What precisely does a VPN conceal? And what does it not conceal?
We will try our best to use this guide to address such concerns. We have included a comprehensive FAQ section below, so feel free to reach out to the areas that most interest you.
What does a VPN hide?
The following is a list of the primary things that a VPN conceals:
1. Your Internet Protocol (IP) address
When you surf the web without a VPN, anybody—websites, hackers, spy agencies, and marketers—may see your IP address. The list could go on indefinitely.
You don’t need us to explain why this is a significant issue… but we are going to do it anyway.
Essentially, it detracts from the enjoyment of an online activity. What you view on the web is not entirely private between you and your monitor. Almost anybody is capable of associating your IP address with your online choices.
For instance, internet marketers will be aware that your IP often interacts with websites selling craft beer or Christmas decorations. As a result, they will begin bombarding you with tailored advertisements on such topics. The websites you visit are aware of your IP address, which enables them to send such advertisements to you.
Certain individuals may find such advertisements beneficial. However, for the majority of us, they are plain scary and irritating.
This is no longer an issue if you are using a VPN. By bypassing your traffic via a VPN server, the service masks your IP address. In essence, your connection will look like this:
You → Internet Service Provider Network → VPN Server → Internet
Essentially, you will connect to the internet through the VPN’s IP address. As a result, every website you visit will see only the VPN’s IP address.
Additionally, VPNs enable you to circumvent firewalls by masking your IP address. After all, you are no longer surfing the web through an IP address that is subject to firewall limitations.
2. Your geographical location
When websites discover your IP address, they get access to a means of tracking your online activity and associating your online preferences with you. Additionally, they are capable of determining your precise origin. If you are unaware, your IP address contains a wealth of information about you:
- Country and city you originate from.
- ZIP code you have (not all the time, but still).
- Your Internet Service Provider.
If you are not worried about your internet privacy, this seems to be a very innocuous activity, correct?
That is not the case. If websites are aware of your geolocation, they may perform the following:
- Utilize geo-blocking to prevent you from engaging with different types of content, such as viewing specific Netflix titles or accessing websites such as Hulu and Pandora.
- Geographic pricing discrimination allows you to see various costs depending on your geolocation. For instance, if you live in the United States, you may notice greater pricing than if you live in Germany or Brazil.
Since VPNs mask your IP address, no one will be able to determine your whereabouts. Any website you visit will believe your location matches the VPN’s IP address’s geographical area. Thus, if you utilize a US VPN server, your traffic will seem to originate in the United States.
That is, you may use a VPN to unblock whatever material you want (movies, television shows, radio stations, and news websites, for example) and even save money (on car rentals, bookings, video games, or airplane tickets, for instance).
3. Your website traffic
When you connect to the internet at home or through public Wi-Fi, your Internet Service Provider and hackers may monitor your internet activity. This allows them to monitor your internet activity. Hackers may use this information to conduct Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks against you. Your ISP may use this information to restrict your speed selectively.
Overall, it does not sound healthy.
Thus, how might a VPN assist?
It is straightforward—the service encrypts all of your traffic from beginning to finish. This is a fancy way of saying that no one will be able to monitor your traffic anymore. If they attempt this, they will just see nonsense.
I will assume you are using a VPN to access Facebook. Anyone attempting to monitor your traffic will not see any connection attempts to Facebook.com. Rather than that, they will see this: wLP5XFWr#[email protected].
The benefits are rather self-explanatory: with a VPN, hackers cannot steal your data, and your ISP cannot restrict your connection to particular internet services.
If you are curious about how a VPN’s encryption-decryption process works, here’s a quick overview:
- To connect to a VPN server, you must use a VPN program.
- Both parties create a secure connection. Any data that goes through it is impenetrable to monitoring.
- When you browse a website, the app encrypts and transmits your traffic to the server.
- Your traffic is received by the VPN server, decrypted, and sent to its destination (the site you want to visit).
- VPN server then gets the requested content. It then encrypts the data and transmits it to the VPN application.
- The software receives and decrypts the data, allowing you to see it.
While it may seem like a long procedure, have no fear as it is very fast. It will take less than a second!
4. Your VPN utilization (maybe)
We mentioned that perhaps since not all VPNs are capable of this. However, if the operator employs obfuscation, their service may conceal the fact that you are even utilizing a VPN.
