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Can the ISP see that I am using VPN?

You pay your internet service provider (ISP) every month, and it gives you access to the internet. A pretty nice transaction, right? Unfortunately, that’s only a part of the story. In addition to your monthly fee, your ISP also collects data about your internet activity. While using a VPN (virtual private network) can boost your privacy, it doesn’t hide all your information from the ISP. Here’s what you should know about your ISP.

Saulius Griškėnas

Saulius Griškėnas

Can the ISP see that I am using VPN?

What data does ISPs see and track?

Your ISP is the gatekeeper able to track your data, grant or block your internet connection, or even sell your data to third parties. Here are some of types of online activity an ISP can see and track by default:

Tracking this information enables your ISP to potentially throttle your internet speeds if you exceed certain limits or use too much data during peak hours. For example, an ISP can use deep packet inspection to scan your internet activity. Below, we’ll show you some of the ways you can block ISP tracking.

Can the ISP see that I am using a VPN server?

An ISP can often see whenever you’re using a VPN. But is this a big deal? Yes and no. VPNs are legal in most countries, so the ISP does not care too much about you using a VPN. However, in countries such as China or Russia, where VPNs are restricted, ISPs do care and may block access to specific websites.

But you can prevent the internet provider from knowing you’re using a VPN. For example, NordVPN offers obfuscated servers that hide the fact you use a VPN.

If you’re unsure whether your country allows VPNs, check our country guide.

What information does my ISP see when I am using a VPN?

If you’re using a VPN, your ISP cannot see the websites you visit anymore. But it can still see and track some information, such as:

  • The IP address of the VPN server.
  • The amount of traffic traveling to and from your network.

What information do VPNs hide from internet providers?

Once again, since a VPN hides your IP address, it severely limits an ISP’s ability to track your online activities. VPNs protect information like:

  • The timestamp of when you connected.
  • The port your VPN protocol is using.
  • Your browsing history.
  • Your online search history.
  • Encrypted content you send like credentials, private messages, and emails.

Your privacy is protected because your internet traffic is encrypted by the VPN service. You can learn more about VPN encryption here.

Can my ISP block a VPN?

Yes, an ISP can block your access to the internet while you’re using a VPN. While it’s not common, an ISP may not like VPNs for allowing you to bypass restrictions that the ISP itself has put up.

For example, an ISP can block a specific VPN protocol or identify and block VPN connections based on the traffic type or encryption used. However, like mentioned above, some VPNs offer features preventing the ISP from knowing that a user has VPN turned on.

NordVPN’s split tunneling can help you handpick which traffic goes through a VPN server, while a dedicated IP provides you with an IP address that only you use. Both of these features, as well as the obfuscated servers we’ve already mentioned, enhance your browsing experience and boost your privacy.

How do websites know I am using a VPN service?

Just like your ISP, the websites you visit don’t always know you’re using a VPN. However, the whole truth is much more complicated and depends on a variety of factors. For example, a website may recognize you’re using a VPN since your IP address assigned to you by the VPN provider is shared with other people. But most websites don’t care because taking action against every user with a VPN would get tedious.

Of course, there are exceptions. Websites would prefer that VPNs not exist because they prevent businesses and advertisers from tracking you. They can denylist IP addresses as a consequence or simply rely more heavily on cookies. If you would like to know more about VPNs, this guide explains VPN connection for dummies.

Saulius Griškėnas
Saulius Griškėnas Saulius Griškėnas
Saulius believes that the users can still win the war for privacy online. That's why when he's not writing about cybersecurity, he's scouring the net for privacy tools to find the best ones everyone can use.

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