OS VPN Leaks: Why They Happen And How To Prevent Exposure

Apple’s iPad is one of the most popular and widely used handheld devices used by millions. As you would expect from Apple, these devices offer top-notch performance and excellent features. However, there’s always room for improvement in technology and that’s why it has experienced massive growth during the past couple of decades.

Coming back to iPads, an error that was triggering VPN leaks on iOS was initially detected in 2020. Unfortunately, it has recently reemerged. If you have also faced this issue while using your VPN for iPad or iPhone, stay put and find out more about these iOS VPN leaks. We will discuss things like what is the reason behind these leaks, what data is leaking exactly, and what can you do to prevent the exposure.

So, let’s get started!

iOS VPN leaks defined

Though using a VPN app on an iPad or iPhone should shield your web traffic and prevent your local IP from detection, faults in Apple’s mobile OS permit data leaks in certain circumstances. While such leaks need a certain set of conditions, iOS allows:

  1. Operations that begin prior to VPN activation to keep transferring data outside the encrypted tunnel of the VPN
  2. Third-party programs to circumvent the VPN connection and access the user’s true mobile IP
  3. Apple circumvents the VPN with its built-in products

The first issue was detected by ProtonVPN in 2020, and the second by Disconnect during March 2022. And, professional security analyst, Michael Horowitz, identified the third IP leak during the month of May.

These VPN leaks in iOS are caused by the way iOS manages internet connections. Here, the main problem is that Apple’s iOS, not the client VPN provider, selects the default route via which data travels.

iOS VPN leak behavior likely to happen 

In a statement to security expert Michael Horowitz, it was acknowledged by Apple that the scope of iOS VPN leaks was intentional and provided a bunch of solutions. Sadly, these recommendations cannot be implemented now.

Apple recommended that the feature of ‘Always On VPN’ in Mobile Device Management might provide a workaround. MDM, however, is not accessible to clients or retail VPN apps. In addition, Apple also emphasized the importance of using a reliable VPN for multiple devices to ensure secure and private internet connections across all devices.

Apple also suggested an API feature for programmers to handle VPN traffic called “includeAllNetworks.”

This new feature is a toggle switch that determines if iOS transmits all data over the VPN connection or otherwise. If the toggle is switched to the ‘ON’ position and the VPN service fails, iOS terminates all network connections, like a kill switch.

But, setting a toggle button to compel all traffic to travel via the VPN channel does not perform effectively. Apple keeps separate ongoing connection methods apart from the app area setting. Because these requirements are not adjustable, programmers have only minimal power to modify them.

Different forms of iOS VPN leaks and their temporary fixes

Under certain conditions, three types of iOS VPN leaks may happen. While the VPN apps continue to investigate a durable fix to such iOS VPN leaks, we have done our research to uncover fixes that VPN users may employ to help address this problem temporarily.

Prevailing connections leaks

The major concern, and the one that has sparked the greatest debate, is the database connection leaks. Long-standing established connections might continue to transmit traffic even after the VPN channel is established. This is most common with services and apps that necessitate a set-up to begin before the channel is created like downloads.

Temporary Fix

This type of iOS IP leak is caused by the activities that occur before or during the connection of your VPN. To solve the problem, just stop your smartphone from connecting till the VPN is configured.

Before you do anything online, be sure to activate your VPN. Then, on your phone, reboot any established connections. In practice, this might look like this:

  • Connect to a VPN.
  • Turn on Airplane mode.
  • Turn off Airplane mode.

Smartphone IP address leaks to external apps

This issue is related to the smart apps installed on your iOS device. Data can be sent over mobile networks by third-party apps. This indicates that any foreign iOS developer may obtain a user’s local mobile IP address, circumventing the VPN completely.

Although this is because of Apple’s design, it’s not entirely bad news. This implies that phones without mobile services are unphased. Furthermore, any application that uses this feature can only impair its built-in data. Thus, an iOS programmer can only retrieve your true mobile IP when you use their app.

Temporary Fix

With this IP leak, your mobile service IP might be exposed to external services. As a temporary workaround, turn off your phone network prior to securing your network’s Wi-Fi connectivity with a VPN. This is not an alternative if you already have a Wi-Fi connection.

There isn’t any fix for the leak if you rely on your smartphone’s network when using a VPN on your iPhone. So, it is important to only download services that you confide in.

Apple device’s traffic skips VPNs

Apple apps on iOS devices can simply skip the VPN entirely. The firm previously argued that its data being VPN-excused is “anticipated,” but that raises the issue of either it ought to be expected or not.

It’s important to remember that only Apple’s data, including software updates, email, and notifications, flows outside the VPN.

Temporary Fix

Worse still, in most cases, there isn’t a 100% excellent solution for this type of iOS leak.

If it is feasible to access a router for VPN, an encoded connection at that tier might prohibit any data, particularly Apple’s, from leaking. Nevertheless, this demands a very optimal configuration, which is not possible for most people or situations.

Employer-issued devices with an “Always-on VPN” function from mobile device management (MDM) can also avoid this type of iOS leak. However, this function is only available to enterprise applications. Users cannot adopt this, nor can VPN services expand it in future software releases.

Why is it recommended to keep using a VPN app on iOS?

While some may argue that VPN for iOS is pointless owing to such leaks, such an argument is flawed. VPN apps are used regularly to encrypt connections over public Wi-Fi, safeguard data from ISPs, and avoid censorship. The techniques that permit data to leak outside a VPN connection are particular and don’t interfere with the primary activities of a VPN.

When there’s a VPN connection established, all HTTP data is encrypted as well as directed via that VPN. iOS then protects any ongoing connections using its built-in encryption technique by default.

Although these iOS flaws are disappointing, VPNs nevertheless significantly improve the security and privacy of your data. If you want Apple to solve this problem, you may contact them directly and write a note.

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