Protecting your privacy on is no easy task. It seems like everybody wants to know everything about you. Stores of all kinds track your purchases with loyalty cards. Websites monitor your activities with cookies. And even those who take steps to guard their privacy online are subject to the flaws of software applications that may leak information without their knowledge. That’s the case with VPN users whose browser enable the application WebRTC.
What Is WebRTC?
It all started with a company call Global IP Solutions. This was a private business established in 1999 in Stockholm, Sweden, and later bought by Google for $68.2 million. Google wanted to compete with Skype in the Voice over IP (VoIP) market. The move became the impetus for the development of real-time communication (RTC) technologies within the Google product family.
But instead of maintaining WebRTC as a proprietary piece of software, in 2011 Google released it as an open-source project. Work continues on the industry standards for the technology. It might be best here to just use the definition provided on the WebRTC website:
“WebRTC is an open framework for the web that enables Real Time Communications in the browser. It includes the fundamental building blocks for high-quality communications on the web, such as network, audio and video components used in voice and video chat applications.”
It is a simple way to share data. “Imagine a world where your phone, TV and computer could all communicate on a common platform,” says tech writer Sam Dutton. “Imagine it was easy to add video chat and peer-to-peer data sharing to your web application. That’s the vision of WebRTC.” Sometimes a WebRTC server is added in the mix to help with the flow of data.
But as with so many lofty idealistic projects, problems eventually arose. Well, one big problem — for privacy buffs anyway. The headline from TorrentFreak says it all: “Huge Security Flaw Leaks VPN Users’ Real IP-Addresses”. And this is no small problem. “VPN users are facing a massive security flaw as websites can easily see their home IP-addresses through WebRTC,” says the author.
Consequently, it’s so bad that VPN users just want to get rid of WebRTC altogether. They’re more interested in securing their network data than any advantage WebRTC might offer. The problem is that it is enabled by default in many browsers. The best option is to disable it to prevent WebRTC leaks.
Does your browser leak data? If you’re concerned about this issue, then you’ll need to find a way to detect WebRTC on your system. You can do a WebRTC leak test now with a tool provided by VPNInsights. If you have Internet Explorer or Safari, you’re in luck. The technology that would power WebRTC is not on either browser.
Disabling WebRTC in Chrome
If you’re wondering how to disable WebRTC in Chrome, the answer is simple. Just install an extension. First, go to Settings on your browser. Then select More Tools, then Extensions. Now you’ll be in the right place to find and install what you need. At the time of this writing, three extensions appear in Chrome Web Store when you search on “WebRTC”. You can evaluate and install one of these at your own discretion:
- WebRTC Network Limiter (from webrtc.org)
- WebRTC Control (from Grephy)
- WebRTC Leak Prevent (from Aaron Horter)
Disabling WebRTC in Firefox
You can actually disable WebRTC by altering the configuration in Firefox. Here’s how it’s done:
- Enter configuration mode by putting “about:config” in the Firefox browser address bar.
- Accept the risk (at your own discretion).
- Enter “media.peerconnection.enabled” in the search bar.
- Right-click on “media.peerconnection.enabled” in the list and press “Toggle”.
Essentially, what you are doing here is changing the peer connection setting from enabled to disabled. This means that WebRTC will no longer work in your Firefox browser.
You also have the same option as with the Chrome browser. You can install a function in your browser to disable WebRTC. In this case, it’s a plugin rather than an extension, but it has the same effect. Go to Open Menu and then click “Add-Ons”. Here you can do something similar to the Chrome fix. Put “WebRTC” in the search box. This will give you options for disabling the software.
Disabling WebRTC in Opera
The solution is basically the same in Opera as in Chrome and Firefox. You will have the option to install an extension, such as WebRTC Control, in the Opera browser. Opera has something called an extensions gallery. From there you’ll search for WebRTC and pick your favorite option.
To Disable or Not to Disable?
If you really want to continue to use WebRTC, you might consider the fix that comes directly from Google, something called WebRTC Network Limiter. There’s still some debate on whether it will do the trick. It’s supposed to hide your local IP address. But one poster on a discussion board says that if you use VPN, your public address will be revealed.
We’ve covered the major browsers on the market. If you use something different, you might need to search for a specific fix. But you’ll probably find that there is already an extension or plugin out there that will do the trick. Keeping your IP address and other data hidden is one of the reasons that you use a VPN. It would be a shame to find your privacy breached because of software that you don’t even use. It pays to be vigilant. But there are plenty of stories of lost data out there because some people weren’t.