What data do ISPs see and track?
Your internet service provider is the gatekeeper able to track your data, grant or block your internet connection, and even sell your data to third parties. Here are some types of online activity an ISP can see and track by default when you are not using a VPN:
- DNS requests.
- The websites you visit.
- The content of any unencrypted data you submit.
- Your IP address.
- The amount of data you’re using.
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. This might negatively affect your bandwidth and reduce your internet speed. An ISP can also use deep packet inspection to scan your internet activity. But can it see that you’re using a VPN?
Can an ISP see that I am using a VPN?
Yes, your ISP can see that you are using a VPN. It can also see the amount of traffic traveling to and from your network. However, when you use a VPN, your ISP cannot see the websites you visit, what content you watch, or what you download.
What does a VPN hide from the ISP?
Here is the list of types of information that a VPN hides from your ISP:
- The websites you visit.
- The specific web pages you browse and the time you spend there.
- Your browsing and search logs.
- The files you download from or upload to unencrypted websites.
- Your traffic while browsing an unencrypted website.
If you use a VPN, your traffic is encrypted, protecting your privacy and making it extremely difficult for the ISP to limit your bandwidth. You can learn more about VPN encryption here.
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How can you stop your ISP from tracking you?
There are four effective ways to block ISP tracking. Let’s look closer at each of them.
- Use a VPN. A VPN creates a secure connection between your device and VPN servers, encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through a protected VPN tunnel, limiting the amount of information that your ISP can track. With a VPN, you can surf the web securely and privately, even connected to a public Wi-Fi.
- Use Tor. The Tor network applies a multi-layered encryption and routes your web traffic through multiple volunteer-run servers, which makes it extremely difficult for ISPs to track where the traffic came from. However, the end-to-end encryption is not provided at the entry and exit servers, so you can never be sure if no one is monitoring or intercepting your data. Find more on this network in our article on Tor.
- Use a proxy server. You can also route your traffic through a proxy server. However, changing your IP address is all that a proxy does — it does not encrypt your traffic or provide any other security features.
- Use HTTPS. You can try browsing only those websites that have HTTPS in their URL. HTTPS encrypts the data exchanged between your browser and the website’s server, protecting your data from the ISP. However, the ISP will still see when you connect, what websites you visit, and how much data you download.
Can my ISP block a VPN?
Yes, an ISP can block your access to the VPN. While it’s not common, an ISP may not like VPNs for allowing you to bypass restrictions the ISP itself has put up.
For example, an ISP can block a specific VPN protocol or outright block your VPN connection. However, like mentioned above, some VPNs offer features preventing the ISP from knowing that a user has a 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 will use. Both of these features, as well as obfuscated servers, enhance your browsing experience and boost your security online.
How do websites know that 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 reality is 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 for VPNs to 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 beginners.