Does a VPN Hide You From Your ISP? [All You Need To Know]

Romj Amon
Romj Amon

Updated · Aug 22, 2022

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Surfing the Web can feel like an intimate experience. But without protections, it’s far from private. People can actually snoop into your browsing activity, monitor what queries you search, and which sites you visit.

Fortunately, there are ways to reclaim your privacy from the prying eyes of your internet service provider (ISP).

So, is private browsing the solution?

What is a virtual private network (VPN)?

Does a VPN hide you from your ISP?

Can you trust VPN service providers?

Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

How to Hide Your Browsing History?

Your browsing history is a valuable resource for server hosts, advertisers, and censors.

Here’s how you can keep it a secret from those who want it for their selfish motives:

Browse Privately

All major browsers support windows with increased privacy features, which make a great virtual private network (VPN) companion.

The best examples are Chrome’s Incognito, Safari’s Private Browsing, Firefox’s Private Window, and Edge’s InPrivate.

These browsing modes have different capabilities. But they all automatically erase data like visited sites, cookies, and login credentials once you close the window.

In other words, they help you instantly get rid of all traces of your browsing activity on your device. 

You’d need a VPN to mask your search history from your ISP, though. 

Use a Privacy-Focused Search Engine

The most popular search engines, especially Google, are inherently less private because they swell their coffers with advertising revenues.

They associate your browsing data with your Internet Protocol (IP) address to identify and effectively target you with ads.

Thankfully, you can switch to lesser-known privacy-heavy search engines like DuckDuckGo and Brave. The former logs zero user data and tracks no search history, while the latter stops trackers and blocks intrusive ads.

The biggest trade-off is that you won’t get personalized search results. To get the most relevant information, you have to use more specific queries and take advantage of customization filters.

Remove Web Trackers

Trackers like cookies are scripts stored on your device to remember you, understand your preferences, and/or internet usage patterns.

They can come from the sites you visit and the emails you open. But third parties can also put trackers on your device to profile you as a consumer.

Not all trackers are benign. Some allow sites to access your personal information without your knowledge and consent.

If you’re using a mainstream browser, you can use a VPN to search stuff without accumulating cookies. Or you can manually delete web trackers by clearing your browsing data.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work on all web trackers. Super cookies, for instance, are extremely difficult to remove because they reside outside a browser’s regular cookie storage.

Change Your Domain Name System (DNS) Settings

By default, you use your ISP’s DNS server to find the sites you want to visit. This setup gives your ISP a lot of power to monitor your browsing activity.

The good news is that you can use a third-party DNS server to handle your search queries. You can do this manually, but a more convenient way is to simply use a VPN service.

Most VPN vendors we’ve reviewed have built-in DNS leak protection, so manual configuration won’t be necessary. And many of them use their own servers to encrypt your DNS lookups. This way, search queries don’t travel back and forth in plaintext.

Encrypted traffic is gibberish to your ISP, making your browsing activity private.

Is Private Browsing of Help?

Yes, it is.

But it won’t make you anonymous when you use the internet. A VPN can hide traffic from your ISP; a private browsing window can’t.

Private browsing is a bit of a misnomer. Private windows let you surf the Web with a clean slate. But they’ll log your browsing history, store cookies, save your logins, and keep any info you enter in forms.

What separates them from regular windows is that they delete the accumulated data after closing them.

Plus, they’re much easier to close.

For example, Chrome has a push notification that lets you close all Incognito tabs in one fell swoop.

This is neat if you wish to prevent someone from discovering what you’re up to.

But that’s about it.

Private browsing can’t make any party that can see your traffic blind to what you search and visit online.

Conversely, a VPN can force your ISP to resort to guesswork to determine what you’re doing on the internet.

Moreover, the longer you keep your private windows open, the more browsing data and web trackers they collect. In turn, the already limited privacy protection they provide diminishes.

Is Hiding Browsing History From ISPs Possible?

Yes, it is.

No matter how you slice it, your traffic will go through your ISP. But you can render your DNS requests unintelligible with encryption.

