A VPN is an excellent service to protect your privacy and hide sensitive information. It has been a top choice for stopping tracking by ISPs or governments. But can it protect from advertisers too? Does VPN really block ads?
Here are the best VPNs with Adblock:
NordVPN – CyberSec feature blocks ads and protects from malicious websites
Surfshark – CleanWeb ad blocking technology. Very good price/value ratio.
CyberGhost – Malware, Ad-blocking, and access to NoSpy servers
All a basic VPN service does is it creates a secure encrypted tunnel from your device to a VPN server. From there, your traffic reaches the destination website. This means that the VPN server makes a connection on your behalf and the website does not really know who you are. However, when using a VPN your identity is masked only to a certain extent.
A stand-alone VPN is not an ad blocker and does not really protect you from online ads.
Advertisers found different ways to identify you besides using your IP address. They use different methods that a basic VPN does not help, so let’s explore how advertisers track you in the first place.
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How do ads follow you online
You have probably noticed at one point that as soon as you search something online the ads start tracing you everywhere you go. Data hoarding companies use sophisticated methods to identify you and sell your data to advertisers. And that is happening in real-time. New ways to identify the internet users online are emerging, but these three by far are the most popular ones advertisers use:
Browser and device fingerprinting
A cookie is a small file that stays on your web browser and contains a user ID, session ID, and other bits of text. It helps websites to function properly. For example, it allows a user to stay signed in or keep a shopping cart details after coming back to the website. Cookies have a unique property – they are domain bound. This means that they only can be read by the website they belong to.
It works like this: first, an ad network’s cookie is stored on your browser. Then, when another website with the same advertiser networks’ ads is visited, it sends a query to a tracking server where the cookie is read. Reading cookies from different websites the advertiser can easily tell where you have previously been and what you searched for across the internet.
A tracking pixel is another popular technology to track users online. It is a really small one-pixel size dot that could be inserted into a website or email’s HTML code. This invisible tracking pixel contains a code which can be triggered as soon as a person visits and does a particular action.
The actions that are taken on the website determines the user behavior and helps to track conversions. The tracking pixel gives a user the unique identifier by which it can be tracked by reading a cookie on your device and sending information about you to a server. This pixel can gather information about your location, OS, browser, and activities on the website.
Speaking about browsers, there’s another ad tracking technique called browser fingerprinting.
This technique is used to identify or partially identify the internet user’s device and browser. When you visit a website the browser sends a lot of information about itself:
Type of web browser – whether it is Safari, Chrome or Firefox
OS (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux)
It looks that this information is very generic and any browser or device can have it. But the key is that the combination of these parameters allows identifying you. Well, at least partially. This allows ads to follow users online.
Does VPN block ads
VPN technology establishes a secure connection via its server to the website. This way it protects from outsiders snooping on your personal data. However, the browser still stores cookies from a website and sends generic information about itself.
Having this in mind, the conclusion is that VPN technology on its own is not an ad blocker. It only has limited protection from ad tracking and malware. But what about a VPN provider that says it can protect you from being tracked online?
A VPN service must have extra features and technology to block ads. The VPN providers develop ad blocking and tracking protection on the app or server level. Only a few services have those features that can block annoying ads, tracking, and malicious sites.
How do VPNs block ads
VPN services handle ads by blocking or redirecting DNS requests to advertisers’ servers. They usually use their own DNS servers so it is relatively easy for them to control internet traffic. The browser does not show ads once these queries have been blocked.
VPN providers block malicious adware and tracking cookies by using third-party lists. There are third-party services that have huge lists of malicious domains and IP addresses. These lists are continuously renewed and VPNs pay money to use them.
The ads can be blocked by redirecting advertiser networks IP addresses so it can not be resolved. For example, redirecting to “localhost” or 0.0.0.0 ads show a message that “the website is not reachable”. Such redirects can happen on the server, app, or browser extension level.
Adblocking on the app means that these queries are handled on your device, while a server-level is a better solution than VPN providers use. Having such a feature on the whole infrastructure ensures that it works on any server, device, or platform.
5 Best VPNs with Adblock
While it is relatively easy to block annoying ads, but not that many VPN providers offer this feature.
CyberWaters is a mixed crew of cyber security enthusiasts with a keen interested in data privacy, security and technology behind it. We provide cyber security related content and give advise on best practices and tools how to stay safe and secure online.