Can ISPs See You Using a VPN?Posted June 28, 2018, 1:40 p.m. by Jonathan
Two of the most common questions which are asked regarding VPNs are:
- Can Internet Service Provider (ISP) see that you are using a VPN?
- And can the ISP still see the traffic and data which you are using?
The answers to these questions will vary depending on the type of VPN you are using. So let's take a more in-depth look to try to answer them fully.
Free VPNs vs. Paid VPNs
The questions to whether your ISP can see if you are using a VPN or view the data being used are more difficult to answer when we're talking about a free VPN.
Typically, they shouldn't be able to.
But the problem with free VPNs is that their encryption levels are not very robust and in some of the worst cases almost non-existent. If this is the case, then it might be possible for your ISP to detect you are using a VPN, and possibly even see your browser activity.
When they are looking at any browsing activity, the data will appear to them as totally undecipherable, as you move from website to website.
They indeed will not be able to track any traffic such as when you are watching videos on YouTube, entering searches on Google, or any interactions you have on social media.
The reason for this is the higher levels of data encryption which paid services offer, some of which have undergone numerous encryption analysis tests.
Some of these protocols use 256-bit data encryption which is so secure; they are classed as 'military grade.'
To give you an idea of how difficult this is to crack, imagine a piece of data converted into a format which has 2 to the power of 256 (2256) different combinations. In other words, a 78-digit number which is so complicated; that to date its encryption has never been broken.
So there's little chance of your ISP being able to crack it.
When your ISP is looking at your online activities, it will appear to them as though you are browsing through a secure website.
If you look at the address bar of your browser, you will sometimes see that a website has 'HTTPS' at the start of the URL instead of 'HTTP.' The additional letter 'S' signifies that this is a secure website, and it is this sort of security which is used by banks, PayPal, Amazon, and thousands of other websites.
In other words, it is normal for someone to be on a 'secure' website, and when you are using a VPN, that's how it looks to your ISP.
Stop Being Throttled by Your ISP
Another way that your VPN can enhance your browsing is by preventing your ISP from throttling your connection speed.
ISPs often reduce your bandwidth after having monitored your browsing activity and then analyzed the types of services being used or the content accessed. The reason they do this is to try to get you to purchase a higher priced subscription which offers faster broadband speeds.
It might seem that this is unethical, and to be fair not every ISP does this, but it can happen.
So how do you prevent it? The answer is by using a VPN.
A VPN will encrypt all your online traffic so that your ISP has no idea what sites you are visiting, what content you are accessing or what services you are using.
Without that information, it cannot possibly assess your activities and therefore, will not be able to throttle your bandwidth.
Keeping Everything Private
A VPN will undoubtedly prevent an ISP detecting activities online, especially those which any individual wishes to keep strictly private. Dating sites and online casinos are a couple of examples where many people wish to keep their activities protected from their ISP.
Another scenario is P2P file sharing platforms where individuals share music, software, movies, and documents. Websites which stream sports and movies are also places where one might wish to remain anonymous.
Depending on which country you live in, some of these activities may be frowned-upon more than others depending on the applicable laws, so we are not suggesting that you use a VPN to undertake anything which could be illegal.
However, the fact remains that by using a VPN you will prevent your ISP from detecting or monitoring your online browsing activity.
So, the answer is that your ISP cannot see that you are using a VPN, nor can it monitor and detect any of your browsing and online activity if you are using a VPN.
However, this can only be guaranteed if you use a reputable, paid service which can offer a high level of encryption.Related: VPN ISP Privacy Security