How to troubleshoot your Windows VPN

If you have paid for a VPN service that isn’t working, it can be pretty infuriating. Some problems are caused server side, meaning you will need to communicate with your VPN provider to resolve them. The good news is that there are some problems that you can fix yourself on your Windows computer.

Our troubleshooting tips are primarily aimed at Windows 10 users. However, they will work if you are running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Despite this, we urge you to remember that older versions of Windows are no longer receiving vital security patches. For this reason, we recommend that you upgrade to Windows 10.

This troubleshooting guide is a general overview that applies to all VPNs. If you are experiencing a specific problem with your Windows VPN, it is always best to ask your VPN’s customer support team for help. They can provide direct support that relates to your specific VPN app.

Why is my VPN not working on Windows 10?

Before discussing fixes for each problem, we must first establish what issue you are facing. Below, you will find a list of the most common problems that Windows users experience when using a VPN:

  • VPN won’t connect.
  • OpenVPN connections are failing.
  • VPN isn’t changing my IP address.
  • VPN is leaking.
  • VPN is making my internet connection extremely slow.

VPN won’t connect

This is the most common problem that people experience when they install a VPN. If your VPN isn’t connecting, use the methods below to troubleshoot it. Remember to try connecting to your VPN after attempting each method.

Reboot your PC and modem

This is the easiest step to take and is often a quick fix that can get your VPN connection working. Always begin by restarting both your computer and your router. To ensure your router is reset correctly, unplug it and wait ten seconds before plugging it back in.

Check for VPN software updates

If you are using an out-of-date VPN application, it is possible that you need to update it. Check with your VPN provider to find out if you are running the latest version and either update the VPN or uninstall your current version and download a more recent client.

Update your router

If you are using an old router, it is possible that the firmware is out of date and is causing a conflict with your VPN application. To fix this, do some research online regarding your particular router model. If necessary, download and install the latest firmware updates. Following this, restart the device and then try to connect to your VPN network again.

Change the encryption protocol

Generally, we recommend that you use OpenVPN encryption, as this is most secure. However, sometimes settings related to OpenVPN (TAP or TUN driver conflicts) stop the VPN from connecting.

To find out whether your VPN is experiencing connection issues because of the encryption it is using, open your VPN client’s settings menu and test the following encryption protocols:

  • L2TP/IPsec
  • IKEv2
  • SSTP

If a VPN connection can be established successfully using a different protocol, you may need to use the OpenVPN troubleshooter we have included later in this guide. Alternatively, contact your provider to find out why the software is experiencing problems with a particular protocol.

Change the port or open the port manually in your router

Some VPN clients allow you to select which port you want to connect to the VPN with. Some common ports used by VPN protocols include UDP ports 1194, 8080, 9201 or 53 and TCP ports 443, 110, and 80. Other protocols may use other ports like 500, 1701, and 4500. If the VPN lets you switch ports, try a different port to see if this resolves the problem.

Alternatively, you could log in to your router’s admin panel and unblock any ports required by your VPN. To do this, enter the router’s local IP address in your browser, log in, and change the port settings as necessary.

Disable your antivirus or firewall

When you install a VPN on your computer, it is possible for the VPN to conflict with your firewall or antivirus. Normally, the VPN automatically updates your firewall settings when you install it to prevent conflicts (this ensures that the firewall isn’t blocking specific ports needed by the VPN).

To guarantee that your firewall or antivirus is not conflicting with your VPN, disable them one at a time and check to see if the VPN will connect.

If you discover that your firewall or antivirus is the reason that a connection is failing, add the VPN to the exceptions list in the firewall and the antivirus. This will allow you to use the VPN with your antivirus and firewall still running.

Remember that your firewall and antivirus are important for security purposes, so be sure to re-engage them after you have tested your VPN connection with them disabled.

Flush DNS and Clear Cache

If your VPN is having problems establishing a connection, it is worth clearing your VPN cache by flushing your DNS. Flushing the DNS can sometimes help if Windows is using cached DNS settings rather than the VPN's. To do so follow these simple steps:

  1. Type cmd in the Search box
  2. Right-click on Command Prompt
  3. Choose the Run as Administrator option
  4. In the window that opens, enter ipconfig /flushdns and press Enter.

Uninstall network adapters

Sometimes, network adapters may conflict and cause a VPN to malfunction. To fix this issue, uninstall the WAN Miniports on your machine and refresh them.

