Do you want to browse the Internet while protecting your security and privacy? You need to contend with multiple risks since governments, “Internet Service Providers” (ISP), and cyber-criminals can track your online activities. Various factors might leak your personal information, and a WebRTC leak is one of them. What is a WebRTC leak? How does it happen and what are its impacts? How can you prevent a WebRTC leak? Read on, as we explain all of these.
What is WebRTC?
Let’s start with the basics and understand what WebRTC is. “Web Real-Time Communication” (WebRTC) is an open-source project. This project offers WebRTC, an open-source tool. Popular web browsers can use WebRTC to offer voice, video chat, and P2P (“Peer-to-Peer”) sharing without any additional browser extension.
Browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. use WebRTC to form real-time P2P connections with websites that you visit. This enables you to exchange live audio and video feeds with another individual online, and you only use the browser for this. You don’t download any other software to do this.
Any website can plug-in this open-source protocol. It can then make a real-time P2P connection with you if you permit. WebRTC sets up a special communication channel between the website and the browser.
What is a WebRTC leak?
The WebRTC protocol gets to know your IP address. Towards this, it uses the “Interactive Connectivity Establishment” (ICE) protocol.
WebRTC can find out your IP address in the following ways too:
· By using a STUN (“Session Traversal of User Diagram Protocol Through Network Address Translators) server that can see the IP address;
· By using a TURN (“Traversal Using Relay Network Address Translator) server, which can give away your IP address.
A WebRTC communication channel exchanges information including your IP address between the browser and the website. The website finds out your IP address even without your knowledge.
A web browser might make the communication request in a way that bypasses the “XMLHttpRequest” API (“Application Programming Interface). This commonly-used API transfers information between web servers and web browsers.
What happens when this API is bypassed? Well, the communication request doesn’t appear on the developer console. Popular plugins like “AdBlockPlus” or “Ghostery” can’t block these communication requests either.
WebRTC communication channels can do more! You might use a VPN (“Virtual Private Network”) to browse the Internet. VPNs typically establish an encrypted tunnel. However, the WebRTC communication channels might bypass this encrypted tunnel.
What risks do WebRTC leaks pose?
WebRTC leaks essentially expose your IP address. This can facilitate authoritative states that don’t respect privacy to track your online activities. ISPs can monitor your browsing habits. Finally, cybercriminals can snoop on you.
Note that the functions of WebRTC that expose your IP address are included in the basic functions of this protocol. You can’t really prevent those functions from running. Software developers or users trying to prevent these leaks have the following 2 options only:
· Disabling WebRTC: This will obviously stop you from utilizing the useful features of this popular open-source protocol.
· Prevent the leaks: This involves complex configurations or even programming.
You might think that using a VPN can mitigate them. VPNs promise to mask your real IP address. They implement a range of security solutions including encryption. That might not mitigate the risk of WebRTC leaks though, and that’s due to the following reasons:
· Most VPNs can prevent IP and DNS leaks, however, many of them can’t prevent WebRTC leaks.
· VPNs that can’t prevent WebRTC leaks often maintain silence in this regard.
· Some VPNs don’t offer a free trial, therefore, you can’t find out in advance whether they prevent WebRTC leaks.
As you can see, using any VPN might not prevent WebRTC leaks.
How to prevent WebRTC leaks?
You would obviously want to prevent WebRTC leaks since you want online security and privacy. The first step is to test whether you are vulnerable to WebRTC leaks. Use a commonly available tool to test this, e.g., WebRTC leak test from BrowserLeaks. If it shows your real IP address, then you are vulnerable to WebRTC leaks.
Those are the following options to effectively stop WebRTC leaks.
1. Use a VPN that transparently declares that it prevents WebRTC leaks.
We would suggest browsing within our VPN reviews to find out which VPNs prevent WebRTC leaks. Market-leading VPNs invest plenty of effort to design and develop their security solutions to prevent such leaks, and they typically declare their capabilities prominently.
E.g., NordVPN, ExpressVPN and many others can prevent WebRTC leaks. Connect to the VPN and run a WebRTC leak test again. The test results shouldn’t show your real IP, which indicates that the VPN prevented WebRTC leaks.
This option is the simplest one that you can find. We recommend this option for users that aren’t tech-savvy. Market-leading VPNs typically offer free trials, therefore, you can easily test whether it prevents WebRTC leaks.
2. Blocking WebRTC leaks by yourself
We now talk about the harder option! You can prevent WebRTC leaks by yourself, however, it takes quite a bit of effort. We don’t recommend this option if you aren’t a tech-savvy user.
Different web browsers have different ways to block WebRTC leaks. The level of complexity varies depending on the browser you use.
In the case of Chrome, you can use an extension called the “WebRTC Leak Prevent”. This extension modifies the security and privacy settings of WebRTC, however, it doesn’t disable it.
In the case of Firefox, you need to disable WebRTC. You can do that using Firefox extensions. “Disable WebRTC” by Chris Antaki is an example of such extensions.
Leading VPNs often provide documentation for disabling WebRTC on Firefox manually, and you can follow them. E.g. NordVPN provides a guide to disable WebRTC on Firefox.
You can disable WebRTC on Safari too, however, you need to do that manually. The above-mentioned guide from NordVPN provides instructions for this.
There are other VPNs that don’t prevent WebRTC leaks, however, they provide guides so that you can block such leaks. They might publish such guides on their website. Alternatively, you need to ask their customer support team for guidance.
WebRTC is a useful open-source tool and many browsers use it to facilitate live audio and video calls. However, WebRTC can expose your IP address. This poses online security risks. Some VPNs might not be able to prevent WebRTC leaks. Read our VPN reviews to find VPNs that prevent WebRTC leaks or guide you to prevent them.