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Can My ISP See If I’m Using a VPN? (And How Can I Stop It?)

What ISP sees when on VPN

Many ISPs track and log your internet activity. They collect various data because data retention laws and regulations ask for it. Also, ISPs track how much bandwidth you’re using. If you’re using more data than your contract specifies, your ISP will intentionally slow down your internet speeds. This way, you won’t be able to download, stream, or play games online

One of the most popular ways to hide your online activity is by using a VPN. Because the traffic is encrypted and rerouted through a VPN server, your ISP can’t see what websites you’re visiting anymore. 

Your ISP can see if you use a VPN. It can see how much data you use, the VPN’s IP address, and how many times you connect to a VPN server. A VPN, however, encrypts your connection so that the websites you visit and what you download stay hidden.

If you don’t want your ISP to know you use a VPN, make sure that you use a VPN with obfuscation. This feature hides your VPN traffic and makes it look like regular internet traffic. 

But what exactly can your ISP see when you’re connected to a VPN? Can a VPN hide your downloads, searches, and visited websites? Keep reading to find out more! 

Can My ISP See the VPN Traffic? 

Yes, your ISP can when you’re connected to a VPN. That’s because an encrypted connection has a few characteristics that are specific only to a VPN connection. Here’s how your ISP can see that you’re connected to a VPN server: 

  • The VPN’s IP address: when you’re connecting to a VPN server, you automatically get assigned a new IP address. However, since your VPN connection goes through your ISP’s network, it can see the VPN IP address you’re connecting to.
  • The Port Number: when you connect to a VPN server, you automatically use a specific port that’s linked to the VPN protocol you’re using. 
  • The VPN Encryption: the VPN encrypts your connection and makes your traffic unreadable. Since your ISP suddenly can’t see what you’re doing online, this is an indicator that you’re using a VPN.
  • They Analyze Your Traffic with DPI: Deep Packet Inspection is a technique used by ISPs to analyze internet traffic. DPI can detect unique VPN signatures in your traffic, so your ISP can see that you’re using a VPN. 

Can My ISP See What I Download with a VPN? 

No, the ISP can’t see what you download on your device when you’re connected to a VPN server. Popular VPN providers offer military-grade encryption, which is very safe and almost impossible to break. If your ISP checks your traffic, they’d see random strings made out of numbers, special characters, and letters. 

However, if the VPN experiences leaks, then your ISP can see what you’re doing online. For example ISPs like T-Mobile or Spectrum can see that you are torrenting files. Make sure that the VPN you use has features like a kill switch and IP leak protection. 

Also, the VPN should have a no-logs policy, meaning that it doesn’t collect your traffic. Otherwise, the VPN would be able to see what files you download, which compromises your privacy.

Can My ISP See What Sites I Visit with a VPN?

No, your ISP can’t see your browsing history when you’re using a VPN. All connections to the websites you visit are completely private. A VPN encrypts all your internet traffic and hides it so your ISP does not know what websites you visit. Your ISP can only see how many times you connected to a VPN server, when you did it, and how much data you used during that session.

Make sure you use a VPN that has leak protection and a kill switch, so that your browsing traffic doesn’t leak to your ISP. Also, the VPN should have a no-logs policy to prevent it from logging the sites you visit.

Can Your ISP See What You Search for with a VPN?

No, your ISP can’t see what you search for online while connected to a VPN server. However, the search engine you are using on a daily basis can still see what you search for on the internet. When you disconnect from the VPN server, your search engine will still display your latest searches. 

Because of this, you need to take extra actions to protect your browsing history completely. Otherwise, Bing or Google can still see what sites you’re browsing online even if a VPN hides your searches from the ISP. Alternatively, always make sure you use a different browser than you normally do together with its incognito/private mode when you connect to a VPN server. 

Can You Get in Trouble for Hiding from Your ISP?

No, using a VPN is perfectly legal. Despite that, hiding from your ISP to engage in illegal activities is still prohibited. Also, some restrictive countries ban VPN use. So, check your country’s laws to make sure you’re not doing anything against the law by using a VPN. 

How Can You Stop Your ISP from Tracking You Online?

