Can You Be Tracked With A VPN? Yes, If You’re Not Careful
If you’ve recently started using a (Virtual Private Network) VPN, you might be wondering if you’re completely safe and anonymous. You might have also encountered a website that’s using VPN tracking technology that’s prevented you from accessing the site.
The question is, are you completely anonymous when using a VPN? If a site has picked up that you are using a VPN, can they identify and access your personal information?
In this article, I’ll break down exactly who is tracking you and what info they can get if you’re using a VPN.
Who is tracking you online?
Did you know that the following entities keep a watchful eye on every piece of data that passes through their domain?
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — Your ISP knows everything you do online, including if you’re using a VPN. They know your searches, the websites you visit, and the apps you engage with. Sometimes, an ISP might regulate internet usage by blocking certain websites or throttling streaming apps.
- Governments — Governments have the authority to request the activity logs from ISPs and VPNs in certain regions. For example, in China, the government uses ISPs to enforce nationwide censorship. VPN vendors need to be approved by the Chinese government and are required to cooperate with them.
- Online advertisers — Ever wonder why you see the same ads even though you are on a different website? Online advertisers such as Google and Facebook track their users so that they can serve targeted ads.
- Hackers or cyber criminals — Tempted to use the local mall’s Wi-FI to browse or shop online? Just don’t… unless you are using a reliable VPN. Cybercriminals can monitor the data packets on public or unsecured networks. If the network is not secured, they can easily access your passwords, financial transactions, and more in minutes.
Now that you know who’s watching, you might be wondering how you can browse the internet without being tracked. Using a trustworthy VPN is one of the best ways.
How does a VPN hide what you do online?
A VPN is a complex networking technology that helps you to access the internet in a secure and private environment. At its core, it does two things to reduce the risk of an external party tracking your digital presence online.
1. It encrypts the data
A VPN creates an encrypted channel between your device and the VPN server. As data passes through the VPN server, the encryption software scrambles the information, making it impossible to read to anyone monitoring the communication channel. The VPN server then sends the data to the destination server on the internet.
2. It replaces your address with its own
Have you noticed that some websites know which country you live in? They use your IP address to identify your location. Like your residential address identifies where you live, your IP address identifies the location of your device that you’re using to access the internet.
A VPN server replaces your IP address with its own as it passes the encrypted data to the public internet. For example, if you live in New York, your IP address will show that you are connecting from New York. However, if you connect to a VPN server based in Amsterdam, your IP address will then indicate that you are based in the Netherlands.
On the surface, both VPN features seem to do the trick in hiding your digital footprint. But the question is… to what degree?
Can you be tracked with a VPN?
To be honest, the answer is an unfortunate yes.
A VPN might hide your IP address and encrypt your data, but it can’t guarantee complete anonymity. In the past decade, technology has developed and is continually evolving to detect VPNs. Take Netflix, for example. Over the years, the site has continually evolved to combat users using VPNs to access content that is not available in their country. There are now only a few VPNs that can bypass its mechanisms.
If a site is using VPN tracking technology, it will be able to identify that you are using a VPN.
Even if you connect to a VPN, you can still be tracked by the following means:
If malware has infected your device, it might send your IP address and other confidential information to the hacker. Using a VPN doesn’t stop your device from being infected by malware, nor does a VPN prevent malware from exposing your digital presence. We recommend that you use reputable anti-malware to prevent this from happening.
Cookies are files that help websites remember your preferences and provide relevant content in subsequent visits. This includes your IP address, shopping cart history, mouse movements, and other behavioral indicators. Unless you clear the cookie cache, you remain traceable despite using a VPN.
You might not like the sound of it but browser fingerprinting is a technology that allows websites to create a unique profile on you based on various detailed information, including:
- Your operating system
- The software you’ve installed
- Your time zone
- Hardware specifications
- Screen resolution
- And more
Even if a VPN hides your IP address, browser fingerprinting reveals a vast amount of relatively identifiable information, usually without your consent.
How anonymous are you when using a VPN?
We know that relying solely on a VPN isn’t enough to remove your entire digital footprint. But, will a VPN make tracking you more difficult or almost impossible? Particularly, what information can external parties lay their hands on when you’re secured by a VPN?
In short, it depends on the country you live in and the VPN service that you use.
Can the government track you when you connect to a VPN?
Some governments have oppressive internet policies that allow them to filter and monitor all internet traffic. In such cases, authorities like the police or intelligence agencies can detect users who use a VPN service.
