A VPN is a wonderful tool that allows users to hide from several kinds of entities. Many users encrypt their connections with a VPN because they want to protect their data and hide their activity. But is a VPN invisible, or can it be detected?
VPN Detection VS Activity Detection
It's important that you understand that there are two types of detection. To make this article easier to read, let's define both of them. On one hand, being able to detect your VPN is only the ability to see that you are using a VPN.
On the other hand, detecting your VPN activity is being able to see your Internet activity while you were connected to the VPN. In this case, it would mean that someone could break in the VPN's encryption and track your activity.
Who Knows You are Using a VPN?
Let's go straight to the point, there are some entities that are capable of detecting your VPN. And remember that being able to detect a VPN is not the same as seeing your activity. Besides you, these are the entities who can identify your VPN:
Internet Service Provider
They can see your connection is encrypted by a VPN. Remember that they won't have access to your activity anymore, because everything's encrypted. They just know you have a VPN software. They won't have any problem with it because a VPN is legal.
If a government agency tries to monitor your activity, it will be blocked by the VPN encryption. They will have the knowledge that you have the protection of a Virtual Private Network. Again, a VPN is legal and no one can do anything to a user just because of using this type of software.
Your VPN Provider
Obviously, your VPN provider knows that you are using a VPN. This may sound very obvious, but it's an important topic that we will explore in a few paragraphs.
How is a VPN Detected?
Most VPN providers use thousands of IP addresses that are assigned to servers spread around the world. But, after filtering those IPs per country, it's easy to see that they are almost identical, coming from the same place and used by different users. There are softwares with algorithms that analyze those IPs and detect a VPN immediately.
In the case of your ISP or a government agency, it's simple to understand how easy it is for them to detect your VPN. When they try to monitor you, the fact that your connection is encrypted can only mean one thing: that you are using a VPN.
Can Your VPN Provider See Your Activity?
As we mentioned before, a VPN provider clearly knows that you are using their services. But do they have the power to see what you do online? The answer to that question is not as simple as we would like it to be. The truth is that it depends on a few factors.
The most important one is to choose a good VPN software, from a reputable provider. If you are one of those people that think that every VPN will do exactly the same thing, then think again. The wrong provider choice can compromise you and expose your activity. There are a few things that can make a huge difference on a VPN:
A no-logging VPN
This should be the first thing to look at when considering getting a VPN. It's essential that you make sure that the VPN you are about to get doesn't save your activity logs. In other words, you don't want a provider that saves your activity.
Knowing that someone has your activity logs defeats the whole purpose of being anonymous. In case some agency contacts your VPN, asking them for the logs of their users, it's good to know that the VPN didn't save anything. Therefore, they have nothing to give.
The Configuration of the VPN software
You should always use a strong encryption and have your VPN settings properly adjusted. Also, if you have a weak encryption and a vulnerable protocol, you will increase the chances of being exposed, destroying your anonymity.
In that case, it wouldn't matter as much if they save logs or not, because you would already be compromised in the first place. Make sure you maximize your safety right after getting a new VPN.
The Location of the VPN Company
The location where your VPN provider is based is also important. The thing to have in mind is that some countries have data retention laws. And in those places, the governments are entitled to ask any VPN located in the same country about their user's info and activity logs. By law, the VPN has to give them what they ask.
But, choosing a VPN that is based in a country without data retention laws, gives you another layer of security. You basically know that your VPN won't have to cooperate with any agencies that make this kind of request.
It would be unfair to say that all VPN providers located in countries with data retention laws are bad VPNs. There are a couple of providers we actually like that are based in such countries. Our point is that if you are sure that a VPN does not log your activity, the location won't matter that much.
However, if their terms and conditions are not clear, and you are not sure about their logging policy, going for a VPN based on a neutral location adds more security.
What Info Does a No-Logging VPN Provider Keep?
The only information these providers claim to keep is related to your VPN subscription purchase. This information can include your physical and email address, credit card data, VPN password, and your name.
Some VPN companies will even allow anonymous purchases and activities using e-commerce methods like Bitcoin, increasing your privacy even more. The VPN companies that really don't log your data won't keep records of your Internet history or traffic for any third parties, or for themselves.
A few VPN providers that we recommend
As we discussed, there are different types of detection when using a VPN. Identifying the usage of a VPN is actually a normal thing. But tracking your activity is another story.
It's up to you to make a responsible choice. A reliable VPN will keep you on the safe side, but it's important that you configure it well and make sure they don't save your online activity.