VPN technologies and configurations have evolved over the years, bringing innovative features designed to address modern problems and challenges that the average internet user today faces.
Double VPN, though not a new idea by any means, has recently become more popular after some notable VPN providers started offering this configuration as a built-in feature in their clients.
But what exactly is Double VPN, what are the different types of this form of VPN connection, and most importantly, what are the benefits you can expect with a Double VPN configuration?
These are common questions in the minds of VPN users that have heard of the term “Double VPN”, but are in the dark about its underlying mechanisms in detail.
This article is an attempt to educate users about what the fancy-sounding Double VPN is all about.
What does Double VPN do?
The concept behind double VPN is extremely simple: instead of having your internet traffic move through one VPN server, a double VPN connection directs your traffic through two VPN servers, encrypting your data twice.
The journey of your internet traffic in a double VPN setup looks like this: data from the user’s device is encrypted and sent to the first VPN server. This server encrypts your data once again and redirects it to a second VPN server (which itself may or may not encrypt it again, depending on the length of your VPN chain), The second server finally decrypts your data and then forwards it to the destination server (the website you want to visit) securely.
Since there are two servers involved, your IP address is changed twice and your online footprint is scattered over two separate, remotely located servers rather than just one in addition to repeating the encryption process twice. This configuration adds to your security significantly but the extra encryption comes at the cost of speed.
This covers the basic concept of double VPN.
Types of Double VPN/Multihop Configuration
Essentially, Double VPN is a form of VPN chaining also known as VPN cascading or multihop. In a double VPN configuration, the chain consists of two VPN servers. But this concept can be expanded on to form a VPN chain consisting of multiple VPN connections, all joined together as a network.
In these “multihopping” configurations, your VPN traffic can flow through three, four, and even more separate VPNs before reaching the final destination.
Commonly, two modes of multihopping are used: cascading and nested chains.
Cascaded VPN Connection
The cascade VPN connection type typically refers to a setup where two or more VPN servers from one main VPN service are used. In this configuration, your traffic travels through multiple different servers from the same provider before reaching the end destination. With every server or “hop”, a new IP address is assigned to you.
Generally, the more servers you route traffic through, the more times your IP address will shuffle. Note that there is multiplicity of servers in a cascade type connection, but the VPN service or provider is single.
Nested Chain Connection
In a nested chain connection, more than one VPN services are used to form the connection. That is, the services of two or more separate providers are used and then configured in a way so that one VPN works on top of the others.
Nested chain configuration is more complicated to setup than others and it requires some technical know-how in order to establish successfully. As such, it is not as common as cascaded systems.
Difference between Onion over VPN and DoubleVPN/Multihop
It is not only VPN servers that can be cascaded in a series to form a more secretive layer of internet connection. Another common method for accessing the web in relatively greater privacy and anonymity is through Tor browser.
Tor is short for The Onion Router, and it is basically a decentralized network of nodes that encrypt your traffic repeatedly, scattering your footprint, and boosting your security through a series of encryptions.
Generally, Tor is more popular against bloggers and journalists that are intimidated by the government for reporting any story or issue that might be critical or offensive to the powers that be.
It is possible to combine the power of Tor and VPN together to enhance your web security and privacy to level higher than any of these two technologies could provide if used alone. This is chaining of VPN and Tor is branded as Onion over VPN by some providers like NordVPN.
Onion over VPN differs from double VPN and multihop connections. In Onion over VPN, user data flows through a VPN network and an onion network – two separate technologies. However, a double VPN or multihop is a configuration consisting of entirely of VPN servers with no involvement of any onion nodes.
This is the key difference between these two types of network chaining.
Setting up Double VPN
There are several double VPN configuration options that encompass a range of difficulty levels.
1. Use a VPN with Built-in Double VPN Functionality
The easiest way is to use a VPN service that is equipped with the double VPN feature as part of its package. Activating this feature will allow you to connect to one server as the entry node and the second server as the exit node.
For example, with double VPN enabled, a provider will allow you to connect through a server chain consisting of a Netherlands-Switzerland connection. This means that your traffic will first enter the Netherlands server and then be routed to the destination server through Switzerland, getting assigned two different IPs through each stage in the connection.
2. VPN + Router Connection
If you don’t have a VPN that with built-in double VPN functionality, then a VPN + router combination can be used to setup double VPN connection.
This method involves setting up a VPN on your router, and then on your device. In this setup, your traffic will always follow the VPN chain that starts from your router and ends at the second VPN client you have set up on your device.
But this can only work if you know how to set up a VPN on router in the first place.
3. Virtual Machine
This is one of the most technically demanding double VPN setup method. Basically, it involves using a software like VirtualBox or Hyper-V to install a virtual operating system within your current operating system.
After installing two operating systems this way, you can turn on your VPN client from the main operating system, and then connect the second VPN client from your virtual operating system.
You should see that the IP address you receive in the virtual machine corresponds to the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to from the original operating system.
Keep in mind that you must have a powerful computer with a strong CPU and large RAM capacity in order to run a virtual operating system in a stable manner. The installation of the virtual machine itself takes heavy toll on computers.
The multiple encryption, decryption, and VPN tunnelling processes running between two operating systems will put an even greater strain on your system.
Therefore, this method should only be performed if you’re confident in your system’s ability to handle a virtual machine.
