Multi-hop VPN chains (Double VPN)
“Sir! We’re receiving an encrypted message from the terrorist organization.”
“Where is it coming from? Can you trace the source?”
“It appears to be coming from everywhere at once, sir.”
Remember that classic scene in action thrillers where the team is attempting to trace a villain’s signal, but that signal is bouncing around the globe and they can’t pinpoint where it’s actually coming from? Well, if you’d like to experience what it’s like being such a villain, you don't need to look any further. Try out the excitement of a Multi-hop VPN connection, also known as a Chained VPN or a Double VPN.
In a regular VPN connection, the VPN server acts as a protective barrier between the Internet user’s device and the Internet. In a Multi-hop VPN chain, there are additional devices and/or VPNs, leading to an exponentially more complex connection that is much harder for anyone to trace. For example, your connection that is actually located in the USA might be routed through Sweden, Mexico and Iceland before finally reaching its destination. Several combinations are possible:
Double VPN (same provider)
A device connected to a VPN server connected to another VPN server from the same VPN provider (the classic “Double VPN”). This sort of service is the simplest to set up and is offered by several VPN providers, NordVPN and AirVPN being the most famous and the most affordable. Simply click the appropriate option in your VPN’s interface, select the combination (if any) and that’s it – you’re now hidden behind two servers instead of one.
This feature has been criticized as a “marketing gimmick” by some, since having two VPN servers by the same VPN means they use the same settings, protocols, logs (if any) and sometimes even locations. That means that you won’t obtain much additional benefit from this setup, though it will definitely feel cool.
On the plus side, this similarity between the two VPN servers means that using a Double VPN this way will avoid most of the steep drop in connection speed that usually comes with this technique. This means that you will still be able to stream content and watch videos.
Quadruple VPN (same provider)
The absolute king of easy-to-set-up Multi-hop VPNs is the Perfect Privacy VPN, which allows you to create a custom configuration of up to four VPN servers in a row, and to configure them differently. An additional bonus is that Perfect Privacy supports full IPv6 support, which provides additional security. Zorro VPN is yet another provider that supports this feature, though its monthly cost is quite high.
Double VPN (different providers)
In this arrangement, you use a VPN to connect your device as usual, but on top of that you install a virtual machine (VM) on the device that is used to connect to another VPN. Your internet traffic that’s coming from the virtual machine will be routed through one VPN after another, providing an even greater layer of security. You can use a free Linux OS for your virtual machine. If you want to be extra sneaky, run a Tails OS (a portable Linux OS) on your machine as well for ultimate anonymity. Another benefit of a virtual machine is that it keeps shifting your browser fingerprint, making it impossible to track you that way.
To infinity and beyond!
In theory, there is no limit to how many VPN servers you can chain together. You might as well go wild and have a VPN, plus a virtual machine, plus another VPN, all used to remotely connect to another real device somewhere else in the world that connects to yet another VPN, which in turn connects to another device with a virtual machine in it, etc.
However, there are many considerations that make this unfeasible and relegating it to the realm of action thriller fantasy:
- Every additional step in the chain imposes a steep drop in connection speed. A Double VPN setup with the same provider, according to testing, will lower the speed by 20%, which is not too bad. However, a double VPN setup with a virtual machine and two different VPNs will lower it by as much as 80%! Adding more and more steps along the way will make your connection speed plunge so quickly that it won’t even be funny. At any rate, you can forget about watching videos and streaming content and with more complex chains even loading content-rich websites will turn into a painful experience.
- The cost of subscribing to multiple VPN services adds up quickly. Ranging from $3 to $12 / month, several VPNs stacked this way will make your anonymity quite costly. Of course, free VPN services generally don’t support this sort of complex arrangement. Even worse, they might expose your identity in dangerous ways that would negate the point of having a multi-hop VPN chain in the first place.
- The additional security benefit from each additional VPN is negligible. A single high-quality VPN (including a strong no-log policy) already presents a formidable obstacle to any snoopers. The additional benefits of piling up a dozen VPNs suffer from heavy diminishing returns.
- While you’re busy arranging multiple VPNs, your security may be compromised in much simpler ways. There are numerous other dangers to your anonymity such as IP leaks, improper connection kill-switches, malicious logging of data by unscrupulous VPNs, browser cache exploits and even the downloading of suspicious apps and attachments. A multi-hop VPN chain should act as the cherry on top of your other security measures, so make sure that they are in order before going through the expense of setting up one.