Image for article titled Can ISPs, Websites, and Your Boss Tell If You're Using a VPN?

VPNs keep your internet activity hidden, but if someone knows what they’re looking for, they can tell when you’re using one. This may sound alarming, but as long as you’re using a reliable VPN and it’s working properly, you probably don’t need to worry. First, let’s explain how someone can tell you that you are use a VPN. It all comes down to IP addresses.

If you connect to the internet without a VPN, someone monitoring your activity would see that you are connecting to multiple IP addresses for every website or online service you use. However, if you’re using a VPN, the only IP address you’d connect to is the VPN’s proxy server, through which your traffic is routed. Someone could compare this IP address to known VPN server addresses and confirm that you are connecting to it.

So who can see which IP address you’re connecting to? Your ISP can see your router’s activity and, depending on where you live, may relay it to government agencies that may even have access to your internet traffic. The administrator of a WiFi network can also see which address you are connecting to, and there are ways to do it Sniff someone else’s browsing data when connected to the same network.

However, all they could do was confirm whether or not they were using a VPN. All traffic going to the VPN’s server is still hidden and no one can find out what you have actually connected to – as long as you a. use real no-log VPN, This is.

It’s also possible for VPN connections to fail, supposedly exposing your traffic to anyone who can keep track of why VPN kill switches are a necessary function.

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Again, it might sound scary to know that someone might see you are using a VPN, but the fear of being monitored is why people use VPNs in the first place. Problems only arise if you live somewhere that is illegal. VPNs are legal in the US, for example, but banned in China. Using a VPN can also violate the terms of use of a shared network, which is a common rule in offices and university libraries where you use that organization’s computers.

It’s also possible for a website to discover a VPN’s IP address. This is usually not a problem, but some websites can prevent VPN servers from accessing their content, especially if a VPN would allow users to bypass paywalls or strict region blocks. However, this is unusual, and many VPNs have contingency plans to work against such restrictions.

So bottom line: people can tell if you’re using a VPN, and most of them are the very people you want to hide your browsing activity from in the first place. But as long as your VPN is working as intended (and legal to use where you live), they won’t be able to see what you are doing and you won’t get into trouble.