What Is SmartDNS and How Does It Work?

SmartDNS is a technology that allows you to access content from anywhere, on any device. It can be a convenient workaround if you can’t install a VPN app onto your streaming device (like some smart TVs). SmartDNS is also helpful if you’re traveling abroad and want to stream local content from home. 

There are some drawbacks, though. SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP address or encrypt your internet connection. It simply makes it look like you’re visiting a website from another location. You also need some tech skills to set up SmartDNS on your device.  

If you don’t mind manual configuration and are aware of the small risk of potential security leaks, SmartDNS can be a useful tool. However, a VPN is a better overall choice. Not only does it have superior unblocking capabilities, but a VPN also offers all the privacy benefits that SmartDNS lacks. 

SmartDNS is integrated into CyberGhost VPN, so you can enjoy the benefits of both when you become a Ghostie. Stream your favorite shows, movies, and sports securely on any device. 

What Is DNS?

Before we dive into SmartDNS, let’s take a quick look at what regular DNS is and how it works. 

Domain Name System (DNS) is like the internet’s phonebook — it’s how your device finds its way around the intricate maze of sites online. DNS translates human-friendly domain names (like Google.com) into computer-friendly IP addresses (like 

IP addresses are unique identifiers given to devices connected to the internet. Your device uses its IP address to communicate with other devices, websites, and any other part of the web. 

How Do DNS Queries Work?

Every time you interact with a website, you send a DNS query (also known as a “DNS request”) to your ISP’s DNS servers. The DNS servers then translate your request into computer language. In short, DNS servers act as the middleman (and translator) between your device and the internet. Your ISP usually handles all DNS requests through its own DNS servers by default. 

Incidentally, this is also how internet censorship works. Governments can demand that all local ISPs remove certain websites from their DNS database. Then, when you attempt to visit a blocked website, the DNS servers won’t be able to locate it — so you won’t be able to connect.

What Is a DNS Leak?

DNS leaks are when your ISP can see your DNS queries. This means your ISP can track everything you do online and every web page you visit. DNS leaks can happen even if you’ve changed your DNS to a third-party DNS provider (instead of defaulting to your ISP’s DNS servers). 

Don’t want to risk a DNS leak? Get a VPN with built-in DNS leak protection, a strict No Logs policy, and private DNS servers to better protect your privacy.

What Is SmartDNS?

SmartDNS combines the capabilities of DNS servers with proxy servers. When you search for a blocked website in your location, your geographical data is removed from your DNS queries (the “DNS server” part). Your search query is then routed through a proxy server, which makes websites believe you’re sending requests from the proxy’s location (the “proxy server” part). 

The result? You’ll be able to access content that’s blocked in your region. However, it’s important to note that SmartDNS won’t change your IP address or encrypt your internet traffic. Your IP address is still visible, and it can be linked to your physical location and online activity. 

The best way to access content securely is to get a VPN. A VPN will mask your IP address and encrypt your traffic from third-party snoops, including your ISP. No one will be able to see what you’re browsing, watching, or downloading.

Yes, SmartDNS is legal. All you’re doing is redirecting your DNS requests, but your internet traffic is still completely visible to your ISP. If your ISP wants to track your activity, it can still trace your identity through your IP address. 

Note: Countries like North Korea, China, and Iran have stringent internet laws and often block technologies that can bypass restrictions. This includes SmartDNS, proxies, and VPNs. We recommend always checking your local laws before using SmartDNS. 

Is SmartDNS Safe?

Using SmartDNS won’t worsen your security, but it won’t improve it either. 

SmartDNS isn’t inherently unsafe as you’re simply redirecting your DNS requests through another server. However, SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP address. Your ISP can still see your IP address and link your browsing activity to your identity. 

You also need to be careful when you choose a SmartDNS provider. While they all provide the same basic service, some SmartDNS providers have very loose privacy policies. You could be putting your data at risk when you use them. 

SmartDNS vs. Proxy vs. VPN

You can use SmartDNS, proxy, or a VPN to spoof your location, but they all work differently and have different benefits.

    • SmartDNS: Your DNS requests are redirected through a proxy server. They’ll now appear to originate from the location of the SmartDNS proxy server. 
    • Proxy: Your traffic is rerouted through a proxy server. This masks your real IP address with the proxy server’s IP address. 
    • VPN: Your traffic is encrypted and routed through private VPN servers. Your traffic appears to come from the VPN server’s location, and is essentially unreadable.

We’ve outlined the key differences between SmartDNS, VPNs, and proxies in the table below.

SmartDNS vs. Proxy vs. VPN
IP Masking
Fast Speeds
Content UnblockingSometimesSometimes
Easy SetupSometimesSometimes
FreeNo, but included with some VPNs

SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP address, and neither SmartDNS nor proxy servers encrypt your connection.

Only a VPN will mask your IP address, encrypt your traffic, and provide a range of other security-related benefits. Combined, they protect your connection from eavesdroppers and cybersnoops. Consequently, a VPN is the most secure of all three options

When to Use SmartDNS

There are some situations where it’s not possible to use a VPN, or where using SmartDNS might be your best option. 

1. You Want to Unblock Content (And Security Isn’t an Issue)

SmartDNS can be a convenient way to access content that’s unavailable in your region. It masks your physical location by rerouting your traffic through proxy servers in other countries.

The main downside is the lack of security. While your geographical location is hidden, your IP address is still exposed to your ISP and other third parties. 