Essentially, your ISP and government will be unaware of your use of the OpenVPN protocol. Rather, users will only see standard HTTPS or HTTP communications (depending on which obfuscation method the VPN uses).
In general, this is a really useful benefit that allows you to remain anonymous if your government does not approve of VPN use. Alternatively, if your ISP has an issue with VPNs and throttling VPN traffic, you may use a VPN.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following is a collection of frequently asked questions regarding what VPNs do and do not conceal. We included queries submitted by our readers as well as those discovered on Reddit and Quora.
We are aware that we have addressed a number of them at the beginning of this post, but we thought that some readers may skim the page for the FAQ that interests them the most. As a result, we chose to re-answer them succinctly to provide the most reader-friendly experience possible.
Is a VPN effective at hiding you from your ISP?
This is a very ambiguous question. By definition, VPNs will not conceal your physical location from your ISP (your home address). They may, however, conceal you from your ISP by
- By masking your traffic, they are unable to examine your data packets in order to determine which online services you are using.
- Hide your internet activity. Essentially, your ISP will be unaware of the websites you visit. They will only see that you are connected to a random IP address (that of the VPN).
In general, utilizing a VPN prevents your ISP from discovering your internet habits (and potentially selling that data to advertisers).
Is a VPN effective at hiding your IP address?
Of course, the VPN server intercepts your connection requests (which include your IP address) and then transmits them to the web using the VPN server’s IP address.
Thus, anytime you are online and connected to a VPN, every website you visit will see only the VPN’s IP address. Yours stays “concealed.”
Is a VPN effective at hiding your IP address from your ISP?
No, VPNs are unable to perform this feature (no tool can, really). We saw an unexpectedly large number of individuals who believed that if they used a VPN, their ISPs would be unaware of their original IP addresses.
Additionally, keep in mind that your ISP is the one who gives you an IP address. They undoubtedly maintain a database in which they keep track of which customers get which IP addresses.
However, you do not need to be concerned about it. Just because your ISP may still see your IP address when you use a VPN does not mean you lose privacy. They are still unable to see your internet browsing activity.
Is a VPN effective at hiding your search history?
Yes, you might argue that it does. Because your ISP will be unable to identify which websites you visit, they will have no idea what you are searching for on the internet. Additionally, websites and marketers will be unable to associate your search activity with your IP address.
However, utilizing a VPN will not mask your browser’s search history or any cookies that websites may put on your device. Additionally, you should utilize incognito/private mode to safeguard your privacy. Alternatively, you can periodically delete your browser’s cookies and cache.
Is a VPN effective at hiding torrenting?
Yes, a VPN may help make torrenting more private by concealing the fact that you are downloading torrents from your ISP.
Don’t forget that if your ISP is actively looking for torrent traffic, they may detect it. Increased bandwidth usage, numerous TCP connections, and concurrent upload streams are often red flags.
However, if you use a VPN, they cannot see any of it. The service encrypts your communication, concealing the fact that you are utilizing torrent services from your ISP.
Is a VPN effective at hiding your location?
Yes. VPNs mask your IP address, which contains your geolocation information. Anyone attempting to determine your geolocation while connected to a VPN will only see the location of the VPN server you are connected to.
Is a VPN effective at hiding the websites you visit?
Yes. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or network administrator will only notice that you are connected to a VPN’s IP address. They will remain unaware of the connection’s ultimate destination (the website’s IP addresses).
Thus, if you visit Facebook, your connection will appear as follows:
Your IP Address → Internet Service Provider Network → VPN Server IP Address → Facebook IP Address
Your ISP and network administrators will see just the following:
Your IP Address → VPN Server IP Address
They will miss this:
Your IP Address → Facebook IP Address
Is a VPN capable of hiding your MAC address?
No, a VPN can not perform this function. In contrast to your IP address, your ISP does not give you a MAC address. Rather, your device’s manufacturer allocates it. Additionally, unlike your IP address, your MAC address does not go to the global web. It is limited to your local network. As a result, the VPN is unable to route data via its servers to conceal it.
However, as you can see, the issue resolves itself. Because websites cannot see your MAC address, your privacy is not jeopardized even if a VPN cannot conceal it.
Some time ago, many were worried that IPv6 addresses might leak MAC addresses. However, the IPv6 Privacy Extensions upgrade addresses this.
