also offer a quick and easy way to mask your own IP address and take one on from one of the many thousands of servers around the world. By doing so, you can overcome geo-restrictions when visiting countries outside of your own. To find out more about the many benefits of ExpressVPN you can read our full review here.
Alison has joined the team in the early stage because she wanted to share with us the experience she had while using VPNs over the last few years. As she’s travelled a lot, she tested many VPNs and wanted to share this with you. Alison cares about staying anonymous and not leaving any footprints on the internet. Therefore, you won’t have the chance to see her face ;).