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What does a VPN hide? | NortonLifeLock
A virtual private network (VPN) can hide a user’s internal protocol address (IP address) and block their location and browser history, allowing them to share and receive information on public internet networks more privately.
Whether you’re searching something online or communicating via social media, you’re leaving digital footprints in the form of your browsing history, cookies, and cached data.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government, and other third parties can track what you search, visit, and download.
Even if you use a private browsing mode, your IP address can still be collected.
When you download and enable a VPN prior to browsing, a VPN can offer online privacy and increased security by helping hide your online identity and encrypting your traffic. Hackers and third parties will only be able to see the IP address of the remote VPN. This prevents them from accessing your location, browser history, or the personal information you may have sent or received during that browsing session.
Here are the seven main things that a VPN hides:
1. Search History
You can clear your cookies and search history from your browser. But chances are your ISP has recorded the websites that you’ve visited. VPNs can hide your search history and other browsing activity, like search terms, links clicked, and websites visited, as well as masking your IP address.
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Can you truly remove your search history?
No. You’re removing the file references from your directories, but your operating system won’t simultaneously erase this data. It only moves the information to a special area on your Mac or PC’s hard drive.
If you use a VPN each time you browse, third parties will only be able to see the IP address of the remote VPN. This disables them from pinpointing your location, ISP and, potentially, other personal information.
2. IP Address
Your IP address identifies your device on the Internet or a local network. It’s the key data that connects you to your location, ISP, and web search history.
IP addresses can share sensitive information about you that includes your physical location such as your city, state, ZIP code, and country. It can trace back to your home ISP, which could reveal your name, home address, phone number, and credit card numbers.
Instead of sending information directly from your IP address, the VPN server’s IP address is associated with your activity.
For example, if your VPN service provider has servers around the world, you could appear to be connecting to the internet from a different country.
3. Medical Diagnosis and Health Conditions
Medical providers often operate through private client portals. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has set standards in the exchange of protected health information (PHI). This is the diagnosis, procedures, and counsel between doctors, clients and medical facilities.
HIPPA requires healthcare facilities to operate on private networks. These secured portals encrypt your medical information from outside parties. VPN networks allow medical professionals and patients to safely access confidential medical information untampered.
4. Travel accommodations
Travel and airline websites associate the information that you’re researching with your IP address. When you visit online travel booking websites multiple times to find better deals, a cookie has likely already locked into a price.
A cookie is data sent from a user’s computer to a website. They can identify your past travel searches, online profiles, all the way to your home address. Any action like clicking on a link can trigger an “event. ” Marketers use analytics tracking tools to track website traffic and user behavior. It only takes a short amount of time for advertisers to bombard you with retargeting ads.
VPNs can block tracking technologies, allowing you to search travel websites anonymously and avoiding advertisers altogether.
We already mentioned that your IP address can identify your geolocation. Browsers and websites use this information to map web traffic from different cities, states, and countries.
For example, when you use Google Maps, you must enable your phone to detect your location. Websites use the same technology.
One side benefit of using a VPN is known as geo-spoofing. This means a VPN “fools” websites and other online services into thinking you’re in one location when you’re really in another.
This could provide access to geo-restricted services or help save money while doing online shopping. But remember to always check your service agreement rules and observe government laws and regulations.
6. Personally identifiable material
A VPN can hide your online identity by masking your IP address. It encrypts your location and the data you send and receive, helping protect your personal identifiable information (PII). This data can come in the form of your bank information, as well as Social Security and driver’s license numbers. If a hacker gains access to your computer, your PII is could be vulnerable via audio files, messages, and passwords.
Even secure websites can become vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Using a VPN network can increase your protection when you go online, from hackers and cyber thieves.
BitTorrents (torrents) are metadata files and folders that are shared and downloaded between users on a network. This gives users access to movies, music, and other forms of media content.
Though torrenting isn’t illegal, downloading copyrighted material like movies or songs is a violation. Since your ISP can track your activity, so can the government. Using a torrenting service without a VPN can sometimes lead to warning letters or even hefty fines from the government.
Even if performed legally, torrenting can be dangerous. Downloading unknown files can result in you downloading malware. These viruses can infect your computer and corrupt your files. VPNs can prevent online peers from seeing your IP address, which could help prevent hackers from singling you out.
How to choose a VPN
When choosing a VPN, consider your needs for the device. User-friendliness, speed, secure encryption, and price are all important factors to examine. You also want reliable customer service, should anything out of the ordinary occur.
