Usually, the thought, “Do I need a VPN?” comes to mind when we start thinking of how little privacy there is in the virtual world. Almost every step online gets recorded — just try looking for, say, a suit in Google. The next thing you know, the majority of ads on websites and social media platforms will offer you suits.
And we didn’t even mention that someone could be snooping on you — from hackers to even your employer who wants to make sure you’re not scrolling Instagram at your workplace. But can a VPN app protect you from all this?
What does a VPN do?
First of all, let’s get the functions of a VPN clear. This tool routes your connection through a VPN server. Because of it, you pick up the server’s IP address and mask your real one with it before getting to a destination website. Therefore, the latter will see the IP of a VPN server, not yours. Besides that, a VPN encrypts your data which means it basically turns it into encoded gibberish no one will be able to understand.
Depending on the type of this tool, it impacts either some parts of traffic or all the data. For example, a VPN Chrome extension will reroute only the connections held in the Chrome browser. While a VPN app you’ve installed on your PC will impact all the traffic that all your programs are generating. And, obviously, a VPN for Android or iOS will work with connections that are held through the mobile device.
Yet, it’s possible to see that you’re using a VPN. Your internet service provider, employer, government, and even websites you’re visiting can understand that you’re using this tool. So, is there any point in using a VPN app if you want to stay safe online? Yes, this service will protect your privacy, even though everyone can understand that you’re using a VPN. But there are some nuances.
How can someone see that you’re using a VPN?
It’s not difficult to understand that someone is connected to a VPN server for several reasons:
- It’s IP address is not a secret. There even are databases that list all the VPN servers. But despite that others can see that you’re using this tool, they won’t be able to detect your real IP address or your personal data.
- Port numbers give away that you’re using a VPN. This service usually uses User Datagram or Transmission Control protocols — UDP and TCP respectively. These protocols typically use certain port numbers. So if some third-party can see your port number, they will understand that you’re using a VPN. Still, your data remains hidden.
- The deep packet inspection reveals the use of a VPN. Specialists hold this process to study the data and detect spam or malware, for example. But also, DPI allows them to see if a user has a VPN on. That’s how some governments in countries that forbid the use of VPN apps detect people who are utilizing them anyway.
So, who can see what when you’re using a VPN?
As we’ve already figured out, others can detect that you’re utilizing this service. But what else can they see?
Starting with governments
Officials can detect the use of a VPN app. But they still can’t see the traffic that’s hidden by it. However, this also depends on the policy of a provider. For example, iNinja has a policy which states that we don’t record or keep any unnecessary logs of our users. And most trusted vendors also follow such a policy. Yet, some VPN providers might record too much of your activity. Then, if the government asks them to hand over user data, these vendors will have to share all the logs thus revealing the activity users wanted to hide with this VPN.
Countries that forbid the use of such an app often make deals with providers. Then they will have to implement backdoors for governments to see user activity. These VPN vendors become then allowed in such a country. But they obviously won’t give you the privacy you crave.
What about Google?
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with this corporation. On one hand, it provides us with lots of cool stuff from a robust search engine to different gadgets. But on the other hand, it snoops on us all the time.
So, if you browse the Internet with a VPN app on, but you’re logged into your Google account, this corporation will be able to understand who you really are and track your activities. Therefore, the right solution would be to log out of your account, turn on the VPN, and then do whatever you’re planning to do.
However, even if you do that, Google still might be able to track you through cookies and browser fingerprints. This data can let it connect your activity to your account and thus identity. That’s why you should use privacy-oriented browsers or cookie blockers along with the VPN for the best effect.
Can a VPN hide your activity from an employer?
It depends on the kind of service you utilize. VPN apps that are suited for businesses follow the goal to encrypt the data and protect it from those outside the office to prevent data leaks. But system administrators that work for this company will see the activity of employees. Commercial VPNs encrypt data of a specific device thus hiding the actions from everyone else besides the user themselves.
Yet, even a commercial VPN can’t save you if your employer has monitoring tools installed. Such software will gather information about your activity directly from programs you’re using because it’s installed on your work device. A good example of such a tool is a keylogger that records whatever you type on the computer in your office. There is no VPN app that could protect you from such a monitoring program.
Therefore, if you want to perform some actions privately when in the office — text someone, for example, — you should use your personal mobile device. Also, it’s better to use mobile data instead of the office WiFi to avoid tracking. Then if you want more protection, you can use iNinja — the best free VPN for Android and iOS. It will safeguard your data while not overloading the device and cutting the connection speed.
Let’s summarize, how can someone track you even if you are using a VPN app.
Cookies give away a lot of data
They’re important for the internet to work properly. Without them, your browser experience would suck a lot because you will enter every website as if you’re doing it for the first time. And it will load for a while. Try deleting your cookies and then entering some sites you’re using constantly. You’ll see how much slower the loading becomes for the first interaction.
However, cookies also carry a lot of information that could be used by third-parties. Well, it is always used for advertising purposes, you can’t really avoid that. So if you want to stop cookies from revealing your activity, you should use cookie blockers or privacy-oriented browsers.
Each browser has fingerprints that are as unique as ours. They contain specific data such as information about your device, extensions, and so on. While the data is quite technical, it can help third-parties create a unique identifier for you while still not revealing any personal data.
Different trackers can gather and fetch vital data to third-parties. And as we’ve already established, such software might be installed not only by malefactors but by your employer, too. That’s why you should have a reliable antivirus for protecting your personal devices. And like we said, stick to using your smartphone with mobile data and VPN turned on when you want some online privacy in the office.
A couple more tips on how to stay safe
It’s not that hard to minimize the amount of data others can get about you. Just follow simple guidelines:
- Think before posting online. All those Facebook and Instagram posts reveal a lot of valuable data about you.
- Use private search engines instead of Google when you don’t want to be tracked.
- Stick to privacy-oriented browsers when you want to hide your activity.
- Use a VPN app for another layer of protection.
iNinja offers a free VPN for Mac and Windows, iOS, and Android. Also, you can get a VPN extension for your Chrome browser if you want to access geo-restricted websites. Thus, with iNinja, all your devices are protected by a VPN.