If you’re traveling abroad and want to access your streaming subscriptions back home, SmartDNS can help. However, not all SmartDNS services work with global streaming platforms (like Netflix), and free providers are very unlikely to work with a wider range of platforms. To guarantee access, choose a quality SmartDNS service.

2. You Have Slow Internet Connection Speeds

SmartDNS changes your virtual location without any slowdown in speed. In contrast, a VPN changes your online location and also encrypts all your internet traffic, which can result in a small speed reduction. 

However, SmartDNS’s lack of encryption also makes it much less secure than a VPN, so you’ll need to weigh up the risks for yourself. Keep in mind you can easily find VPNs with fast enough speeds for UHD streaming.

3. Your Device Doesn’t Support Your VPN

Unfortunately, some devices don’t allow you to install a VPN app (like some smart TVs, routers, game consoles, and Roku). In this case, you can use SmartDNS instead. Once you’ve manually set up SmartDNS on your device, you’ll be able to access content from your chosen region.

How to Use SmartDNS with a VPN 

If you’ve subscribed to a quality VPN, there’s a high chance you already have access to SmartDNS. For instance, every CyberGhost VPN subscription comes with SmartDNS. 

Get CyberGhost VPN and then follow the below instructions to enable SmartDNS on your device. 

  1. Log into your CyberGhost Account Dashboard. Click Smart DNS on the left-hand sidebar to enter your My Smart DNS Settings
  2. Click Enable Smart DNS. It’s the green button at the top of the page. 
  3. Select the DNS address for your chosen streaming platform. For example, if you’ve got a Netflix US account but you’re traveling abroad, choose the Netflix US address. 
  4. Set up the DNS address on your device. The address will appear in your Account Dashboard.

You can check out more device-specific instructions here: PlayStation 4 | PlayStation 3 | Xbox One | Xbox 360 | Apple TV 4 | Apple TV 3 | Samsung SmartTV with TizenOS | Wii | Wii U | Roku TV | DD-WRT Router

Don’t see your gadget listed here? Chat with Customer Support over 24/7 live chat or email and we’ll point you in the right direction. 

Get the Right Tool for the Job

SmartDNS is a useful alternative for unblocking content — but only when you can’t use a VPN. Unlike a VPN, SmartDNS doesn’t provide any digital security or privacy protection. SmartDNS also can’t reliably access websites and apps (especially streaming services). 

If you do need to use SmartDNS, make sure to choose a safe and reputable service. Better still, choose a VPN with a SmartDNS feature. Many VPNs now offer SmartDNS for free, so you can have the best of both worlds. 

Try CyberGhost VPN and you’ll instantly have access to its SmartDNS service, My Smart DNS. All new subscriptions come with a 45-day money-back guarantee, so you can take it for a risk-free test drive.


Does SmartDNS hide your IP address?

No, SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP address. SmartDNS only reroutes your DNS requests via a proxy server. Your ISP can still see your real IP address and link your activity to your identity. If you want to hide your IP, we recommend you use a VPN. 

Is SmartDNS better than a VPN?

A VPN is better than SmartDNS, if you’ve got the choice. Not only will a VPN mask your IP address and encrypt your traffic, but it can also reliably unblock websites and apps. SmartDNS often struggles to work with streaming platforms (like Netflix), and don’t have any security or privacy benefits either. 

Should I enable SmartDNS?

Enable SmartDNS only if your device is incompatible with VPN apps. A VPN is still the best option for changing your online location. The best VPNs are ultra-fast, highly secure, and have servers optimized for streaming, downloading, and even gaming. 

Is it legal to use SmartDNS?

Yes. SmartDNS only redirects your DNS requests, which is perfectly legal in many countries. Your ISP can still see your real IP address when you use SmartDNS. 
However, like all technologies, SmartDNS can be used to engage in unlawful activity. Double-check your local laws if you live in a country with strict internet regulations. 

Does SmartDNS work with Netflix?

Netflix is notoriously difficult for SmartDNS to unblock. However, it’s not impossible. CyberGhost’s SmartDNS is specifically set up to work with Netflix US and UK. You can even watch Hulu! 

What is the difference between VPN and proxy vs SmartDNS?

A VPN, proxy, and SmartDNS all change your virtual location, but each does so differently. 
A VPN masks your IP address with a new IP from its VPN server network, plus it encrypts your traffic. SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP nor encrypt your connection, but it changes your traffic’s location by redirecting your DNS requests. Proxies hide your real IP address with the proxy server’s IP, but there is no encryption. 

Is SmartDNS faster than a VPN?

Yes, SmartDNS can be faster than a VPN. While SmartDNS will redirect your DNS queries via a proxy server, a VPN encrypts and redirects your traffic via VPN servers. This extra step of VPN encryption can result in slightly slower speeds. Luckily, the speed difference is unnoticeable when you invest in a quality VPN. 

Can you use SmartDNS with a VPN?

It’s unnecessary to use a VPN and Smart DNS simultaneously. As long as you’ve got a VPN app installed, there’s no benefit to SmartDNS.
That said, if you have a device that doesn’t support VPN apps, then SmartDNS is an alternative solution. Many VPNs include a SmartDNS feature, so you don’t have to look for a separate SmartDNS provider either.

Is SmartDNS safer than a VPN?

No, a VPN is far safer than SmartDNS. This is because a VPN comes with many security features, including military-grade encryption, a Kill Switch, leak protection, No Logs policy, and more. 

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