Consider using a secure VPN network that provides powerful protection and is capable of connecting other devices in your home. Research online reviews, but be careful of sites that promote affiliate websites. You can also talk to your tech-savvy friends and get their insight on recommended products.
Most importantly, when purchasing a VPN, it’s best to buy from a software company that you trust. So, no matter where you are, you can search the internet knowing that your connections are safer.
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Can You Be Tracked if You Use a VPN in 2021 – Surfshark
2021, August 25 · 12 min read
In short: can a VPN be tracked?
It’s really difficult to track a VPN because your IP (Internet Protocol) address is changed and your online activity is encrypted. Some internet service providers (ISPs) or websites may know that you’re using a VPN, but they can’t see your actual online activity.
Why do millions of people around the world use VPNs? Reasons vary, but many agree that it helps them feel at ease on the internet. It’s becoming increasingly challenging to have privacy online, and a VPN does a great job of protecting its users from digital spying, tracking, data collection, invasive advertising, and cybercriminals.
But is a VPN an all-round solution to the invasion of online privacy? It’s natural to raise these questions. That’s why I’m here to answer them.
What do we talk about when we talk about tracking?
It’s important to first understand what tracking is in this context. There are three aspects to it:
Can someone see that you’re using a VPN?
What information is available to them?
Can they see what you’re doing online?
Let’s explore it.
In what ways can you be tracked online?
Malware. Accidentally installing malware on your device can result in severe issues like stolen personal information or even fraud.
IP address. Unless you use a VPN, a proxy, a Tor browser, or any other privacy protection tool, your real IP address is visible to websites you visit.
Cookies. Advertisers can track you across the internet based on cookies, whether you use a VPN or not. However, popular browsers like Google Chrome allow you to block cookies if you’d rather not have your internet habits saved and stored on the internet.
Digital fingerprinting. More intrusive than cookie-based tracking, fingerprinting uses your computer settings, software, web browser preferences, and other similar things to make a digital portrait of you.
DNS leak. DNS leaks can happen when a VPN or a DNS is not set up correctly and when your device gets hacked. These leaks can compromise your privacy by exposing your activity online. To avoid DNS leaks, use a VPN that provides you with their own DNS addresses.
Doxxing. Doxxing is a malicious practice that people use to expose someone’s private information, like their home address or workplace.
As you can see, an IP address isn’t the only identifier on the internet. Thus, a VPN isn’t the only solution to online threats. Apart from anti-virus programs, we should also be cautious about suspicious links and emails.
Phishing is as old as the internet. And no one is really safe from it because modern phishing tactics can be seamless. We can all feel a bit spaced out sometimes and not notice warning signs when they’re there. It goes without saying, though, that not losing common sense on the internet is crucial.
Apart from that, there are also tools that help filter out email scams, like CleanWeb by Surfshark.
Who can (potentially) see that you’re using a VPN?
Not every person online will see that you’re connected to a VPN. But some can. Who has access to this information, and how can they see it?
Let’s answer the who:
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider);
websites or apps (e. g., Netflix);
Let’s answer the how:
Since your ISP provides you internet service, they can see the connections you make through their servers. It doesn’t mean that there are bold letters proclaiming that you’re using a VPN, but based on IP addresses and encrypted traffic, they could theoretically connect the dots.
Some apps and websites don’t give access to their service if you’re using a VPN. They can detect it by blacklisting IP addresses that many different people around the world use to connect. This kind of IP looks suspicious to a service provider; thus, it gets blocked.
Hackers can see that you’re using a VPN if they try to get to your data through an unsecured network (e. g., a public Wi-Fi without a password), or if you connect to a fake open Wi-Fi created by shady persons.
It’s important to note that your ISP or an online service seeing that you use a VPN isn’t bad news. That’s because it doesn’t mean that they can see what you’re sharing. When you connect to the internet through a VPN, your IP address appears that of a VPN, so your real IP address cannot be tracked.
Mask your VPN traffic with obfuscated servers
A VPN hides your online traffic, while an obfuscated server hides your VPN usage. It’s like an invisibility cloak — sometimes called a stealth VPN.
Where can you “get” those obfuscated servers? Well, some premium VPN providers (Surfshark included) use them. At Surfshark this functionality is called Camouflage Mode.
