Many people who decide to use a VPN do so because they believe that they are anonymous when they are using one. I decided to find out about whether using a VPN really make you untraceable.
Does a VPN make you untraceable? A VPN can only make you untraceable and anonymous if the VPN doesn’t give away your real IP address or keep any logs about your browsing habits. Some VPNs leak information through DNS and WebRTC leaks giving away your real IP address that can be used to trace your identity. Some VPNs use poor easily crackable encryption and don’t have kill switches to protect against VPN connection failures, resulting in the real IP address being divulged.
Good VPNs help with increasing your security and privacy online by using strong encryption and using measures to ensure your real IP address is not divulged to the websites visited. Instead a random VPN assigned IP address is allocated and these good VPNs will also have policies in place to ensure they never give away the identity of the person using their IP addresses.
Without knowing the real IP address of a person, it becomes difficult for governments and law enforcement agencies to trace the identity of the person using the IP address. They need the real IP address so they can work out the person’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides the broadband and cable connections for their internet. As the ISP will be able to let these agencies know the real identity of the person using their allocated IP address subject to a court order that is.
The ISP will also keep logs of their customers connections on their DNS servers. The DNS servers are used to translate the website names into IP addresses required to route connections from their users web browsers to the requested websites.
As the ISP DNS server logs keep a detailed history of all the IP addresses including website names visited by their customers along with the date and time the IP address was visited, this information can be used to build a case against their customers subject to a court order.
A good VPN will circumvent the ISP DNS servers and use their own DNS servers that don’t keep logs of their customers browsing habits.
The biggest mistake that people make when they download VPNs is assume all VPNs are equal in that they are going to become untraceable and anonymous.
However this depends on the VPN they use. You aren’t anonymous while you are online if you use a poor VPN, as these low quality VPN services are not necessarily designed to protect you. They may be selling information about you to third parties or have poor security measures in place that give your identity away.
This can be your real IP address as the VPN uses poor encryption or no encryption at all. Leading to either the low grade encryption being easily hacked or if there’s no encryption being used, then all the websites being visited will know the real IP address along with the ISP keeping a log of all the websites being visited.
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Can You be Tracked if You Use a VPN?
IP addresses are clearly related directly to you and if these are kept hidden then tracking becomes very difficult when a VPN is used. However you can still be tracked online personally even when a VPN is being used as advertisers and websites might be able to keep track of the websites you visit through cookies and browser fingerprinting.
If you inadvertantly fail to switch on your VPN or the kill switch features aren’t enabled or are non-existent, then tracking becomes possible even when you are visiting other websites. As many websites and advertisers can use various tracking techniques that aren’t preventable by VPNs. Below we are going to look at the tracking techniques they may be using.
The cookies from third parties often come from the advertiser networks and make it simple for identifying and tracking you when you’re on the internet.
This is another common technique that’s used for tracking you with fairly high accuracy. After you’ve visited a website, the browser will send a load of information about the OS and itself. These are things such as language, version, plugins, screen size and more. Although this information’s very generic. However, when the parameters are used together it helps the website identify you very accurately.
There are some VPNs that keep logs about the activity that’s happening on the servers even though they claim that they don’t. So that they can track you when you’re using VPNs, a warrant is issued by intelligence agencies for the VPN provider to log the activity on the server. This way they can trace you.
Some of the VPNs are based in countries where there are data retention laws that oblige them to keep specific logs on servers or cooperate with the intelligence agencies. These types of logs are proof that will trace back their users. There are three VPNs that are based in countries where there aren’t any data retention laws implemented. These VPNs are ExpressVPN, NordVPN and VyprVPN.
There are times when the VPN isn’t set up correctly or there are certain network configurations that you might experience something called DNS leaks even when you’re using your VPN. This means that although your traffic’s encrypted, it’s possible to see what websites you tried reaching outside your VPN funnel. These DNS requests are without a doubt monitored by your ISP. With DNA leaks, tracking you is fairly easy.
When you pay for your VPN using PayPal or your credit card, this will leave a mark on payment history. Although the companies don’t hold onto your personal information, they still will associate those payments and the user account. Seeing these transactions online could trace you and associate you with the VPN account.
Tips for Maximizing Your Privacy on Your VPN
Since we know that you can be traced, we are going to give you some tips that you can use for maximizing your privacy. Below are five tips to use with your VPN.
- Do more than installing it on your browser – A lot of the services provide you with browser extensions. However, how many browsers are supported may vary. Though this is a good place to start, you shouldn’t stop at the browser extension. You should also install it on your operating system’s platform too.
- Install it on all of your devices – If you’re interested in getting the most benefits of your VPN, you want to install your VPN apps on all of your devices. Along with installing it on mobile devices, it’s also important to install it on game consoles, Smart televisions, laptops, desktops and Linux machines.
- Check connections for DNS Leak & IP address – Even though you’re using a VPN, it doesn’t mean you have a fully anonymous connection until you see if there’s a DNS leak or IP address. There’s particular websites that you’re able to use so you know if your DNS information or IP address is being leaked. These websites should be used before you do anything to make sure that your connection is completely private.
- Check your kill switch & firewall – One thing about VPNs is that they often have connection drops. That’s why you want to make sure that you have your firewall feature and kill switch on. This will prevent your connection from telling everyone your true information when the connection drops. This is what is going to turn off your network connection if you lose your private connection. You also should be sure that your firewall feature’s turned on to give you protection from online threats such as hackers.
- Have a dedicated IP address – There are some VPNs that offer you the use of dedicated private IPs rather than shared ones. This usually will cost extra. But you are going to get an IP address that’s only being used by you. The other users aren’t using it, which helps you stay much safer. It’s going to give you much more benefits when it comes to your privacy online and you don’t have to worry about other people seeing what you are doing.
A VPN will give you more privacy. But it’s important to note that you can still be tracked and traced. However, when you take the above steps, you can reduce your risk of having your information leaked.