What is Double VPN and when should you use it?
Double VPN is a feature that uses two VPN servers instead of one. Also known as multi-hop, this VPN server chaining method gives extra security and privacy. Despite that, the majority of VPN providers don't have this option. Why is Double VPN not popular? Which services offer it? I'll answer these and other questions in this article.
What is Double VPN?
As its name says, Double VPN is a feature that allows you to use not one but two VPN servers. Such a multi-hop connection comes with double encryption and extra security for your IP address. One important difference from a regular VPN connection is that often you don't get much choice between servers and have to pick from the available pairs.
Double VPN is not a common feature. Actually, the majority of providers don't have it. The reasoning behind this is comparably low popularity due to a significantly slower connection. When your traffic runs through two VPN servers located in different countries thousands of miles apart, the slow down becomes inevitable. Also, using double encryption is especially resource-demanding.
Despite all the cons, Double VPN can be a valuable option, especially for certain groups of people. If you're a political activist or a journalist writing on sensitive topics, extra security is always a good idea. From this standpoint, using two different VPNs might be even safer.
Pros and cons of using Double VPN
Even though Double VPN increases security, contrary to a kill switch or leak protection, it's still not a mandatory feature. Any service that doesn't have multi-hop can still be named the best VPN. Clearly, there must be some cons that stop Double VPN from becoming a must-have. But let's start on a high note instead.
The pros of Double VPN
In general, Double VPN gives you extra security and privacy. The list below explains how it does so in more detail:
- Double-encryption. Two VPN servers encrypt your traffic, making it virtually uncrackable.
- Extra IP. The second server hides the IP of the first server that hides your real IP address.
- Blinding your ISP. While your Internet Service Provider will know that you have turned the VPN on, the target website will remain an enigma.
- Whereabouts unknown. Double VPN servers are usually in different countries to better mask your traffic. Multi-hop puts more layers between your virtual location and your real one.
- Protocol cocktail. You can further enhance your security by mixing the TCP and UDP versions of the OpenVPN tunneling protocol.
The cons of Double VPN
Double VPN was never intended to be used by default. That's why many providers still don't have or even aren't planning to implement it. For example, if you want to torrent safely or unblock a streaming platform like Netflix, you can do just fine without multi-hop. However, if you decide to use it, don't forget about these disadvantages:
- Slower speeds. This is the biggest drawback of Double VPN. You probably know already that a regular VPN connection reduces speed, so when you add a second server and extra encryption, those Mbps can get pretty low. Therefore, if you want to watch 4K movies and download big files faster, leave Double VPN turned off.
- No Tor over VPN. You can't use these features together. While it's possible to surf the web with the Tor browser and Double VPN turned on, the speed will be slower than a limping snail.
- Power consumption. Again, this disadvantage doesn't apply to the plugged-in devices, but you should expect a faster battery drain on mobile.
- Server choice. Top Virtual Private Networks offer at least 50 countries to choose from. Sadly, with Double VPN, the available server list is greatly reduced.
To sum up, the main drawbacks of Double VPN are reduced speed and poor server selection. On the other hand, if you have a fast connection, you might not suffer from a significant speed drop-off. As for the lack of server options, you'll get the most popular destinations, such as the US or the Netherlands, which will be enough for most users.
How does Double VPN work?
The main idea behind Double VPN is to hide your IP address better and encrypt your traffic two times. Technically, one can extend the VPN server chain by adding more servers and thus creating triple or even quadruple VPNs. However, such configurations often have more cons than pros.
To better understand how Double VPN works, let's take a look at a regular connection first:
- A VPN app encrypts your traffic and sends it to a VPN server
- The server decrypts your traffic and hides your IP
- The server sends unencrypted traffic to the designated target
- In the reverse process, you get the response from the target
Let's see what happens when we turn on Double VPN feature:
- A VPN app encrypts your traffic and sends it to the 1st VPN server
- The 1st server encrypts your traffic again and hides your IP
- The 1st server sends double-encrypted traffic to the 2nd VPN server
- The 2nd server decrypts your traffic and sends it to the designated target
- In the reverse process, you get the response from the target
As a result, your traffic gets encrypted two times, and the destination website or service sees your second VPN server's IP address.
Unfortunately, some providers claim to offer Double VPN while, in reality, they don't use double-encryption. Instead, each server decrypts your data, decreasing the level of security as hacking one of the two servers would be enough to intercept the traffic. On the bright side, your IP address still remains unknown beyond the first VPN server.
Is Double VPN safer than a regular VPN connection?
Double VPN is safer than a regular VPN connection even if the provider doesn't use double-encryption. To start with, your IP address is hidden behind not one but two VPN servers. What's more, double-encryption makes any brute-force attack virtually pointless.
Another reason why Double VPN is much safer when compared to a regular VPN connection is the data split. When you're connected to one VPN server, it has your IP address and traffic destination. With Double VPN, one server has the IP but not your destination while the other has your destination but not the IP.
In the end, Double VPN is as safe as your VPN is. It should have a strict no-logs policy; otherwise, there's no reason to use two logging servers when you can use one. That's why the best idea is to choose a provider that has been independently-audited or had its policy proven by the court.
