What Does a VPN Hide? (Complete Guide)
VPNs are great for your privacy and Internet freedom. You probably heard that a million times. But what does a VPN hide to warrant all that praise, exactly?
If you were wondering that, you came to the right place. We put together this guide in the hopes that it will answer all your questions about what a VPN hides.
Table of contents
- Does a VPN Hide Your IP Address?
- Does a VPN Hide Your Location?
- Does a VPN Hide Your Traffic?
- Does a VPN Hide the Websites You Visit?
- Does a VPN Hide the Fact You’re Using a VPN?
- Does a VPN Hide You from Your ISP?
- Does a VPN Hide Torrenting?
- Does a VPN Hide You from DDoS Attacks?
- Does a VPN Hide What You Search for Online?
- Does a VPN Hide You from Browser Fingerprinting?
- Does a VPN Hide You from Cookies?
- Does a VPN Hide You on Social Media?
- Does a VPN Hide You on Company/School Networks?
- Does a VPN Hide MAC Addresses?
First Things First – What Is a VPN?
It’s an online service that helps you hide your IP address. Also, it encrypts your traffic.
Here’s a quick overview of how a VPN works in six steps:
- You use the VPN client on your device to connect to a VPN server.
- The two negotiate an encrypted connection between them.
- All the data that goes between your device and the server will now be encrypted.
- When you connect to sites, the VPN server decrypts your connection requests, and then forwards them to the appropriate web servers.
- Once it receives the requested data from the website, the VPN server encrypts it and sends it to your device.
- The client on your device receives the data, and decrypts it so that you can view it.
If you’d like to learn more about VPNs, check out this article.
So What Does a VPN Hide?
We compiled a list of the most common questions we got from users about what VPNs hide. We also incorporated questions we saw on sites like Reddit and Quora, and in the comment sections on VPN review sites.
If you have any other questions you want to see added to this list, just let us know.
With that out of the way, let’s start:
Does a VPN Hide Your IP Address?
Yes, that’s one of the main reasons people use VPNs. Here’s how the service “hides” your IP address:
- You connect to a VPN server.
- When you browse websites, your connection requests will go to them through the VPN server.
- Sites will only see the VPN server as the source of the requests, so they’ll only see the server’s IP address.
- Similarly, anyone who tries to look up the source of your connection will only see the server’s address.
So yeah, when you use a VPN, your IP address is basically invisible to everyone else. Just make sure you don’t use a VPN that keeps logs since they might know your real IP address.
Try it right now if you don’t believe us. You can find out your IP address here. Next, sign up for a SmartyDNS free trial, download and install the client, and connect to a VPN server. Then, use that page again to check if your IP address changed.
Does a VPN Hide Your Location?
Of course. Most people use a VPN to bypass geo-blocks, after all. Since it hides your IP address, it automatically hides your geo-location too. That’s because your IP address reveals a lot of data about you:
- What country you are from.
- What city you live in.
- Who your ISP is.
- Sometimes, even your ZIP code.
Since websites will only see the IP address of the VPN server, they’ll only get geo-location associated with the server’s address. So if you use a VPN server in Spain, websites will think you are actually in that country.
Does a VPN Hide Your Traffic?
Yes, that’s what the encryption is for. It converts your traffic into an unreadable format, so nobody (not even your ISP) can spy on it.
Basically, the VPN client and your device and the VPN server you use negotiate a secure connection. Once they do that, they establish an encrypted tunnel between them. Any data that passes through that tunnel (so from your device to the server and vice-versa) is completely hidden.
Does a VPN Hide the Websites You Visit?
Yes. Your ISP won’t be able to see what websites you browse because all the requests you send to them go through the VPN server.
At most, they’ll only be able to see the IP address of the VPN server you’re using. But that’s it.
Does a VPN Hide the Fact You’re Using a VPN?
Not really. There are ways ISPs and network admins can tell you’re using a VPN. For starters, if you’re using OpenVPN, ISPs can use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) to spot the protocol because it has a unique signature.
The solution to that is using VPN obfuscation – a feature that hides VPN traffic. Unfortunately, it’s not a completely reliable way of hiding VPN usage on a network. Here’s why:
- Your ISP/network admin can still see which ports you are using, and they can be a dead giveaway. For example, OpenVPN uses UDP port 1194 by default. Similarly, IKEv2 uses UDP ports 500 and 4500.
- Even if you use port 443 (the HTTPS port), ISPs/network admins can see you are using an IP address that doesn’t have a domain name resolution. Basically, that means they see you connecting to an IP address that’s not associated with a website name.
- Speaking of the server’s IP address, your ISP/network admin could look it up online to see who issued it. Usually, they’ll find a cloud hosting company or a data center, which is where VPNs generally rent their servers from.
Once they put all that info together, they’ll realize you’re using a VPN.
Does a VPN Hide You from Your ISP?
It depends on what you mean by that.
A VPN can definitely “hide you from your ISP” in the sense that it stops them from seeing everything you do online. They can’t monitor your data packets anymore to see what web apps you’re using since they’re encrypted. Also, they can’t see what sites you browse because they’ll only see the IP address of the VPN server.
And that’s pretty cool since it means your ISP can’t throttle your bandwidth anymore.
VPNs can also hide you from your ISP by preventing supercookie tracking. Those are tracking files ISPs store on their servers and insert into your data packets. Since these files have unique identifiers, they can easily track you.
That sounds like some weird dystopian stuff, but it’s true. We’re not saying all ISPs use supercookies, but big ones like Verizon were caught doing it.