Obfuscation is great for bypassing various VPN blocks, like Hulu or Netflix, as well as the Great Firewall of China.
Is a free VPN a viable option for privacy?
In the last few years, VPN popularity skyrocketed. That’s why there are seemingly hundreds of VPN apps promising privacy and security online. Everyone wants a piece of a VPN market pie.
It’s essential to be extra careful when choosing your VPN provider. While a free VPN might seem like an okay choice, you should know that secure VPN technology requires a lot of investment and resources.
How do they make money if users don’t pay for the service? Usually, it means that your data is being sold to advertisers and marketing companies. Sometimes these free apps are so invasive that they get more out of you than just your online habits, purchases, and visited sites. Some can have access to your full name, phone number, or even home address.
If you’re concerned about being tracked with a VPN, I suggest not going for free options.
Can the government track you through a VPN?
Here’s the thing: federal authorities don’t waste their time on casual VPN users. There needs to be a legal foundation for them to take an interest in someone’s VPN activity.
When federal agents suspect someone of a crime, they go to an ISP to ask for connection logs. After detecting VPN connections, they might try approaching a VPN provider. If a VPN keeps no logs of users’ data, they will have nothing to offer even if they wanted to.
However, there aren’t many cases of authorities approaching VPN providers because they have multiple other methods of tracking a potential criminal down. We also have an extensive guide on “Can police track a VPN” that you might want to check out as well.
Can you be tracked if you connect to a VPN server in the same country?
Connecting to a VPN server in the same country is just as secure as connecting to a server in a foreign country. The only downside is that you won’t bypass geographical restrictions since your ISP sees you in the same location.
If a VPN disconnects, can you be tracked passively?
When a VPN disconnects, your data is no longer encrypted, and your real IP address is exposed. Your ISP has access to the activity of your IP address (e. g., the websites you visit), so you’re a much easier target for tracking when you disconnect from a VPN.
A solution to this problem is a so-called Kill Switch feature that some VPN providers offer. I’ll talk more about that in the next section.
Can a VPN be hacked?
While anything can be potentially hacked, a good VPN is safe from hacking due to all the security measures necessary for it to work. The same can’t be said for all VPNs – the free ones are especially shady and can be the actual vector for stealing your data or installing malware on your device.
So can you be tracked if you use a VPN?
The answer is that it’s difficult, but not impossible. If someone really wants to track you online, they will probably find a way to do that, whether you use a VPN or not.
However, a VPN keeps your browsing activity safe. Even those who can see that you use a VPN (i. e., your ISP, websites you visit, or even hackers) can’t access your data, real location, or any sensitive information. Make sure to choose a VPN with transparent privacy and no-logs policies, like Surfshark.
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How to Check If Your VPN Is Working | Avast
How to tell if your VPN is securely connected
Many VPNs are far less secure than their developers admit. A quick VPN test will show you whether or not your VPN is masking your IP address, leaking your DNS info, or spilling other info that should be protected. Once you learn how to tell if your VPN is working, you’ll have everything you need to evaluate any VPN you use.
A VPN security test will reveal whether your VPN (virtual private network) is providing the level of protection you’re paying for — and if you’re using a free VPN, it’s probably not doing much at all. You can quickly and easily test your VPN connection and see if you’re as anonymous online as you should be.
Is your VPN working? Let’s find out!
Why your VPN is not working — and how to check
When your VPN is working properly, it hides your identifying information from anyone online. But not all VPNs are built as securely as others, and many will inadvertently reveal information that could be used to identify you or your geographical location. If you’re trying to use a VPN to unblock websites, these leaks will prevent you from doing so.
It’s especially important to check for leaks if you’re setting up your own VPN, since you can’t rely on a VPN provider for security. A trustworthy VPN for PC or VPN for Mac should already be leak-proof — but it helps to make sure.
Here, we’ll review the three most common types of VPN leaks and show you how to check your VPN in each case. The best way to avoid all VPN leaks — and fix them if you find any — is to choose a secure and reliable VPN from a provider you trust to keep your data safe.
IP address leaks
Every device that connects to the internet has an IP address, which allows devices to communicate with one another online. IP addresses are linked to geographical locations, so if someone can see your IP address, they know where you are, down to the city or town. People can also use your IP address to track and monitor your activity online.
One of the primary duties of a good VPN is to hide your IP address behind another one. Then, no one can identify your real IP address when you’re online.