Using a VPN to hide your online activity is the most popular way to stop your ISP from tracking you. 

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and reroutes it through a VPN server. Because of this, your ISP can’t see what you’re doing online anymore. For example, if you access facebook.com, your ISP will just see gibberish like HUfhnyu829fjf35u2.

Are There Any VPN Alternatives to Stop ISPs from Tracking You?

Some people recommend using these 2 alternatives: 

  • 1. Tor: short for The onion router, Tor secures your traffic through multiple layers of encryption. However, because of this, you’ll experience very slow internet speeds. Also, Tor might leak your data, so your ISP could see your browsing. What’s more, malicious actors can run Tor servers, so they could spy on your traffic.
  • 2. Proxy: much like a VPN, a proxy reroutes your traffic through a server from a country you want to connect to. So, it can prevent your ISP from seeing what sites you connect to. That said, proxies don’t encrypt your traffic, so your ISP could still spy on your browsing.

Overall, we strongly recommend using a VPN because it is the only tool that can reliably stop ISPs from tracking you.

Why Should You Hide Your Traffic From Your ISP?

Often, many ISPs will log your browsing and shopping history and sell your data to advertisers. As a result, you might get bombarded with unwanted ads based on your location and preferences. So, using a VPN is the perfect way to hide your data so your ISP can’t sell it. 

What’s more, if you use too much data when you’re browsing online, your ISP might intentionally slow down your internet speed. They do this to discourage you from exceeding your monthly data cap. In this situation, a VPN can stop ISP throttling by making your traffic 100% unreadable.  

What Does My ISP See When I Use a VPN?

While VPN keeps your browsing private, there is still some data that your ISP can see when you’re connected to the VPN server. Here are the most important things your ISP sees when you use a VPN:

  • The VPN’s IP address
  • The port used by the VPN
  • Your real IP address
  • Connection timestamps
  • The amount of data transferred
  • The encrypted data

Your ISP can detect VPN traffic easily. Despite that, your ISP can only see the connections going to and from a VPN server. So it doesn’t see the websites you visit. 

Besides that, your traffic is encrypted every time you connect to a VPN server by using a specific VPN protocol. These protocols use a unique port to access the web. This way, your ISP can tell which VPN protocol was used by checking the port number.

A VPN hides your real IP address and location from the websites you visit, that’s true. However, your ISP can still have access to that data. So, they can see your real IP address, when you establish a VPN connection and the duration of your VPN session. 

What’s more, your ISP can track the amount of data transferred during the VPN session. In many cases, this data can be inaccurate because your downloads and browsing are mixed up together. Plus, the VPN encryption also adds extra data to your bandwidth. 

But what can your ISP see if they suddenly decide to inspect your traffic? In that case, the VPN will only show gibberish. Most popular VPNs use military-grade encryption, so your ISP can’t crack the encryption cipher used by VPNs. 

In a rush? Here’s a quick summary of what your ISP can and can’t see when you use a VPN:

SubjectCan ISP See It When Using VPN?
That you use a VPNYes
DownloadsNo
Sites visitedNo
SearchesNo
Your real IPYes
The VPN’s IP addressYes
The port used by the VPNYes
How many times you connect to the VPNYes
How much data is usedYes
Website contentNo
TorrentingNo
StreamingNo

5 Best VPNs That Can Stop Your ISP from Tracking You

Finding the best VPN to hide your online activities from your ISPs like Spectrum or Verizon can take a lot of time. However, our team has tested the most popular VPNs and made a list of the best 5 VPNs that really hide your browsing from your ISP. Here are our results:

1. NordVPN

NordVPN is our top recommendation because it has a ton of security and privacy features to hide your traffic from your ISP. For instance, it has all industry-standard security features like a kill switch, leak protection, and military-grade encryption. We performed leak tests on servers in 10+ countries and we never experienced any leaks. 

Plus, this VPN provider also comes with advanced security features. It has perfect forward secrecy, which changes the encryption key for each VPN connection. This makes it very hard for your ISP or hackers to spy on your traffic. NordVPN also has RAM-only servers. That means that your data is written on the RAM instead of the hard drive, so every server reset erases all data. 