4. Browser Add-on + VPN Client
Many VPN providers offer browser extensions along with their desktop clients. You can take advantage of browser extensions to form a VPN chain consisting of the client and the add-on.
This is not exactly a true double VPN connection because browser extensions only encrypt your browsing sessions, leaving other programs and applications as they are.
Moreover, the browser extensions that most providers offer are proxies, so you’ll get a chain consisting of VPN and proxy rather than a VPN over VPN type connection.
Nonetheless, this is still of the easiest methods for adding an extra layer of protection to your online browsing sessions.
5. Nested Chain with Different Providers
All the above methods of double VPN configuration can be performed either by utilizing different servers of a single VPN provider, or by using multiple VPN providers with their own separate networks chained together through any of the methods described above.
This method will prove to be more expensive than using a single VPN provider though, as you’ll need to bear the cost of separate subscriptions for each provider you are using.
Benefits of double VPN
As far as privacy and security of your online traffic and identity is concerned, double VPN offers some definite benefits in the following way:
- IP protection: Since a double VPN connection assigns two IP addresses at each of the two stages of VPN routing, your real IP address is hidden even more effectively than conventional VPN encryption does. The first server in the double VPN chain will assign you an IP address that is entirely different from that which is assigned by the second server. As a result, anyone trying to trace you online would lose track because of multiple IP changes as your data travels through the chained network.
- Safety from exposure: In case one of the servers of the VPN providers is seized by authorities, they still won’t be able to trace anything back to you easily as your traffic is diverted through two servers. This isn’t a problem if the VPN doesn’t store any sensitive logs at all, but having your footprint scattered through multiple nodes affords better privacy.
- Mixing protocols: You can alternate between two different protocols to improve online security. For instance, you may use UDP protocol to connect to the first server and TCP to connect to the second server.
Some bloggers mention that an important double VPN is that it adds another layer of encryption. This is not exactly true. For instance, if the provider is using AES-256 for encryption, it will still remain AES-256 no matter how many servers you connect to simultaneously.
Moreover, there’s no real benefit to encrypting your traffic twice considering that protocols like AES-256 are extremely strong and don’t require further cryptography to effectively ward off attacks and interception from hackers.
Therefore, the major benefit of double VPN stems from the fact that it changes your IP multiple times and allows the use of mixed protocols. These operations contribute to stronger privacy and anonymity but having your data encrypted twice is only a gimmick that offers no real value and nor is it something that most providers actually do when routing your traffic through multiple hops.
Disadvantages of Double VPN
Double VPN has a couple of performance-related disadvantages that might make it undesirable for a lot of VPN users:
- Slower speeds: Transmitting your data through multiple VPN servers and layers of protocols necessarily introduce overhead in the networking system. Your data will have to travel a longer distance to reach the same destination, resulting in slower pings and connection speed. So, if speed is something you are unwilling to compromise on, then it’s best to avoid using double VPN.
- Larger computational power: Double VPN configurations are resource-intensive and can be affect the performance of your whole computer or device. This is not a problem if your VPN offers built-in multihopping functionality, but it can seriously affect performance if you’re using a virtual machine to set up double VPN.
Should I Use Double VPN?
The benefits of double VPN notwithstanding, it is a pretty resource-intensive connection method with noticeable performance drawbacks in most cases. Keeping this in mind, is it worthwhile to use double VPNs?
If you fall into any one of these categories, then double VPN may be a worthwhile option.
If you are a diligent journalist, you’re going to offend government officials and politicians at least a few times in your career. Journalists that live in regimes where press remains suppressed should especially look into privacy-enhancing solutions to protect themselves and/or their sources. A double VPN configuration can help in this regard.
Oppressive regimes don’t generally take kindly to protests against governments and/or state institutions. Social media makes it easy for activists to organize protests, but government monitoring and surveillance is a constant threat to their safety. Improving your privacy through the additional layer of double VPN becomes quite important in situations where exposure of personal information cannot be risked, such as for activists planning protests.
Privacy is a democratic right and every citizen deserves to preserve privacy in their lives. There is no reason why any government or hacker should spy on your online behavior and try access your personal details. So, if you feel strongly about keeping your privacy protected, keeping double VPN enabled will make you more obscure to third parties on the web.
Best VPNs that offer Double VPN
NordVPN is one of the few VPNs that offers Double VPN feature built into its client. The Double VPN feature is available for multiple platforms including Windows, Android, and MacOS.
NordVPN also offers Onion over VPN which chains a Tor network with traditional VPN configuration for users that want benefits of both types of topologies. Overall, NordVPN is an excellent choice due to its powerful combination of speed, server network, Double VPN, and a ton of advanced features.
Surfshark is another VPN that has already established itself as an exceptional provider. It offers double VPN feature branded as MultiHop that chains multiple servers for added anonymity and privacy for users.
The multihop feature of Surfshark is built into MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android apps. It is easy to use and offers a good balance of speed and privacy. Other than this, Surfshark is generally a highly privacy-focused VPN offering features such as ad and malware blocker, AES-256 encryption, and kill switch.
Users that want fast speeds and strong privacy will find Surfshark a worthy choice to have.
Double VPN offers important benefits to users with high privacy requirements. Although there are only a few providers with built in double VPN functionality, it is possible to set it up yourself through the methods described above.
Do you think Double VPN is a worthwhile feature to use for privacy protection or is it overkill? I’d love to see hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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