Double VPNs: What they are — and when you should use them

A double VPN is just what the name suggests. It’s using two VPN servers instead of one. It’s also known as multi-hop, though the name is not as descriptive. In short, the increased node in the chaining method enhances security and privacy. Most VPNs do not multi-hop their connections. Why not? Who does? Let’s see.

Double VPNs

As we noted, a double VPN is a VPN service in which your data flows through more than one VPN server. This multi-hop connection means that the data gets encrypted twice, and the IP address is also switched twice. A difference with ordinary single VPNs is that you don’t have much choice in the pair you want to use. You have to choose from the available pairs.

double VPN

Multi-hop is not the rule in the industry. Most services don’t offer it. Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, the truth is that it’s not that popular because the additional routing and encryption slow things down significantly. The servers could be geographically very far apart, and that taxes speeds as well.

But even if you have to pay the price in terms of speed, double VPNs can be a good option for persons who value their privacy. Let’s say you are a political activist, or you are a journalist dealing with explosive or dangerous issues. Looking after your privacy and security would be an excellent idea then, and double VPNs can help with that. It can also be helpful for companies that want to make sure all of their communications stay private.

Pros and cons

Using a good VPN will help your privacy and anonymity online. Using one that doubles routing and encryption makes you untraceable by any significant standard. That is the advantage. How is it done? Let’s see:

  • Double encryption: Each of the servers your data visits encrypt your data once. AES-256, the industry standard, is deemed to be uncrackable in practical terms. You could think that twice is overkill, but you can never be too safe.
  • Third IP address: You start with your own actual IP address. You don’t want the world to know it, so the first server hides it and reports a different one to the world. Then the second one does it again, so nobody can figure out where you are or what your starting address was.
  • ISP blindness: Your ISP is not necessarily your friend. Maybe it’s good for you to make sure it has no earthly clue about how you’re using its service. And the VPN’s encryption will render your ISP blind.
  • Hidden geolocation: Because your IP address can’t be figured out by external observers or the sites you visit, they won’t be able to figure out where you are.

But all those benefits come at a price. Using two VPN security layers were never meant to be a default setting. That is why most VPNs still don’t offer it by default or even include it for expansion in future plans. The truth is that you don’t need to double up on VPN hops to do most things on the web securely (like downloading a torrent safely or unblock Netflix).

The standard single-server service in most VPNs will do just fine for everything, but, as we explained before, some professionals and companies may have good reasons to protect their online identity and activities. Those who need that extra protection will have to deal with the following cons:

  • Slower speeds: Encryption takes time and computing resources, and data also needs time to travel between two servers. Single VPNs can slow the speed down a little, but sometimes they enhance it. Your user experience rarely suffers from single server VPNs. Still, if you are on a double VPN, you will probably have a hard time watching 4K movies, downloading big files, and doing any task that’s intensive on your bandwidth. You could leave the double VPN feature off for a limited time in those special cases until the task is done.
  • No Tor: Tor and double VPNs do not go together. It’s not that your Tor browser won’t run or browse. It will. But it will be excruciatingly slow, and if you’re on a mobile device, your battery will drain very quickly.
  • Limited server choices: The best VPNs have an extensive server menu for you to pick your favorite one. But the ones that can be paired are not so frequent, so the list gets much smaller.

In short, the increased anonymity that double VPNs afford you will cost you in speed and server choice. If you can live with that, you’ll be just fine.

When and where?

Double VPNs featured image

We’ve mentioned a couple of scenarios in which double VPNs could be critical for a user’s security. We’ve also explained how the double security layer could seem a bit excessive since a single VPN already goes a long way in keeping you safe and anonymous. Yet, there are some scenarios in which a perfectly average person could profit significantly from using a double VPN. Let’s see some of those:

  • Public WiFi: Public WiFi networks are notorious because broadcasting all your digital data unencrypted in a public place is indeed not the safest way of doing things. It’s a picnic for hackers. That’s why if you like using public WiFi services, then paying for a VPN subscription is a must. And having a double one is even better.
  • Surveillance: Some governments spy on their people. Even if yours doesn’t (which is unlikely), you may find traveling abroad in a territory where you can’t just trust to be digitally safe as a tourist. Double VPNs will prevent any governmental agency from getting the tea on you. Why? Because you don’t want to get caught visiting websites that a particular government deems as illegal or blocked.
  • Activism and journalism: If you are one of the digital heroes fighting the status quo through your writings or activities, you are probably aware that those people and organizations in the world wouldn’t want to see you succeed. That’s why heroes need a secret identity. In your case, your double VPN is your Batcave. It’s not only safer, but it also will give you access to all kinds of information you can’t find in standard networks.

VPN over VPN is not a double VPN

You can use two VPN servers instead of one in two different ways. We’ve already dealt with double VPNs in some depth, but you can also use a VPN over a VPN. The difference is that in the first case, you are using two different servers from a single provider. In the second case, you are using a single server serialized with another server from another provider.

So, the difference seems subtle, but it’s there, and it can be crucial. While the best VPNs do not keep logs, some still do, and they could be raided by law enforcement agencies or hacked. So if one of those two providers gets the hammer, there goes your data history and, with it, your privacy. On the other hand, if you are using two independent VPNs and one gets raided, the raiders will have only half of the puzzle on you.

So having two VPN subscriptions is not a bad idea. It’s even better if you make sure to choose services that don’t keep logs. It enables you to keep your digital eggs in two baskets that are actually separated. But make sure about the separation. If both providers are incorporated in the same country, you’ll find yourself in the same problem twice over. But finding VPNs based in Panama, Switzerland, and other privacy-friendly countries is easy.

But be aware that using two different VPN providers at the same time can pose some technical difficulties, and setting up your system could become a tricky thing.

Final thoughts

VPN services featuring a multi-hop option give you extra privacy and security. They’re not very popular because the additional computing required slows transfer speeds down.

If you live in a jurisdiction that restricts Internet access, if you do a job that deals with sensitive political topics, if you are a frequent public WiFi user, then you should try to remain anonymous online at all times. Even if you have nothing to hide, there is no advantage in going public about things that should remain private.

Few providers in the industry offer double VPN or multi-hop features. (Here’s a list of some that do.) Fortunately, those who do are among the best and most reputable players globally and take their customers’ protection exceedingly seriously. But be aware of some that are only there to provide cover to cybercriminals. The authorities are cracking down on them.

So now you know. Keep yourself safe by remaining anonymous on the Internet. Good VPNs are never free, but even the best services are available for just a few bucks per month. Consider seriously spending them because, after all, your peace of mind is priceless. Information is power, never more so than in our days. Please do not give it away for lack of a VPN subscription.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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