We are used to hearing that VPNs hide user location, identity, and activities. They allow surfing the web privately and prevent monitoring by ISPs, authorities, spies, hackers, etc. Still, many people are not quite sure what kind of information VPNs can hide and what is going to be exposed despite a secure connection. In this post, you will learn what VPNs hide, how they do it, and if there is something they can’t do in terms of online security.
Do VPNs Hide User IP Addresses?
An IP address is an identifier given to every device connected to the Internet to specify its location. It is your ISP who is responsible for allocating an IP address. Although IP addresses are not always unique (the so-called shared IPs belong to several people at the same time), they help trace online activities back to particular users. That’s why it is important to use a non-ISP address when you go online, especially if you’re going to share an unpopular opinion, provide information that defames authorities or download copyrighted content.
Even if you use an incognito mode in your browser, it is not enough to keep your activities anonymous. The only way to ensure privacy is through a VPN connection.
VPNs not only hide your real IP address but also replace it with one of theirs. If there are no other means of protection besides IP masking, your activities still can be tracked but they will lead to the servers of your VPN, not you.
Note: Not every VPN is safe enough. If your service can’t prevent IP and DNS leaks, you will expose your real IP. On top of that, you need to consider a zero-logging VPN. Because authorities or copyright holders can see the IP addresses of your VPN provider, they can force it through the court to submit information on clients who used them. On the other hand, if your VPN retains no logs, you won’t have to worry about anything – there won’t be any data associated with you.
One more thing to know – you need to be careful with dedicated IP addresses. Unlike shared IPs, they have only one user, i.e. you. If you did something wrong, your VPN will know about it and may report it to the authorities.
Does a VPN Hide Your Real Location?
Yes, it does. When you connect to a VPN server in another country, it will seem like you surf the web from that location. Alternatively, you may use VPN servers in the country you live in but in a different city (you may need it for online banking or to ensure faster download speeds). Either way, your geolocation will be different from your original one.
With that said, some things may reveal where you actually are. If your VPN has issues with redirecting your requests through its DNS servers, there will be a conflict between geolocation specified by your IP address and DNS provider. As a result, websites and online services will understand where you are and that you are using a VPN. Eventually, they may deny you access.
DNS leaks happen more often on mobile devices, so keep that in mind next time you want to watch Netflix with a VPN. Also, before you establish a connection with a VPN server, make sure to clear your device’s cache since it may also store data about your original geo-location.
Note: More and more applications are using GPS coordinates to identify user location. Unfortunately, VPNs are unable to hide those. What’s even worse, some streaming services won’t start if you turn off GPS location tracking, so watching geo-restricted content on a mobile device may be problematic. Instead, you should use a desktop computer or smart TV that doesn’t originally come with GPS. A VPN should be able to remove geo-blocking on these devices with ease.
Do VPNs Hide Your Data?
Yes, VPNs hide personal data from the ISP and prying eyes. Every day you share sensitive information with online services and that includes your passwords, credit card or banking details, etc. On top of that, you send messages that may be of interest to hackers and identity thieves. Due to spyware, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other tactics cybercriminals are capable of stealing this information.
However, if you activate a VPN on your device, they won’t be able to get hold of any confidential data. These tools have a two-step security system in place. Firstly, they will put your data into the so-called VPN tunnel. Whoever monitors your traffic would have to break it and it is not an easy task by any means. On the second step, VPNs apply traffic encryption. Thanks to it, even if your data gets into the wrong hand, it will be impossible to decrypt it. The combination of data encapsulation and traffic encryption makes data theft or monitoring virtually impossible.
Note: All the said applies only to military-grade encryption. Some of the ciphers and tunneling protocols got outdated and if your provider still uses them, your data might be in danger. You need to make sure that your VPN supports protocols (such as OpenVPN and IKEv2) and AES encryption with a key length of at least 128 bits.
Does a VPN Hide Your Search History?
Yes, you can hide browser search history from your ISP and whoever might inspect your Internet traffic with a VPN. Because browsing history will no longer be linked to your real IP address once you connect to a VPN, nobody will be able to see what you read, watch, or download online.