How to test for an IP address leak
Any VPN worth its subscription fee should hide your IP address. It’s easy to check if yours is giving you this basic level of protection — or if you have a VPN leak.
First, identify your actual IP address. Make sure your VPN is turned off. Your VPN may display your IP address, or you can search “what is my IP address” and find a number of sites that will quickly show you.
If you Google “what is my IP, ” you’ll see your IP address in either IPv6 or IPv4 format. Avast SecureLine VPN will display your IPv4 address, and many IP address lookup websites will give you both.
Note your IP address — you’ll need to refer to it later during this VPN test.
Turn on your VPN and connect to any server. The Virtual IP here is what your VPN IP address is, which should be different from the actual IP address you noted in Step 1.
Search “what is my IP” again in Google (or use an IP lookup site) and check the result against your VPN’s virtual IP address. If they match, then you know your VPN is effectively hiding your real IP address.
But if the IP check shows your actual IP address from Step 1, then your VPN has failed the VPN test and is leaking your IP address.
How to fix an IP address leak
If your VPN test showed your actual IP address, first try connecting to another VPN server and testing again. If that doesn’t solve the problem, choose a different VPN provider with better security. IP address tracking is one way companies like Google collect and use your data. While a VPN won’t protect against all types of web tracking, it will prevent you from being tracked through your IP address.
Some VPNs don’t cover IPv6 connections. If you have IPv6 enabled on your computer, and you connect to an IPv6-enabled website, your VPN may secure your IPv4 address while letting your IPv6 traffic slip through. In this case, either disable IPv6 on your device, or choose a VPN that protects it. Any VPN that supports IPv6 will also support IPv4.
Hiding your IP address is one of the primary reasons why people choose to use VPNs, and if you’re not getting this basic level of service from your VPN, take your business elsewhere.
Avast SecureLine VPN uses bank-grade encryption on all our lightning-fast servers around the world to hide your IP address and keep you anonymous whenever you connect.
The DNS (domain name system) is like the phone book for the internet. All websites have IP addresses, but it’s not practical to remember a unique string of numbers for every website you visit. The DNS matches a website’s IP address to its URL — such as You can view and edit your router’s DNS settings in its admin menu.
When you’re not using a VPN, your local ISP (internet service provider) handles your DNS requests, and the websites you visit can see where your DNS requests come from.
A good VPN should handle DNS lookups for you, but not all of them do. In these cases, a website you visit while connected to your VPN will still know where your DNS request came from. This also means your ISP will know which websites you visit, since they’ll be handling DNS lookups instead of your VPN.
How to test for a DNS leak
Checking for DNS leaks is similar to testing your VPN for IP address protection. Here’s how to test your VPN for DNS leaks:
With your VPN off, head to DNSLeakTest, which will show you what your IP address is and display your general location.
Now, turn on your VPN and reload the page. You should see your VPN’s IP address displayed here instead.
If these IP addresses match, then your VPN is protecting your IP address. Try clicking Standard Test or Extended Test under your DNSLeakTest info for more detailed results.
You can see that the results of the Extended Test reflect the US-based server we’re using via Avast SecureLine VPN. If these tests show DNS addresses that belong to your ISP, then your VPN is leaking your DNS info.
How to fix a DNS leak
If the results of your VPN test show a DNS leak, try contacting your VPN provider’s customer support. They may be able to address the issue.
Otherwise, switch to a better VPN with its own encrypted DNS servers — like Avast SecureLine VPN. This will ensure that your VPN won’t reveal your DNS info, which can be used to find your IP address.
WebRTC leaks (and what is a WebRTC leak? )
WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is a free, open-source solution that lets websites and apps host real-time audio and video communications, offer live streaming, and enable file sharing without using third-party software like extensions or plugins.
A WebRTC leak happens when your browser reveals your actual IP address when making WebRTC requests while you’re connected to a VPN. A good VPN will prevent WebRTC leaks, but not all VPNs do.
Let’s find out what happens with Avast SecureLine VPN.
How to test for a WebRTC leak
With your VPN off, head to a website that can test your VPN for WebRTC protection. Here, we’ll use BrowserLeaks. You should see your actual IP address under Public IP Address.
Connect to your VPN and refresh the page. If your browser is protecting you against WebRTC leaks, you’ll see your VPN-provided IP address here.
In the screenshot above, the IP address in the WebRTC test matches that of our VPN connection — if you get similar results, then your VPN test worked and your VPN is hiding your IP address.
