You might think that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) only sees your traffic on the network, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are various methods by which your ISP can still track your online behavior despite your use of a VPN, so it’s important to be aware of the implications of connecting to a VPN server when surfing the web.
Your ISP has many ways of tracking your activity, some more subtle than others, and some which are more intrusive than you’d like. In this article, we’ll discuss the technical aspects of what your ISP can see while utilizing a VPN, and how to prevent them from tracking your activity.
Your ISP Knows When You Are Online
Let’s start with the most obvious form of surveillance: your ISP knows whenever you’re online. They can track your activity over time, and they can even see what sites you visit while logged off (this is called Behavioral Analysis). If you want to access content that’s restricted to users in your area, or if you want to avoid certain sites altogether while still using the service, you have no choice but to log in to your account whenever you want to access the Internet.
Your ISP Knows When You Are On Which Network
Even when you’re on a VPN, your ISP knows which network you’re on. When you connect to a VPN server, your computer establishes a connection to it, and this automatically puts you on the VPN’s network. Since your ISP can track which network you’re on, they know that you are, in fact, connected to the VPN server (it would be like if you logged into a remote computer while connected to the network, but instead of using a remote login, you logged into a VPN server located in another country).
Your ISP Knows Which IP You Are Using
Even if you are on the VPN’s network, your ISP knows your IP address. Your IP address is a number which identifies your computer on the Internet and allows other computers to connect to and communicate with you. When you use a VPN, you’re not actually hiding your IP address, you’re connecting to a VPN server which then assigns you a different IP address. Your new IP address is a temporary one which you must contact the VPN company to renew if you ever want to access the Internet without being tracked (as long as you stay connected to the VPN, your IP address will not change, but you will have a different one each time you reconnect to the Internet).
Your ISP Knows Which Domain You Are Visiting
Even when you’re not connected to the Internet on a network which is monitored by your ISP, they know where you are. They know which website you’re visiting because they have access to records of the sites you’ve visited in the past. Let’s say you’re on vacation in Italy and you visit an Italian site which has a domain which is hosted in Italy. When you return to your home, your ISP will know about the site because they have access to that record. They will also know the IP address which you connected to (the VPN or the Italian site), and this will allow them to track your activity.
Your ISP Knows The URLs Of The Sites You Are Visiting
Your ISP knows not only which site you’re visiting but also the URLs of the sites you visit. When you connect to a VPN server, the URL of the site you want to access is automatically rewritten by the VPN software to point to the encrypted server instead of the normal website. This makes it seem like you’re connecting to a different site when in reality you’re connecting to the same one, but with the URL disguised. The only person who knows the true URL of the site is the one person who knows the true URL of the site in the first place: the owner of the site. In other words, while you’re connected to a VPN, your ISP knows everything you are doing online, including the websites you visit. They can see everything you visit regardless of whether or not you’re online because, well, they know when you’re online. So as long as you’ve got a VPN connected to the Internet, they know what you’re doing online.
Your ISP Knows The Bookmarks You’re Adding And The Pages You’re Visiting
Even if you’ve never used social media or bookmarking sites, you’ve probably visited a website which has offered both services and noticed how much information they know about you. If you’re a member of these services, your ISP knows what you’re interested in and what your favorite websites and articles are. They can use this to their advantage by targeting you with advertising or offering you special deals and discounts. Remember: while you’re connected to a VPN, your activity on social media and bookmarking sites is accessible to your ISP. So if you don’t want them to know what you’re doing, use a different device or computer to access these services (and avoid connecting to them while on the VPN).
Your ISP Knows Which Program You’re Using
With the exception of iPhones which come pre-installed with VPN software, all other devices and computers rely on third-party applications to provide them with security and anonymity when using the Internet. These applications can help you secure your connection to a VPN server by generating a secure connection which is then relayed to your device or computer. In most cases, these applications can also be configured to work with two or more devices to create what’s called a multi-hop VPN. If you’re not sure which application is suitable for this, ask your device or computer manufacturer for advice. (Some applications and platforms are more suitable for use with multiple devices than others.)
Your ISP Knows Which Version Of Firefox You’re Using
When you connect to a VPN server, the web browser on your device or computer automatically updates itself to verify the authenticity of the site you’re connecting to. This is called Browser Verification and it prevents attackers from tampering with web pages which you encounter while connected to the VPN. Your ISP can tell what browser you’re using because it’s the only one which automatically updates itself when you connect to a VPN. If you’re not sure whether or not this feature has been enabled on your device, you can contact the browser’s manufacturer for more information. (Some browsers can be set to update automatically while others can’t, so this feature may not be available on all devices.)
Your ISP Knows Which Languages You Speak
If you speak a language which is not yet supported on the VPN server you’re connecting to, you will have trouble accessing the content published on that site. Fortunately for you, your ISP knows which language you speak. They can tell this from your computer’s IP address, and the only people who know your IP address are you and the site you’re connecting to through an SSL connection. Your ISP can’t see what’s on the encrypted page because they don’t have the password; they just know you’re accessing a foreign website from a U.S. based IP address. While connected to the VPN, your activity in foreign-supported languages is accessible to your ISP. So if you don’t want them to see what you’re doing on websites published in certain languages, use a different device or computer to access these sites (which may or may not have SSL encryption).
Your ISP Knows Which Countries You Visit
Your ISP knows not only which languages you speak but also which countries you visit. When you connect to a VPN server located in a different country, your IP address will be re-written to appear as if you’re connecting from a different location. This is called Geo-redirection and it occurs because your IP address is defined by your physical location (where you are on the map). While connected to the VPN, your activity in foreign countries is accessible to your ISP. So if you don’t want them to see where you are when you’re online, use a different device or computer to access websites in these locations (which may or may not have SSL encryption).
Your ISP Knows Which Cities You Visit
Your ISP knows not only which countries you visit but also which cities you visit. When you connect to a VPN server located in a different city, your IP address will be rewritten to appear as if you’re connecting from a different location. This is called Geo-redirection and it occurs because your IP address is defined by your physical location (where you are on the map). While connected to the VPN, your activity in foreign cities is accessible to your ISP. So if you don’t want them to see where you are when you’re online, use a different device or computer to access websites in these locations (which may or may not have SSL encryption).