However, if you are using a good VPN service that does not store session logs that contain your actual IP address, browsing history, and other relatable information, there’s no way that the police or government can get hold of the information to identify the users.
However, if you use a VPN that does store this information about you, in some cases, they will be required to hand this information to the authorities.
The bottom line is, when choosing a VPN service make sure that they keep no logs.
Can your employer track you despite using a VPN?
Employees can use two types of VPNs in a company — commercial VPNs and business VPNs. Your employer cannot track what you’re doing online with a commercial VPN. For example, ClearVPN is a trusted commercial VPN that protects your privacy from external parties, including corporate IT administrators.
However, if you use a business VPN to access workspace information, your employer may monitor and log your activities. Most business VPN consists of monitoring capabilities, which allow the system administrator to track the usage of all VPN connections.
Does VPN prevent tracking by ISPs?
Yes… if you’re using a trusted VPN. Your ISP can’t see what you’re browsing online when you connect to a VPN. However, by detecting the encrypted data from your device, the ISP is aware that you’re using a VPN. However, the ISP will not know your actual IP address or your browsing history.
Can Google track you when using a VPN?
Google is more than capable of tracking you, with or without a VPN. If you sign on to your Google account on the browser or other web services, you enable Google to track the sites you’ve visited, apps you’re using, places you’ve been, and other services you interact with online. This explains why you keep seeing ads on kitchenware after visiting several cooking blogs.
Can a VPN be traced?
A VPN hides your online presence from the likes of ISPs, governments, and hackers. But the question that intrigues many users is — can a VPN gives itself away?
In some cases, a VPN can be tracked and blocked. While this doesn’t expose your IP address, it disrupts your access to some services. For example, as mentioned, Netflix has successfully blocked several VPNs and you’ll be unable to access the site until you disconnect from the VPN.
Here’s how a VPN can be traced.
- Shared IP address. Many VPN users share a unique IP address when connected to a VPN server. Regulatory bodies might compile a list of the VPN IP addresses. By comparing the originating IP address incoming data with the list of VPN IP addresses, they can detect if it belongs to a VPN user.
- Deep packet inspection. All VPNs send encrypted data in a specific format. While external parties can’t read the underlying content, they can detect the presence of VPN data packets and restrict the transmission.
- Network port. All VPN communication passes through specific ports. The OpenVPN protocol uses ports 443 (TCP) and 1194 (UDP). If the regulating mechanism knows what to look for, it will be aware of VPN data that passes through.
Can VPN be tracked by government?
By using some of the VPN detection methods, governments can detect and restrict the usage of certain VPNs. For example, the Chinese government has the upper hand against many VPNs and only approved ones can operate within the country.
How to hide your VPN traffic?
Despite using a VPN, you might still have difficulty accessing certain websites, thanks to VPN detection technologies. This is unless, of course, you connect to an obfuscated VPN server. These servers are special servers that conceal the fact that you are using a VPN. This keeps ISPs, authorities, and other web services in the dark about your VPN usage.
Should you use a free VPN to prevent tracking?
Although you might think you are saving cash by using a free service, it’s not worth the risk. These free VPNs have a notorious reputation for compromising their users’ privacy.
In order to make money and compensate for their free service, many of these VPN providers serve ads and sell their users’ data to advertisers. Apart from your data being sold, these ads may also lead you to malware-infected sites.
We don’t recommend using a free VPN. Instead, a trustworthy VPN like ClearVPN is a safer bet for safeguarding your privacy. In fact, Forbes has recommended ClearVPN for its security and privacy. ClearVPN has a strict no-logs policy and industry-grade encryption. Plus, it’s simple yet powerful, making it easy for anyone to use.
Can you be traced with a VPN?
It depends on several factors, including which VPN you use, how you’re being traced, and if your device is compromised by malware. That said, a good VPN provides a decent degree of anonymity to safeguard your privacy.
If you use a VPN, can you be tracked?
With good online security habits and regular scans for malware, the chance of getting tracked when using a VPN is extremely slim. This is, of course, assuming that you use a premium, trustworthy VPN instead of a free one.
Can a VPN steal your data?
There is a risk of this if you use a free VPN as it might collect your data and sell it to third parties. While it is not a direct theft, the act breaches trust and privacy. It’s best to use a good VPN that keeps no logs.
Complete stealth is very difficult, even with a VPN. As technology evolves, more parties are using VPN tracking tools. However, using a good VPN will keep you relatively safe when connected to the web and will prevent IPs, the authorities, and hackers from accessing your data.