Does a VPN mask your VPN activity?
Yes, but only if the VPN conceals its traffic via obfuscation. And typically, only if you are utilizing the OpenVPN protocol, which has a unique digital signature that may be obscured by obfuscation.
Additionally, you may get some obfuscation by using the SSTP protocol, which utilizes port 443 (the HTTPS port) and SSL encryption. However, it is not a widely used alternative because of its closed-source nature and exclusive ownership by Microsoft. Additionally, it is only compatible with Windows-based devices.
If you utilize other protocols, obfuscation is ineffective since the majority of them use dedicated ports (L2TP/IPSec, for example, uses UDP ports 500, 4500, and 1701). Additionally, certain protocols were not designed to be used in conjunction with obfuscation (like WireGuard).
Does a VPN hide the location of your phone?
Not at all. True, a VPN may conceal your phone’s IP address and therefore its whereabouts. Even so, there are many methods to monitor the position of your phone:
- Within range are Wi-Fi networks.
- Telecommunications towers.
- GPS sensors and associated data.
Perhaps with certain applications, you might fake the GPS data, but there is nothing you can do about Wi-Fi networks and cellular towers.
Does a VPN prevent routers from seeing your browsing history?
Yes. VPN encryption begins when your device connects to the VPN server and continues until your data reaches the VPN server. Your traffic is first routed via a router. As a result, it (the router) cannot access your surfing history as it is encrypted.
Does a VPN encrypt your work-related internet browsing?
VPNs are capable of doing this because they conceal the websites you visit. As a result, your office’s network administrators will not be able to notice that you are on Facebook. However, they will recognize that you are connected to a VPN IP address (they will recognize it as a VPN IP address since there is no website name next to it).
However, that is only true if you are using your device. If you use a work computer, even if you use a VPN, your employer can still monitor your internet activity. This is how:
- They may be using spyware to capture your screen.
- They may be able to get onto your work computer remotely.
- Your employer may utilize keyloggers (such as Teramind) to monitor your activities.
- After hours, the IT staff may inspect your device.
Does a VPN mask your internet activity?
Contrary to common perception, VPNs do not perform this function. They just conceal which online services you use. This is what prevents your ISP from deliberately restricting your speeds.
For instance, if you use a VPN, they will be unaware that you are binge-watching Netflix. As a result, they will be unable to slow down your Netflix connection.
Is a VPN effective at hiding your account activity?
No, VPNs cannot prevent websites from monitoring your activities while connected to your account. For example, if you log into your Reddit account while connected to a UK VPN server, the only difference will be that Reddit will believe you are in the UK.
Apart from that, the site may still monitor your account’s activity. Additionally, they may identify you through cookies.
The only way a VPN may conceal part of your account data is if you establish a phony account using a disposable email address. In this manner, the website cannot associate it with your IP address since a VPN masks it. Or, you know, avoid creating an account in the first place.
Is a VPN enough to hide your complete online identity?
No, it can only obscure it to a point—essentially by preventing anybody from tracing your IP address and seeing your activity.
However, websites, hackers, and spy agencies may still trace your online identity in a variety of ways: malware, background scripts, and browser fingerprinting. Even social media platforms may leak critical data if you are not cautious about what you publish and share. After all, VPNs have no control over your Facebook or Instagram accounts.
NOTE: Many individuals seem to believe that VPNs provide total anonymity. That is incorrect; they can only provide more privacy.
Does a VPN protect you against malware?
No, VPNs are not intended to guard against malware infection. Only antivirus applications are capable of doing so. Therefore, do not believe that you can download things from sketchy HTTP sites just because you are using a VPN!
VPNs can only “protect” you against malware if they include firewall-like capabilities that prevent you from connecting to dangerous sites.
Additionally, they may protect you from some malware assaults by encrypting your communication. Because hackers would not know which website you were intending to visit, they would be unable to utilize malware-infected phony websites effectively.
However, you are much better off just utilizing antivirus software (like Heimdal Security).
Is a VPN effective at hiding you from your government?
Not entirely, but it may create impediments that make it more difficult for surveillance organizations to monitor your internet activity.
Simply ensure that you utilize no-log VPNs (like NordVPN). Thus, authorities will be unable to compel the VPN provider to turn over records, including user data.