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Can a VPN Monitor Its Users’ Internet Activity?

Can VPN Monitor Your Activity

A VPN is an excellent way to hide your traffic and bypass geo-blocked content on the web. However, if the VPN doesn’t have high-end security and privacy features, you can’t hide your online activity. This way, hackers might get access to your data and advertisers might target you with aggressive ads. 

In this article, we’ll talk about whether or not VPNs can protect your data, and if it’s safe to use free VPNs to secure your privacy. 

Can Internet Activity Be Monitored?

Yes, your internet activity can be monitored by your ISP and the government. What’s more, advertisers can also track your online activity on specific sites or on the internet. 

The best way to prevent that kind of tracking is to use a VPN. It hides your IP address to prevent anyone from tracking your real location and digital habits. Also, it reroutes your internet traffic through a server where your data is encrypted, making it unreadable. So, ISPs and the government can’t track your traffic anymore.

Can VPN Traffic Be Monitored?

Yes, your VPN traffic can be monitored. However, it can be monitored only by VPN services. This happens if they keep usage logs, which include data about your browsing habits.

As a result, they can share your data if they are pressured by the government. Fortunately, top VPN providers are based in privacy-friendly countries and have a strict no-logs policy. This way, they don’t know what you’re doing online because they don’t keep any data. If you want to know more about this, here’s a list of the best no-logs VPNs

Also, your ISP can monitor your VPN connections. However, the ISP can only see that you’re connected to a VPN server. It can’t see what you’re doing online with the VPN.

Who Can See If I Use a VPN?

Here’s who can see that you’re using a VPN: 

  • Your ISP: Connecting to a VPN server requires an internet connection. As a result, your ISP can track when you start a VPN session and when you end it.
  • The government: the government regulates VPN traffic in some restrictive countries. Also, for legal purposes, the government can check your browsing history and see your VPN sessions by asking your ISP for your online activity. 
  • Your employer: if you’re connected to your workplace WiFi and connect to a VPN server, your employer can track the VPN connection.
  • The websites you’re browsing: websites with geo-restricted content can track VPN IP addresses and block them.

However, if the VPN has high-end security and privacy features, nobody can see what you’re doing online with the VPN. 

How Can You Make Sure a VPN Won’t Track Your Internet Activity? 

The best way to do that is to read the provider’s privacy policy. It should be straightforward and make it clear that the VPN doesn’t log your traffic and IP address. 

It also helps if the VPN’s no-logs policy has been audited by an independent cybersecurity firm. For example, NordVPN’s no-logs policy has passed 2 independent audits. 

Also, some top VPNs release regular transparency reports. They detail how many requests for user data the provider received from government authorities. The reports also detail how the VPN providers didn’t comply with the data requests. For instance, CyberGhost VPN publishes transparency reports every 3 months.

Another way some VPNs can be more trustworthy is by having open-source apps. That means anyone can inspect the code for security and privacy vulnerabilities. Private Internet Access is a good example of a top VPN that open-sourced all of its apps.

Why Is It Important to Keep Your Internet Activity Private?

Here are the most important reasons why you should hide your internet activity:  

1. Protect Your Online Data

Using public WiFi can expose you to a lot of cyber threats because it doesn’t have any kind of encryption. So, hackers can intercept the data shared between your device and the websites you’re browsing. 

This way, they can perform different cyber attacks to compromise your private data (like login credentials): 

  • Packet sniffing: by using free software, hackers can spy on the information that’s traveling over the unsecured WiFi connection between your device and the websites you’re browsing. 
  • Man-in-the-Middle attacks: hackers will check which websites you want to access, and try to redirect your connections to fake versions of those sites. If you interact with those fake websites, the hackers running them can see anything you type — from your real passwords to personal messages. 
  • Evil Twin attacks: cybercriminals can create fake WiFi networks that are identical to legit networks, tricking you into using the wrong one when you’re browsing the internet.

A VPN can be very useful in these situations because it will encrypt your traffic, making it impossible to track. So even if hackers were trying to see what you’re doing on the internet, they’d see nothing but gibberish. Just random strings made up from special characters, letters, and numbers (something like 5&^&$FYYdjdjshY). 

2. Hide Your IP Address If You’re Torrenting

Using torrent sites isn’t risk-free. When you’re downloading content, your IP address appears in a list with all the other people who interact with that torrent. And because everyone can see your IP address, you’re at risk of being targeted by scammers and cybercriminals. 

For example, if someone knows your IP address, they can perform DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial-of-Service). They’ll flood your internet bandwidth with so much unwanted traffic you won’t have access to the internet anymore. Keep in mind that DDoS attacks usually last a few hours. In many cases, scammers will ask for money to stop targeting you with DDoS attacks.

3. Bypass Internet Censorship

If you’re traveling to restrictive countries like China, Vietnam, or India, you can’t browse the internet freely. China blocks huge apps like Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, and Google Apps. Also, India blocks TikTok and dozens of online games. Plus, Vietnam blocks websites that openly express anti-government opinions or encourage revolutions. 

