VPNs, as we all know, are wonderfully sophisticated little tools that will work wonders for your overall online privacy and security. But they aren’t perfect. I don’t care which service provider you use, which hardware you employ, or if you’re using the latest Cisco solution for your VPN tunnel. The bottom line is that no matter how reliable your VPN service provider is, sometimes a VPN tunnel is going to fail. While it may be rare, it does certainly happen.
Connectivity issues with your ISP, and overburdened VPN server, or a configuration mismatch could all play a key role in causing a VPN tunnel to crash. It’s just the inherent nature of online services and on the surface it may only sound like a minor inconvenience. Once your VPN tunnel goes down, all you have to do is reconnect it, either with the same server as before or with a new server. No harm done, right? The ugly truth is that if your VPN tunnel drops, you could be in a world of hurt.
Not only is your data naked for the entire Internet to see (unless the site you’re connecting to uses HTTPS), but your data could be intercepted and read by hackers and governmental agencies. This could result in harsh consequences if you’re traveling or living in a country that heavily censors the Internet. In addition, this could be terrible for BitTorrent and P2P downloaders. If your download continues after your VPN tunnel has dropped, ISPs will be able to see your data, and other downloaders will be able to see your true IP address.
If you live in an area of the world that has harsh copyright enforcement laws or bans the downloading of torrent files, all it would take is one tunnel drop for you to risk everything. Though VPN services are fantastic at providing the peace of mind that you’re secure online, they are flawed, especially when they fail. Instead of risking routing your data through the public Internet in an unencrypted format, remember to keep the following in mind to protect either your entire computer or selected types of Internet traffic.
Use a VPN Kill-Switch
A Kill-Switch will essentially shut down your Internet traffic in the event of a VPN failure. While this may not sound like an advantage at first, just imagine how useful it could be during a long Torrent download. If your VPN failed during a download, the Kill-Switch would prevent torrents from being downloaded without encryption – and all automatically as well. Within the Kill-Switch’s features, you can selectively determine which types of traffic you want to shut down in the event of a VPN failure.
Built-In VPN Disconnect Protection
Though not all VPN providers have this incredibly useful feature, it is becoming more common. In my personal opinion, all VPN services should be responsible for having built-in protection to detect any drops and instantly block all traffic. The VPN client itself will usually have an option to disable the network disconnect kill switch, but is generally left on as a default security measure. The following providers currently include a kill-switch mechanism within their software:
Optionally, you also have the option of creating your own custom kill-switch by using the Comodo Firewall. There are other ways to create custom switches, but if you plan on using a VPN client, and are concerned about drops and traffic leaks, there is no reason to use a service provider that lacks this option.
Use the Vuze Client
To be perfectly honest, there are a lot of quality torrent clients out there, but they’re not all equal. Some were designed to be lightweight and streamlined for faster downloads. However, other clients were created to be feature rich, chock full of security settings, and help protect privacy. If you want to protect yourself from VPN failure, I’d highly recommend the Vuze client.
The latest versions include a handy little tool that let’s the client know whether or not you’re using a VPN tunnel, and then it makes some intelligent decisions based on your configuration. If it discovers that the user is not using a VPN tunnel for downloads, it will even post a popup-box warning. To check that this setting is enabled, use the following steps:
1. Connect your VPN tunnel. Open Vuze, and browse to Tools, Options, and the find the User Proficiency section. Make sure it is set to “Advanced.”
2. Browse to Connection, Advanced Network Settings, and then find the your VPN connection. It will likely be labeled with a tag similar to PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, tun0, or Tap-Win32 Adapter. Then, click the option labeled “Bind to local Ip address or interface.”
3. Make sure you enable the checkbox labeled “Enforce IP bindings.”
4. At the bottom of the Vuze client, you should see a green routing icon that indicates things are setup and working correctly. Test by disconnecting your VPN tunnel, and if everything is working correctly, the icon should change to red and your torrent downloads will cease.
VPNetMon is yet another utility that will help manage and monitor your VPN connection. One of its key features is to monitor the IP address of your VPN tunnel. If it detects changes or an IP address other than your VPN IP, it will shutdown any programs and traffic sources that you choose.
Though VPN kill-switches are handy in their own right, there are a lot of other tools that you can use to protect yourself in the event of a VPN failure. For torrents, I would highly recommend Vuze, but if you already have a torrent client that you favor, you may want to use a VPN service provider that includes a kill-switch in their service.
Furthermore, if you already have a VPN service that lacks a kill-switch, you can simply create your own using free software. Lastly, just realize that you should have some kind of backup plan to protect yourself in the event of a VPN failure. It’s not a question of if a VPN connection will go down, but rather when it will go down – even if you have a quality and reliable provider.