Hiding your browsing data from your ISP doesn’t only help ensure your privacy. It can also prevent you from being a target of internet throttling.

If your ISP doesn’t like what you’re doing online, it may intentionally slow down your connection speed.

Furthermore, using a DNS server not owned or controlled by your ISP can boost your cybersecurity.

Apart from your browsing history, your nosy ISP also keeps a record of your personal information and billing details.

It’s bad enough that ISPs know more about their customers than they should. But it gets worse: they tend to be lousy data custodians.

Over the years, some have fallen victim to security breaches, leaving millions at risk of identity theft and fraud.

Does a VPN Hide You From Your ISP?

Yes, it does.

In fact, it’s one of the many benefits of VPN usage.

Compared to renting a DNS server optimized for encryption, using a VPN can bring you more value.

Other than making your outgoing and incoming traffic appear rubbish to snoopers, some VPNs can encrypt your data twice.

In addition, all VPNs can spoof your location. And many can neutralize malware and block ads.

Does a VPN Hide Your Browsing History From Your Router?

Yes, it does.

Only a few models log browsing data, as most routers reserve their limited memory to store system logs and key configuration files.

If your router does record your browsing history, a VPN can scramble your data and make it unreadable.

A savvy network administrator may identify which device the encrypted traffic is coming from and where it’s going. But only the VPN server can decrypt the scrambled data.

That said, your network admin can block the port your VPN is using to stop its traffic. 

VPNs route traffic through specific ports to establish a secure connection. Ultimately, the tunneling protocol determines which port a VPN would use.

Secure protocols OpenVPN and Internet Key Exchange version 2 choose ports 1194 or 443 and 500 or 4500, respectively.

Although it’s common knowledge that the best VPN services rely on these ports, there’s a way to avoid detection. After all, VPNs exist to bypass restrictions.

To give you privacy from your ISP, a VPN should have features like 

  • Rotating IP 
  • Dedicated IP, 
  • Obfuscation or stealth 
  • Shadowsocks 
  • Port forwarding

However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find all these wonderful capabilities in a single VPN service. But one might be enough to trick your network admin into thinking there’s nothing suspicious going on.

How Browsing With VPNs Works

Normally, your unencrypted browser traffic passes through your router, your ISP, and the destination web server. All three would know that the request came from your device.

But with the VPN, this won’t be the case.

So, how do VPNs hide what you search?

Here’s how it works:

  1. The VPN client encrypts your outgoing traffic data before leaving your device.
  2. Your encrypted traffic journeys across your router and ISP without revealing its contents.
  3. The VPN server decodes your encrypted traffic upon its arrival.
  4. The VPN server sends your decrypted traffic to the destination web server.
  5. The web server host receives your request for web-page content.
  6. The web server host thinks the request came from the VPN server instead of your device.
  7. The web server host sends its response to the VPN server.
  8. The VPN server encrypts the incoming traffic data.
  9. The encrypted traffic passes through your ISP and your router.
  10.  The VPN client decrypts the data upon reaching your device.

Alternatively, you can use a VPN browser extension to obscure your traffic.

But many VPN extensions are just proxy servers with no encryption capability whatsoever. So, don’t use those not explicitly advertised for masking browsing data.

What Else Does a VPN Hide?

So far, I’ve explained that a VPN can disguise your traffic and mentioned that it could cloak itself. But its usefulness doesn’t stop there.

A good VPN can also conceal your:

IP Address

By sending your request to a VPN server for decryption, you’re essentially borrowing its IP when surfing the Web.

As a result, the sites you visit can log the VPN server’s IP, but not your device’s. And this is how you can become anonymous to web hosts.

Location

IP addresses are location-specific. So if you route your outgoing traffic to a VPN server, you can pretend to be somewhere else.

Spoofing your location can be particularly useful when accessing geo-restricted content and hunting for bargains exclusively available in other regions.

However, connecting to an overseas server can slow down your internet speed.

To minimize latency when you don’t need to bypass any IP blocks, choose a local VPN server. This strategy will encrypt your browsing data and may still hide your general location.