If you still see your actual IP address after the VPN test, then your VPN is leaking your IP address when your web browser makes WebRTC requests.
How to fix a WebRTC leak
If your browser is leaking your IP address via WebRTC, you’ve got several options. The safest, most convenient, and most effective solution is to use a VPN that protects against WebRTC leaks. As we’ve seen in our test above, Avast SecureLine VPN hides your IP address and forces your browser to use one of our IP addresses instead for WebRTC.
And to ensure comprehensive leak protection, our dedicated privacy and security engineers built a simple VPN browser extension that’s easily launched from within the Avast SecureLine VPN app. With Avast SecureLine VPN’s extension turned on, you’ll get comprehensive protection against WebRTC leaks.
You should be able to rely on your VPN to protect your personal data at all times: when you’re using WebRTC to video-call a colleague, banking online, sending a file, surfing over free public Wi-Fi, or trying to unblock a beloved website. Avast SecureLine VPN gets the job done every time, with bank-grade encryption and super-fast servers all over the world.
Without a reliable VPN, you’ll need to disable WebRTC in your browser. This will stop WebRTC leaks, but it’ll also prevent you from using WebRTC-related functions at all.
Test your VPN speed
IP address leaks aren’t the only thing to worry about when testing your VPN. No matter how secure your VPN is, you won’t want to use it if it’s slowing down your internet connection.
A number of factors can affect your VPN speed, and not all of them are due to the VPN itself.
Your internet connection: Your VPN can’t be faster than your actual internet connection. The best it can do is be just as fast.
Physical distance between you and the VPN server: The closer you are to your VPN server, the faster the connection will usually be. But this isn’t always true, since VPN speed can also depend on…
The number of people using the same server: If the closest server to you is handling lots of simultaneous connections, you might get faster service by connecting to one a bit farther away.
Your computer’s processing power: Your computer encrypts and decrypts data as it flows through your VPN. A struggling computer can’t support super-fast VPN speeds.
Local bandwidth limits: If you live in a region with bandwidth restrictions or limitations, your internet speed may suffer. The same can happen if you’re sharing an internet connection with other people.
A quick VPN speed test will show you how well your VPN is performing. If you Google “internet speed test, ” you’ll find one at the top of the search results. Click Run Speed Test to begin.
How to fix VPN speed issues
Is your VPN too slow? Here are a few ways you can speed up your VPN connection. But remember, your VPN can only be as fast as the speed you get from your ISP.
Disconnect and reconnect. You never know — sometimes a reset can make a difference.
Change servers. Experiment and see if you get faster speeds on a different server. Some VPNs can auto-connect you to the fastest available server at any time.
Try a wired connection. Wi-Fi is usually slower than Ethernet. You’ll likely get faster speeds if you connect your computer to your router with an Ethernet cable.
Close down other apps. The more apps that are funneling data through your internet connection, the slower everything will feel.
Do a malware scan. Malicious software can eat up your PC’s resources and slow it down. Try a virus removal tool to speed things up.
What you should do if your VPN isn’t working
Has your VPN failed any of the VPN tests outlined above? If so, contact your VPN’s support team. If you’re using a trustworthy VPN, they should be available to resolve the issue.
Otherwise, switch to a trustworthy and secure VPN that won’t leak your IP address or other personal info online. Avast SecureLine VPN hides your IP address and protects your internet traffic against DNS leaks and other privacy threats to keep you anonymous whenever you’re online.
Protect your privacy with our trusted VPN
There’s no reason to use a VPN that can’t keep your IP address hidden. For true online anonymity whenever you connect, choose a VPN from the cybersecurity experts trusted by over 435 million users worldwide.
Avast SecureLine VPN uses powerful encryption protocols to secure your internet connection against leaks of any kind, protecting you against anyone trying to access your personal data. Experience airtight online privacy today with our 7-day free trial.
Frequently Asked Questions about can vpn hide my ip address
Can my IP address be traced if I use a VPN?
When you connect to the internet through a VPN, your IP address appears that of a VPN, so your real IP address cannot be tracked.Aug 25, 2020
How do I know if my VPN is hiding my IP address?
With your VPN off, head to DNSLeakTest, which will show you what your IP address is and display your general location. Now, turn on your VPN and reload the page. You should see your VPN’s IP address displayed here instead. If these IP addresses match, then your VPN is protecting your IP address.May 20, 2021