Yes, a VPN prevents your ISP from seeing what you download or which sites you visit. As VPN encrypts your network traffic by masking the external IP address, the ISP cannot track your online activities but can see how much data bandwidth you are using.
So, while they cannot see what you are downloading, they can track how much data you consume when downloading large files, streaming or gaming online. Here are the details of what all your ISP can and cannot see when using a VPN. Let’s understand.
What information can an ISP see when using a VPN?
Even though the VPN allows you to Torrent without your ISP knowing, stream and download files online anonymously, the following information is still visible to your ISP:
- Use of a VPN connection
- Your VPN Server’s IP address
- Port used by the VPN protocol
- Connection Timestamps (When and How long you were connected to the VPN server)
- Amount of Data Transferred or Used
- Encrypted Data Transmission between You and a Private Server
What information does a VPN hide from the ISP?
Although your ISP can track that you are connected to a VPN, they cannot track your online activities as the connection traffic is encrypted and unreadable. It means your ISP cannot access the following information when you are using a VPN:
- The websites and web pages you visit
- The content you are downloading or uploading
- Your search queries
- Time spent on a particular website
- Web browsing and search history
When not using a VPN, the ISP can track the browsing history. They record your browsing history for a minimum of 3 months to a maximum of 2 years for various purposes, like Mass Surveillance, Data Throttling, targeted advertisements, etc.
How does VPN hide Download activity from ISP?
VPN encrypts your network to hide your download and browsing activity by rerouting the traffic through a secure tunnel. This is how a VPN works to secure your download activities:
- A VPN encrypts the network traffic when it leaves your computer.
- The traffic passes through a secure tunnel where no one (including your ISP) can track or see its content.
- The traffic is decrypted when it returns to the VPN and is then sent to the destination website. This way, all your search queries and download activities get encrypted and decrypted by VPN only, not your ISP.
However, using the selective turning option, you can decide which information/websites you want your ISP to track when using a VPN. If you enable split tunneling, ensure to exclude any app or service that can provide sensitive information to your ISP about your downloading activities.
While VPN servers allow you to download large files or Torrenting anonymously, they don’t endorse piracy. Reliable VPNs come with a zero-logging policy to detect illegal usage of their services. Some of the best and most reliable VPNs with the zero-logging policy you can use are:
- CyberGhost VPN
- Private Internet Access
How does an ISP know you are using a VPN?
To track and identify whether you are connected to a VPN or not, the ISP can use the following ways:
- Using a VPN Server IP Address: After enabling the VPN server, the traffic first travels through your ISP’s network before you are getting assigned a dynamic server. The ISP identifies that the traffic going to a single IP address is different from your external IP address provided by them. This indicates that you might be using a VPN.
- Deep Packet Inspection: The DPI technique allows your ISP to deeply analyze your web activities and internet traffic for unique signatures. Every online activity (browsing, streaming, downloading) has different signatures and data usage patterns.
So, by analyzing the data packets’ size and movement, ISPs can predict what you are up to. If the data packets are large and moving rapidly, chances are you are downloading a large file. However, they cannot see your download files and activities using DPI capabilities.
- VPN Protocol and Port Numbers: VPN protocols like IKEv2, OpenVPN, Wireguard, etc., use specific port numbers. Depending upon which protocol you use, you are connected to a specific port number visible to your ISP to track you using a VPN. Also, enabling VPN encryption makes your data unreadable, letting your ISP know you are using a tunneling protocol.
Just the way ISP uses your IP address to monitor your online activities, you can also use your external IP address to find out some crucial details like who is your ISP, its server, location, etc., in a single click using online tools.
No, most of the time, ISPs don’t care if you are using a VPN or not. However, they don’t want you to download copyrighted content or engage in restricted activities. But, in countries like China, Russia, and Iran, the use of VPN is illegal and thus, ISPs are regulated by the Govt. to ensure users don’t access such services.
The Tor browser and a proxy server are other alternatives to hiding download activities from ISP without a VPN. While the Tor browser is free and encrypted, Proxy servers are generally not encrypted, and you need to buy an SSL encryption for that.
If you are using an encrypted proxy server, the ISP cannot detect whether you are Torrenting. However, without it, ISP can see which sites you visit and get an idea of torrenting. By inspecting your data packet size and movement, they can predict whether you are involved in Torrenting.
Usually, ISPs can throttle your connection speed to restrict large data consumption in activities like Torrenting. However, they can penalize you if they catch you downloading copyrighted content.
So, while your ISP cannot see or track your downloading activities when using a VPN, they can analyze that you are using an encrypted server to browse anonymously. Also, by inspecting your data usage and packet size, they can predict whether you are involved in downloading large data files.
They can also track the amount of data transferred when connected to a VPN. Use only a reliable VPN with a zero-logging policy to avoid misuse of your private server.