But if you use a VPN, you can always be in touch with your friends and family on social media apps or browse your favorite sites (even if they’re blocked). A VPN lets you communicate with a specific page through a new IP address, one that doesn’t have any government firewall restrictions linked to it.

Do Free VPNs Monitor Your Traffic? 

Yes, most free VPNs will log what you do online while connected to their servers. They also log your IP address, which reveals your location.

Free VPNs log such data to share it with third parties for profit. Running a VPN service is pretty expensive. It involves costs like server acquisition and maintenance, customer support, developers, and marketing.

That also means that governments can force free VPNs to share user data with them, which compromises your privacy.

What’s more, using a free VPN comes with other inconveniences. Most free VPNs have buggy apps, slow speeds, and poor customer support. 

There are also legit free VPNs, which offer free plans and paid plans. They usually provide good privacy because they don’t keep logs. However, the free plan comes with noticeable limitations, like data caps or very few server locations.

Bottom line — it’s always better to get a paid VPN, as it simply provides much better privacy and overall value than a free VPN. At most, you should only use a free VPN plan to test the service before you buy it.

Strong Security Features Paid VPNs Have and Free VPNs Don’t

Free VPNs often lack essential security features, so they can’t protect your privacy. With a paid VPN, you usually get access to both essential and advanced features, such as:

  • No-logs policies: a VPN shouldn’t be concerned with what you’re doing online. 
  • RAM-only servers: when a VPN has RAM-only servers, it means everything is written to the RAM instead of a hard drive. So every server reset will wipe all data. 
  • Perfect forward secrecy: this feature changes the encryption key for each VPN connection. This way, hackers can’t intercept past or future encryption keys to spy on your traffic. 
  • 256-bit AES encryption: also known as military-grade encryption, this encryption is impossible to break.
  • Kill switch: if your VPN connection drops, this feature automatically disconnects your device from the internet. This way, the VPN prevents any DNS or IP address leaks, and your internet service provider can’t see what you’re doing online. 
  • Leak protection: your VPN should prevent 3 types of leaks: WebRTC, DNS, and IPv6 leaks. If the VPN you’re using doesn’t have full leak protection, it should at least have DNS leak protection.

How to Become Untraceable on the Internet

Here’s what you can do to keep your personal data and traffic hidden online: 

  • Use a VPN to hide your real IP address and traffic. Also, make sure that you use a VPN that has a no-logs policy, a kill switch, and leak protection to prevent your data from being exposed online. 
  • Always use a different browser than you normally do in incognito/private mode. This way, the cookies and data entered in forms are not saved on your device. So if you share the device with someone else (like at work), they won’t see your browsing history. 
  • Use an ad blocker. Many sites have ads and trackers that log your browsing. 
  • Check app permissions. Usually, apps request tons of permissions when you install them on your device. So make sure that the apps you’re using don’t have access to your location, microphone, contacts, and so on. 
  • Always deny access to your location when you’re browsing online. Some websites ask for your permission to access your location. So keep in mind to press the Block button when that little message pops up. 

Final Thoughts

Browsing the internet while hiding your real location and protecting your personal data is very easy. The most popular way to do that is by using a VPN. When you connect to a VPN server, your real IP address is hidden and replaced with another one. This way, the sites you access won’t see your real location. What’s more, a VPN encrypts your traffic. So your ISP and the government can’t track your traffic. 

However, make sure that you always go for a paid VPN since they are more reliable than free VPNs. Most top VPN providers have audited no-logs policies to prove that they don’t log your data, whereas free VPNs might sell your data to advertisers. 

When you choose a VPN, make sure that it offers all these security and privacy features: 

  • A kill switch; 
  • Leak protection;
  • 256-bit AES encryption; 
  • A strict no-logs policy; 

Did you use a VPN to hide your online activity? Let us know in the comments about your experience! 

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Apr 03, 2020
at 4:33 am

Theres a limit to how much they know but it is still best to go with a provider that has a no logs policy. The premium providers with a no logs policy PureVPN and PIA, however PureVPNs cheaper and has a 7-day trial as well

Apr 03, 2020
at 7:13 am

Hi simit, thanks for the comment! Indeed, it is best to go for a no-log policy provider, always! However, I must say a concern regarding PIA is that they are based in the US, which is not a good jurisdiction to operate a VPN in. Personally, I would not recommend PIA and stick with NordVPN.

Apr 06, 2020
at 4:43 am

Oh you say that because of the 5 eyes alliance right? Many providers stress on that. Also youre right Nord is based in Panama. PureVPN is based in HongKong thats a good option too in that case. Cant seem to find where Express is based

May 06, 2020
at 4:44 am

Yes, it’s because 5 eyes alliance and also because US does not have good consumer data protection laws. As far as I know, ExpressVPN’s jurisdiction is in The British Virgin Islands, which is a good location to operate a VPN in. But from their website I understood that they have a distributed team all around the world like in Singapore, London and so on (which doesn’t affect the data collection or logging policies anyways).

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