  1. Click on Start your search in the bottom left of your Windows taskbar.
  2. Type Device Manager and click the first result that comes up
  3. Go to Network Adapters and expand the selection
  4. Right click on the WAN Miniport that you want to uninstall and select Uninstall device.
    Check with your VPN if you are confused about which ones to delete. However, most people who have this problem find they can fix it by uninstalling either:  WAN Miniport (IP), WAN Miniport (IPv6) and WAN Miniport (PPTP), and WAN Miniport (SSTP).
  5. Once you have uninstalled the WAN Miniports, click on Action > Scan for hardware changes
  6. The WAN Miniports that you need should now return to the menu.
    Try connecting to your VPN to see if this has resolved your connection problems.

OpenVPN connections are failing

If your VPN is specifically failing to connect using OpenVPN encryption, it is possible that you have conflicting TAP or TUN drivers installed. People that use a lot of different VPN services - and fail to uninstall VPN clients as they go along - often end up with conflicting drivers on their machine. To fix this problem:

  1. Open Control Panel
  2. Select Uninstall a program
  3. One at a time, select any old VPN clients that you still have installed and uninstall them
  4. Next, uninstall your current VPN (the one you want to work)
  5. Now search your installed programs list for TAP-Windows drivers and uninstall those also
  6. Now, reinstall your current VPN client. This will install the VPN and the correct TAP drivers
  7. Log in and connect to your VPN

My VPN isn’t changing my IP address

The first thing to do is to check that you are properly connected to the VPN. Next, check to see whether your IP address is being changed using our IP testing tool.

If the VPN is connected, and it is failing to change your IP address when you connect, the VPN is not working. It could be that your VPN provider is rubbish, in which we recommend you subscribe to a better service.

Should your VPN be reputable, it will be necessary to talk to the VPN’s customer service to try to discover why it is failing to work. In the event they can’t help you, ask for your money back and subscribe to a service that works.

My VPN is leaking

A VPN is supposed to provide privacy by concealing your data in an encrypted tunnel. This stops your ISP, local network administrators, and the government from being able to track your online browsing habits. If your VPN is leaking, then you will need to either fix the issue or get a new VPN. (If you don’t know how to check for leaks, don't worry, you can use our VPN leak testing tool.)

Disable IPV6

Many VPNs are not yet set up to work over IPv6, which can cause the VPN to leak your real IP address. To fix this issue, disable IPv6 connections from inside Windows to default back to IPv4.

  1. Open Network and Internet Settings
  2. Click the option Change adapter options
  3. Right-click on your active Local Area Connection and go to Properties.
  4. Scroll down and uncheck the option Internet Protocol version 6
  5. Click OK to save the changes

Disable WebRTC

If you are suffering from WebRTC leaks, try disabling WebRTC in your browser or using a WebRTC blocking extension such as Easy WebRTC Block to solve the problem. Once the extension is installed, you should no longer suffer from browser-based WebRTC leaks.

My VPN is slowing my internet connection

Not all VPNs are created equally. Some VPN providers use poor networks built with slow or congested VPN servers. If your VPN is slow, the first thing you should do is to try connecting to a different server. Some servers may be faster than others. In addition, it is worth connecting to a server that is closer to you, as that should provide faster speeds.

If after trying a few different servers the VPN is still slow, test a different encryption protocol. OpenVPN UDP and IKEv2 are secure VPN protocols that are considered fast, so try these. If your VPN still slows down your traffic considerably, you are currently subscribed to a slow VPN service and you need to switch providers in favor of a fast VPN.

How to test a VPN is working on Windows

The most important test you need to run on your VPN is a leak test. You can use our handy VPN leak test tool to find out if your VPN works correctly. In addition, you should check whether your VPN contains malware.

Testing a VPN for Malware

A study published in 2016 by CSIRO revealed that a huge number of VPNs (particularly free VPNs) contain malware. Among the offending VPN clients, all manner of unwanted spyware, tracking libraries, and other unwanted malicious code were found buried inside the apps.

We highly recommend scanning the software for malware before installing it, particularly for those that download a relatively unknown VPN. CSIRO relied on the free online tool VirusTotal to check VPNs apps for malware, and we recommend that you do the same. To do so, simply head to the website, select the file for the VPN you want to check and perform the scan.

Remember that while antivirus protection like Malwarebytes is good (and will scan your whole system); VirusTotal scans a bunch of online antivirus services. In fact, VirusTotal is better for scanning individual files for problematic code.

Finally, please remember that free VPNs are an easy way to open yourself up to severe security issues. The vast majority have very serious flaws, terrible privacy policies, outdated encryption (or none at all), and may contain tracking libraries, spyware, and malware. It is vital that you stick only to one of our recommended services if you do use a free VPN.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

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