When Internet users are selecting online security services, such as VPN tunnels, they are most often concerned with two key features: security by means of encryption and the ability to access blocked content by masking their IP address. But there is another fantastic security feature that users need to consider – DNS is an incredibly important part of your Internet connection. To better understand why DNS is so important, let’s take a closer look at DNS, Smart DNS, and DNS leaks.
What is DNS?
DNS (Domain Name System) is an Internet protocol that binds domain names (i.e. www.example.com) to IP addresses (i.e. 192.168.1.1). Essentially, every website and server in the world uses a unique IP address as a means of identification. But the Internet would be an ugly and unruly place if we, as human beings, had to remember websites based on their IP addresses. You see, as humans, we aren’t hardwired to remember numbers as well as we remember names. To solve this problem, DNS was created to provide a character-based alias for websites’ IP addresses. But before you can visit a website, your computer needs to send a DNS request to translate a website’s name into its IP address.
Whenever your computer needs to resolve the IP address of a website based on its domain name, it needs to send a DNS request to a DNS server. But guess what? DNS servers keep records of which hosts made different requests to access a website. Essentially, it means that there is a digital ‘paper trail’ whenever you use DNS. Because your DNS servers are likely owned, operated, and managed by your ISP, they can see what websites you access.
On the other hand, when you use a VPN tunnel, you make DNS requests with your VPN service provider’s DNS servers. At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. Sometimes an issue called a DNS leak will occur that will make DNS requests outside of the VPN tunnel. This destroys your privacy, because your ISP will be able to see all the websites you visit.
Censorship via DNS and Smart DNS
Furthermore, whenever you use your ISPs DNS – either as the result of not using a VPN tunnel or a DNS leak – you might find that you cannot access some sites. Many ISPs and governmental censorship programs choose to filter websites by using DNS. Simply put, they configure their DNS servers to refuse to resolve the IP addresses of certain domain names. In addition, many services block incoming connections based on their IP address. Because the structure of IP addressing is based on geographic distribution, servers have the ability to see what country you are connecting from.
This is how video and audio streaming sites like Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, and others are able to block their services unless you reside in a country they operate in. However, Smart DNS is able to circumvent these restrictions. Smart DNS has the ability to spoof your global locations, thus unblocking content that has been geo-restricted. At its core, a Smart DNS server has the same characteristics of a proxy server.
Your data becomes rerouted through the proxy server that uses an IP address based in the country where the content you want to access is hosted. As far as the server you are trying to connect to is concerned, it looks exactly like you are connecting from within the country where the content is available.
By now, many of you might be wondering what the difference between a Smart DNS service and a VPN service are. Unfortunately, Smart DNS doesn’t add security through encryption. Unless the server you are connecting to uses HTTPS or another similar protocol, your data will be sent to and from the server in plain text, meaning third parties such as hacker and governmental agencies will be able to intercept and read your data. In addition, the server doesn’t mask your IP address completely.
But one of the key advantages to using Smart DNS over a VPN tunnel is speed. VPN connections introduce a small amount of overhead through latency and the encryption/decryption process. As such, Smart DNS is more conditionally suited to support streaming video services, but not much else. In all honesty, as long as you have a decent processor and reasonable Internet connection, a VPN will be able to stream content just fine. Users are better off using a VPN service because of the added security benefits of encryption and IP address masking, but Smart DNS does have its merits as well.
SmartDNS Services – Top Picks:
ExpressVPN – Read Review
ExpressVPN is the obvious first choice given the quality of their service. Their servers are fast and reliable, complete with a 99% uptime guarantee and no bandwidth throttling or data limitations. Though they don’t have a free trial, they do offer a generous 30-day money back guarantee and host servers in 78 countries around the globe. To be clear, they offer SmartDNS in addition to their VPN service, so users will have everything they need to browse the web anonymously and securely. The only two drawbacks of their service are that they are based in the US and they cost more than most other providers.
IronSocket – Read Review
IronSocket also has an admirable SmartDNS service complete with a VPN to secure your data and help you to browse the web anonymously. Right now they have servers in 36 countries, but we expect them to expand as time marches forward. They offer a cost-effective service that allows users to connect up to 3 simultaneous connections per account, and they even have an adequate 7-day money back guarantee in absence of a free trial. Being one of the cheaper providers, you can get their service for only $4.16 per month.
OverPlay – Read Review
OverPlay provides the complete package with SmartDNS servers in addition to VPN servers, but they do cost a little bit more per month than many other providers ($9.95 per month). Right now they have servers in 48 countries and they offer fast speeds and flexible server connections with unlimited data and bandwidth. 24/7 customer support comes standard with their service model, and their software interface is pretty darn easy to use. OverPlay has a great SmartDNS service packaged with VPN servers to give users the highest level of security and anonymity.
ibVPN is a strong VPN service with SmartDNS servers that offer great security. Currently, they have servers in 39 countries, and the family plan permits as many as 3 simultaneous connections. Two of the best ancillary features include a moderate 15-day money back guarantee and a free trial that will give you a chance to test drive their service. In addition to fast and reliable servers, users will also love the fact that they are moderately priced. The cheapest package they offer is only $3.08 per month.
UnblockUs – Read Review
Despite the fact that their website lists their service as a “Smart VPN,” it is really nothing more than a SmartDNS service. That means that they don’t offer encryption, which I find to be a little misleading. However, the fact remains that they are still a viable alternative Smart DNS provider with fast servers that will help users around the globe unlock geo-restricted content. They are best for people looking for only a SmartDNS service without VPN tunnel services. However, I would recommend that users use a VPN tunnel in conjunction with Smart DNS – it’s just a better value.