Similarly, VPNs hide search history from the prying eyes. However, if you searched for something while being associated with your Google account, your activities may be traced back to you.
Note: Some data regarding web browsing is temporarily stored on your device. In order to get rid of it, you need to either activate an incognito mode or manually delete everything after you finished browsing. Also, instead of popular browsers, there is a bunch of good alternatives including the Opera browser, Irridium, and many others. In addition, you may want to use secure no-logs search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage.
Does a VPN Hide MAC Address?
No, VPNs aren’t designed to keep the MAC address secret. However, this information isn’t available to the websites or online services you access. Only your router knows it. Yet, when establishing an internet connection, it doesn’t use your device’s MAC address. Instead, it makes use of its own.
In general, it is impossible to link your MAC address to your IP address. However, if you have IPv6, it may help extract your IP address from MAC. Besides, cybercriminals may infect your device will malware that reveals its MAC address.
Note: There are a few ways to spoof your MAC address even without any special apps. Just remember that getting a new MAC doesn’t mean your identity is hidden. You will still need a VPN for security and anonymity.
Does a VPN Hide Browsing History from a Router?
Many routers record browsing history and can hand it over to your ISP. A VPN can’t change the router’s settings but it can hide your online activities. The router will still see an IP address of your VPN service but nothing else as long as your VPN session is running. At best, your router will store the history of connecting to a VPN’s network. It won’t know anything about websites you visited or files you downloaded.
Note: You can check logs your router collects. If you see any data you would like to keep secret, it is possible to change logging settings. The process varies depending on a router manufacturer so you will need to contact its support team for instructions or search on the Internet.
Can a VPN Hide Torrenting Activities from an ISP?
Absolutely! A good VPN service can hide torrenting and any type of online activity, not only from your ISP but also from copyright holders.
If you download a file while your real IP address is public, copyrighters will detect you 100%. Unless you live in a country where torrenting for private use is ok, the consequences will be dire. However, if you download torrents when hiding behind your VPN’s IP address, you can get away with it. Copyrighters may try to force your VPN service to submit data about users who used that IP but if you choose a no-logging VPN, it won’t have anything on its hands.
Note: VPN browser extensions won’t work with torrents. They protect only traffic associated with that particular browser and torrent clients don’t belong to that category. Therefore, you need to use either a VPN app that protects all Internet traffic on your device or set up a proxy on a torrent client if your VPN service provides SOCKS5. Or do both at the same time.
Can VPN Traffic be Traced?
VPN traffic can indeed be seen since it uses security protocols and encryption that are not featured in a regular internet connection. However, the fact that VPN traffic is visible doesn’t mean that your identity or security is at risk. Nobody will be able to see any data passing through VPN tunnels. Even with the most powerful supercomputer, it will take thousands of years to crack industry-standard encryption.
Note: Restrictive networks and online services may block VPN traffic if they detect it. If you faced this issue, try obfuscated servers. They disguise VPN traffic as a regular connection.
Does a VPN Hide User Identity on Social Media?
A pseudonym, fake picture, and made-up information for your user profile are not enough to guarantee your anonymity. If your original IP address is exposed, it won’t be hard to track you down.
Only a VPN can make your identity invisible on social media. Whatever activities you are involved in, they may only be traced to servers belonging to your VPN service. A reputable provider (i.e. one that doesn’t collect logs) will make it impossible to continue from there.
The Best VPNs to Hide it All
Let’s sum up the signs of a secure VPN that hides maximum information from the prying eyes:
- Zero-logging policy;
- A wide range of shared IP addresses from different countries;
- Strong encryption and connection protocols;
- No DNS, IP, WebRTC leaks;
- Obfuscated servers to mask VPN traffic for users in countries such as China.
Here are a few top-rated VPN services that have all these features in place:
No matter which provider you choose, it will make your internet activities secure, anonymous, and more diverse.
VPNs are best at disguising user identity, changing their virtual location, and hiding their data from monitoring. They are not almighty though. If you want to achieve ultimate online security, you shouldn’t forget about an anonymous email address, a secure browser, and a privacy-focused search engine.