You should also pick a VPN with RAM-only servers – these simply cannot log your traffic. Finally, look for a privacy-friendly jurisdiction, leak protection, and a solid kill switch.
When do you need Double VPN?
When old people look back at their lives, rarely do they regret not using Double VPN. And that's perfectly fine. However, there are a few scenarios when this feature comes handy:
- Securing public wifi. While a regular VPN connection is good for that, Double VPN is even better. A public wifi hotspot has weak protection and many users. That's why hackers love them. Therefore, encrypting your traffic not once but twice is a good idea.
- Avoiding surveillance. Some governments spy on their citizens. You don't want your traffic available to any third-party, and Double VPN helps prevent that. After all, getting caught visiting blocked sites or downloading illegal content is not at the top of anyone's priority list.
- Journalism and activism. If you write about sensitive topics or take political action to change the status quo, chances are some people or organizations would like to see you fail. To shatter their dreams, you should protect yourself, your colleagues, and your sources online. Using Double VPN, you get extra security and privacy plus access to blocked web resources.
Difference between Double VPN and VPN over VPN
Generally speaking, Double VPN and VPN over VPN is very similar. In both cases, you connect to two VPN servers instead of one. The only difference is that Double VPN uses two servers of the same provider, and VPN over VPN, as the name implies, uses one server from each provider.
However, there are some instances when this small difference can prove to be vital. Imagine a VPN service that logs data is raided by law enforcement, demanding user data. So when you connect to two servers, all of your data, including the IP address, is up for grabs.
Enter VPN over VPN. In this scenario, the compromised provider has only a piece of your data. It can be either your real IP or your destination. Separately, they cannot hold anything incriminating against you because, as an old proverb says, IP and traffic go together like love and marriage.
Running two VPNs at the same time is not a bad idea. While it will cost you more, this gives you the power to keep your eggs in really separate baskets. That's unless both VPNs are in the same country, which makes it easier for the government or another third-party to snoop on your traffic.
There are some problems with using two services for multi-hop, though. The providers aren't building their software to work this way, so you might be unable to launch different VPN clients simultaneously. I explain this in more detail in the following chapter.
How to create your own Double VPN setup
If you're lucky, using two VPNs at the same time will mean simply launching one after another. The first one will have your real IP address, while the second one will know where your traffic is going.
If you're less lucky, there will be some tweaking to do before using Double VPN. One reason why it won't work is a conflict between security protocols. A possible solution is to choose different ones. For example, if your first VPN uses IKEv2, you should try OpenVPN or any other tunneling protocol.
In case you're already using different protocols and still unable to establish a Double VPN connection, I advise installing the services on different devices. That's because the virtual network cards used by VPNs might be causing issues. The easiest option is to install a second client on a wifi router. If that's not possible, I suggest setting up a Virtual Machine.
Another way to solve VPN over VPN connectivity issues is by using a VPN app together with a browser extension. But first, make sure that the latter comes with encryption because not all proxies do that. However, this usually means that the double-encryption will apply to your browser traffic only.
More VPN features for maximum protection
As mentioned above, Double VPN alone won't guarantee your security and privacy. The provider has to have a true no-logs policy and no affiliation with governmental institutions. Furthermore, it has to make sure that no one can tamper with its servers.
There are also a few standard VPN features that you should look at when choosing the provider. First and foremost, it should have a reliable kill switch. This is essential in case your VPN connection drops, which may result in exposing your IP address.
Another feature you should look for is Tor over VPN. While using it together with Double VPN might be a bit too much, it's a great alternative in case you cannot use the latter.
Double VPN is a powerful feature that gives you extra security and privacy. It's not that popular because of the toll it takes on your connection, but the double-encryption makes you much safer online.
Therefore, if you live in a country where internet freedom is restricted, or you're a journalist writing about a sensitive topic, then Double VPN may be your best bet on staying anonymous. Even if you "have nothing to hide," turning on this feature when on public wifi is recommended.
Few providers offer this feature, but those that do are generally reputable companies. They probably won't log traffic and are serious about protecting their customers. In case a VPN with multi-hop is unavailable, you can try combining two separate apps or use a browser extension instead of a second one.
Thinking of trying out a VPN service? Read one of our VPN guides or reviews
Can I use two VPNs at the same time?
You can, it's possible to use two different VPN service provider clients to form a joined VPN connection. Keep in mind that such a configuration might not be very optimal and be prone to various incompatibilities.
Is double VPN worth it?
If you absolutely must make sure that no one is snooping on your data, it might be an option. Even though it's a bit overkill, it should add a reasonable degree of safety barrier that should be impenetrable by hackers or even your ISP.
Which is safer Onion over VPN or double VPN?
Using Onion over VPN is safer than double VPN because it passes your connection through multiple nodes. So, your connection is encrypted and goes through a minimum of three nodes. This means that ultimately the chain is longer. However, both options are very safe.
Does a kill switch work with double VPN?
With most default configurations using a double VPN with a kill switch will terminate the connection when at least one of the servers goes down. It means that you will not be exposed and can reliably stay safe.