Downloads

A VPN can prevent your ISP from monitoring your torrenting activity.

Your ISP may still detect upticks in your bandwidth consumption, but it’ll be clueless about the files you share and download.

Data-Heavy Online Activities

If you’re big on gaming and/or streaming, using a VPN can help mask your resource-hogging activity.

ISPs like to reduce the bandwidth of data-hungry gamers and streaming enthusiasts, especially during peak hours. Turning on your VPN client is an antidote to this unfair practice.

Personally Identifiable Information

Will VPN mask your personal data like internet searches?

It’s a yes!

VPNs encrypt all information. This means you can securely share sensitive data when connected to a potentially unsafe public network or Wi-Fi hotspot.

Can VPNs See Your Browsing History?

Those that log browsing data can.

You’d think companies in the business of ensuring internet privacy wouldn’t keep evidence of their users’ activity. But many of them actually do.

To be clear, most, if not all, vendors collect data related to VPN sessions. So, no company can claim to have clean hands.

Only those that are genuinely uninterested in originating IPs, DNS queries, and sites visited have a case for being trustworthy.

The VPN service providers that do store usage, activity, and connection records engage in invasive logging. Unless they aggregate the information they accumulate, the logs they keep can be linked to specific users.

Data logging is a serious cause for concern, as it defeats the purpose of using a VPN for privacy reasons.

Here’s how you can tell if a VPN vendor is worthy of your trust:

Check the Pricing

Does a VPN claim to stop ISP tracking at no cost?

There’s no shortage of free VPN service providers, but can you trust them?

These vendors are more likely to secretly collect data for profit than those that sell premium subscriptions.

It’s not uncommon for freeware to be a front for covert activity and connection data logging.

If you take the bait, you’ll be lulled into a false sense of privacy.

Look for a No-Log Policy Claim

Will a VPN that can mask your internet searches spy on you?

Usually, the VPN services advertising zero data logging are true to their word.

They wouldn’t boldly make such a statement if they didn’t want to draw attention to their privacy policy. Lying by omission is characteristic of sly companies.

Then again, VPN vendors that proudly say they log nothing could just be bluffing.

So as a general rule, take any claim with a grain of salt. A healthy amount of skepticism will go a long way.

Read the Fine Print

With or without a strict no-log claim, you ought to check out your prospective VPN service’s privacy policy.

More often than not, you’d find a section about logs. It should spell out:

  • What data the company collects
  • What it does with it
  • How long does it keep it

Again, a VPN vendor could be lying through its teeth. But the major-league companies care about their reputation enough to be transparent.

Seek Credible Third-Party Verification

Do VPNs hide what you search without keeping a record of it?

It would be naive to answer in the affirmative because talk is cheap.

So, never take any VPN privacy policy at face value.

To know if one’s legit, ask yourself this: has it been put to the test?

A VPN service provider wouldn’t be able to share any data it doesn’t have. Plausible deniability is the number one defense of legitimately private VPN companies.

What truly distinguishes the real deal from the pretenders are verified privacy policies.

The most confident VPN vendors use the impartial findings of independent auditors to speak volumes about them.

Since VPN companies often get subpoenaed or sued, study the legal cases involving them to see whether they measure up.

VPNs can be susceptible to security breaches too. Typically, the compromised data gets publicized.

Personal data is the usual target of hackers. But it pays to determine if there’s activity and/or connection log leakage.

Wrap Up

Does a VPN hide you from your ISP?

Absolutely, it does!

However, keeping your online activity a secret from all parties bent on watching your every move is a herculean task.

Being totally anonymous on the internet may be a pipe dream, but privacy is a right not worth giving up.

There’s no single solution that can combat invasion of privacy completely.

It would take a series of conscious decisions to make life hard for cyber snoopers. And using a VPN is, without a doubt, one of them.

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Romj Amon

Romj Amon

Romj is a veteran copywriter who used to be a Jack of all trades. Now, he's trying to be a master of one: technology. He jumps down the rabbit hole to size the latest innovations up. As a content contributor for TechJury, he hopes to help you keep up in our fast-paced world with his discoveries.

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