In late 2016, hackers were able to successfully pull off one of the world’s largest cyber attacks not through cracking some convoluted code, but by using everyday internet-enabled gadgets like DVRs, routers, and webcams. Dyn, a popular internet management company, reported blackouts immediately after its servers were stormed with thousands of fake requests.
The hackers were able to overrun the company’s servers through a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, where hackers were able to commandeer seemingly harmless internet devices and use them to shut down Dyn’s DNS servers. Within minutes the successful hack led to blackouts across the US, instantly shutting down sites like Spotify, Twitter, PayPal, and more.
What is DNS, you ask. It’s more important than you think! We will see what DNS actually stands for, how it works and what you can do to prevent DNS leaks and prevent your personal information from falling into wrong hands.
What Does DNS Stand for And How Does It Work?
DNS stands for “domain name system”. It’s an easy and effective way for your browser to connect to other servers around the world. Every time you type a webpage into a search bar, DNS is used to connect your browser to that page. It’s basically the internet version of the yellow pages.
Your web browser is constantly using DNS to connect to other sites. Unfortunately, DNS protocols aren’t particularly safe, and anyone with the ability to see your network traffic – whether it’s your ISP, hackers, or otherwise – can see which sites you visit and which apps you’re using.
The Rise of Internet-Enabled Devices
Experts say that the number of internet-connected devices around the world will rise from 15 billion today to a whopping 21 billion by the year 2020. Soon, everything you own will be WiFi enabled. But while this increased inter-connectivity may make your live easier, you run the risk of even more privacy breaches.
In fact, even today internet-ready devices like smart TVs, smart thermostats, and even smart toasters (yes, toasters) come with very little privacy settings. What’s worse, most consumers don’t even realize just how vulnerable these devices really are.
Since the majority of these devices will be under the same WiFi network, most will share the same DNS. That means the amount of DNS information going from one device to the next increases exponentially, making it even easier for hackers to use one device to access another. By connecting your smart fridge to your Gmail account, you run the risk of your fridge actually exposing your email passwords to potential onlookers.
Using a VPN to Prevent DNS Leaks
Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent onlookers from seeing your DNS requests. By using a VPN (virtual private network), you’re able to hide your IP address while assuming another IP in the country or city of your choice.
The great thing about using a VPN is that as soon as you’re connected, you’re able to browse the web freely and anonymously. You’re even able to browse sites that may have been blocked before, which is why a lot of people in countries with heavy internet restrictions like China use them to bypass firewalls.
We’ve made a list of the best VPN services you can use, and none were as effective and reliable as ExpressVPN. They offer VPN servers in over 145 cities around the world, and they’re a vocal privacy advocate. They never keep logs, they host their own Tor servers, and they’re the only VPN company we know of to offer their own DNS leak checker.
Other VPN Uses
In addition to protecting your online information, VPNs are also great for streaming and torrenting. Because you’re able to use a VPN to browse anonymously, your ISP can’t see which sites you’re looking at, which in turn prevents them from putting restrictions on the content you’re downloading. VPN server speeds tend to vary, so if you’re simply looking to download content it may be better to connect to the closest VPN location available.
VPNs are also used to unblock various sites and services like Hulu and Netflix outside the US. By connecting to a VPN server in the States, people all over the world can browse US-only streaming libraries. A nifty trick if your country’s own Netflix library is lacking.
Believe it or not, VPNs can also help you save money on services bought online. Because some sites actually charge users more based on their location, connecting to a VPN server in another country or city can actually help you save on hotels, car rentals, and even flights. One Gizmodo author was able to save over $100 on his flight by using a VPN.
If not properly monitored, DNS leaks can lead to a whole host of problems. Whether you want to protect your privacy, unblock websites, or simply stream and download content, make sure you keep your information safe and prevent DNS leaks by using a VPN.