This VPN’s no-logs policy has been independently audited twice. So you can browse the web without having to worry that the VPN will spy on your traffic. 

In addition to all of that, NordVPN also has a feature called Threat Protection. This automatically scans the files you download for malware and deletes them if necessary. It also blocks ads on most sites. 

You can use this VPN on 6 simultaneous devices and it backs all its plans with a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

Pros:
  • Thousands of lightning-fast servers
  • Unblocks streaming services
  • Fully supports Torrenting and P2P
  • Strict no-logs policy and RAM-disk servers
  • Ad blocker and malware protection features
  • Robust security features and military-grade encryption
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
Cons:
  • Only 6 simultaneous connections
  • No free trial

2. Surfshark

Surfshark has all the industry-standard security and privacy features. It offers a kill switch, no-logs policy, military-grade encryption, and DNS leak protection. It also has advanced security features like RAM-only servers and perfect forward secrecy. 

Even though this VPN doesn’t have an audited no-logs policy, its browser extensions and server infrastructure were verified by security firms. 

This VPN provider also has a few extra security features. For example, Surfshark Alert is a paid add-on that sends you alerts if your email has been compromised in a data breach. Surfshark Antivirus is another paid add-on that protects your device from malware infections. 

It supports unlimited simultaneous connection, so it’s perfect for a large household. What’s more, Surfshark offers very affordable plans and a 30-day money-back guarantee.  

Pros:
  • Very affordable
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Ad-blocking feature
  • Unblocks streaming platforms
  • Allows split-tunneling and has multi-hop VPN feature
  • No-log policy and strong security features
  • GPS spoofing on Android devices
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
Cons:
  • No free version
  • Does not allow P2P seeding

3. Atlas VPN

Atlas VPN provides really good security. Besides industry-standard features, it offers SafeSwap. This feature changes your IP address throughout the VPN session without disconnecting you from the server. Because of this, your ISP and hackers can’t track you online

In addition to this, Atlas VPN also has Tracker Blocker. This feature blocks trackers that collect data when you’re browsing online. Also, if your data has been compromised online, the VPN has a data breach monitor that will detect and notify you when this happens. 

This VPN has a free plan, but it limits you to 5 GB of data and 2 connections. However, its plans are super affordable and offer unlimited data. It also has a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free. 

Pros:
  • Very affordable plans and it has a free version
  • Fast Speeds
  • Unlimited device support
  • WireGuard protocol and strong security features
  • Torrenting-friendly
  • Unblocks streaming services
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
Cons:
  • Limited Linux app
  • Based in the US
  • Not so many servers

4. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN is another good VPN that stops your ISP from tracking you. It has bank-grade encryption and a kill switch. Plus, it offers a transparent no-logs policy to protect your privacy. 

It also has DNS and IPv6 leak protection. We conducted leak tests on 30+ of its servers and our IP address was never exposed. 

This provider also has Stealth VPN, a feature that provides obfuscation. That means it can hide your VPN traffic, which can be helpful in restrictive countries.

What’s more, PrivateVPN allows 10 simultaneous connections and has cheap plans. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free. 

Pros:
  • Supports P2P traffic and allows port forwarding
  • Unlimited bandwidth and great speeds
  • Unblocks most streaming platforms
  • Zero-logging policy
  • Free Static IP servers
  • 10 simultaneous connections
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
Cons:
  • Not as many servers as other VPN providers
  • No split-tunneling

5. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN has all the industry-standard security features. It offers a kill switch, military-grade encryption, and leak protection. It also offers advanced security features like RAM-only servers and perfect forward secrecy. 

What’s more, this VPN provider’s no-logs policy has been independently audited. The audit results are available online and everyone can read them. 

Plus, the VPN service comes with Threat Manager, which is a feature that protects you from ad trackers. Threat Manager also blocks connections to malicious sites. 

ExpressVPN allows 5 connections and is a bit pricey. However, it provides excellent value and backs all plans with a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

Pros:
  • Works with streaming
  • Supports torrenting
  • No-logs policy
  • TrustedServer technology with RAM-only servers
  • Premium security features
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
Cons:
  • Expensive subscription plans
  • Only 5 simultaneous connections
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