Luckily, a VPN can stop supercookies by encrypting your connections. Due to that, ISPs can’t insert tracking headers into them anymore. Plus, existing supercookies won’t be able to monitor you either.
However, please remember one thing – a VPN won’t hide your IP address from your ISP. We saw many people saying VPNs do that, but it’s not true. When you connect to a VPN server, your ISP will see the source of the connection (your IP address). Here’s how it would look:
Source (your IP address) —–> Destination (VPN server IP address)
Also, don’t forget your ISP is the one who assigned the IP address to you. So even if a VPN were to magically hide it from them, they’d still have it in a database.
Of course, that doesn’t mean your privacy is at risk. It’s just something we felt needed to be said.
Does a VPN Hide Torrenting?
Yes, it’s one of the many reasons people actually use VPNs. Here’s how a VPN hides torrenting activities:
- It hides your real IP address. So seeders and leechers in the Swarm can’t see it in their torrent clients anymore. Keep in mind some of those seeders/leechers can be copyright trolls and lawyers who collect IP addresses.
- VPNs encrypt your traffic, preventing ISPs from seeing that you’re using a torrent client. Sure, it’s not easy for them to spot Bittorrent traffic, but they can do it. They just have to check for signs of torrent traffic like simultaneous upload streams and multiple TCP connections.
- When you use a VPN, your ISP can’t see what websites you browse. So, they can’t see you accessing torrent sites.
We have an article where you can learn more about torrenting safely.
Does a VPN Hide You from DDoS Attacks?
In theory, a VPN should keep you safe from DoS/DDoS attacks. They rely on knowing your IP address to target your network with unwanted traffic and requests. Since a VPN hides your IP address, nobody should be able to target you with those attacks anymore. Instead, they’ll target the VPN server.
However, if someone who wants to DoS/DDoS you already knows your IP address, there’s not much a VPN can do.
In that situation, you need to talk with your ISP about changing your IP address. If they use dynamic addresses, resetting your router/modem should be enough to get a new IP address.
Does a VPN Hide What You Search for Online?
Yes and no.
Yes, a VPN can hide your browsing history and what you type in your URL bar from your ISP. All that data is encrypted by the VPN, and your ISP can only see the IP address of the VPN server, not the website names you type on your browser.
No, a VPN can’t hide what you type on search engines from the engines themselves. For example, if you use Google, the VPN has no control over what Google logs on their end. But, on the plus side, it can stop Google from associating your searches with your IP address.
Does a VPN Hide You from Browser Fingerprinting?
No, it can’t do that. It can stop websites from getting your IP address, but it can’t stop them from using browser fingerprinting to see:
- Your device’s language, plugins, and timezone.
- Your screen resolution.
- What browser you use, and what version it is.
- What OS you’re running, and what version it is.
If you want to avoid that kind of data logging, you should use a VPN, a secure browser (like Brave or Firefox), and a VM (Virtual Machine) – a virtual OS running within your OS. You can change the resolution (not very convenient), and use different browsers too (again, quite a hassle).
But even then you can’t really hide data about your device.
Does a VPN Hide You from Cookies?
No, VPNs aren’t programmed to work that way. While they forward your connection requests to websites on your behalf, VPN servers can’t intercept cookies for you. So they’ll end up on your device even if you use a VPN.
The best way to deal with that is to clear cookies regularly, use incognito mode, or install an extension like Cookie AutoDelete.
On the plus side, a VPN could theoretically protect you against forged cookies. Hackers can create them by intercepting cookies intended for you on unsecured connections. Since a VPN encrypts your traffic, that should keep them at bay.
Also, like we mentioned above, a VPN can stop ISPs from using supercookies to track you. While not exactly cookies, they’re related to them.
Does a VPN Hide You on Social Media?
A VPN can hide you from social media sites by stopping IP tracking. Basically, social media sites can’t link the way you use their platforms to your IP address because a VPN hides it. So, it’s less likely they’ll share that info with advertisers, meaning you won’t get spammed with so many personalized ads.
Also, a VPN can prevent social media platforms from associating your profile info with your IP address – as long as you use a VPN when you sign up on a social media site, of course.
However, if you use a VPN on a social media profile with plenty of personally identifiable information (real email address, phone number, photos of you, etc.), it can’t really do much for you. The platforms might not be able to associate your behavior with your IP address, but they’ll still link it to your real profile.
Does a VPN Hide You on Company/School Networks?
A lot of people use VPNs to bypass firewalls at work and school. Since the service encrypts your traffic, it prevents network admins from seeing you’re unblocking restricted sites.
However, keep in mind that the admins might be able to tell you’re using a VPN. They’ll see you’re connecting to an IP address with no DNS resolution, and that you’re running an encrypted connection.
Bottom line – a VPN can hide what you do online on company/school networks. But it can’t really hide the fact that you’re using a VPN from the admins.
Does a VPN Hide MAC Addresses?
First, let’s see what a MAC address actually is.
Simply put, MAC (Media Access Control) is a unique address assigned to a device. It looks something like this “11-0F-22-4D-FF-6H.” It’s used to identify physical devices on a local network.
A VPN can’t hide it because it – by design – this address can’t change. It’s physically burned into the device by the manufacturer.
If a VPN were to somehow hide your MAC address, your device wouldn’t be able to communicate with your network’s router anymore. Basically, you wouldn’t get any Internet access, and you need it to use a VPN in the first place.
But don’t worry about your privacy being in danger. Websites can’t see your MAC address because the router strips it off once your traffic leaves it.
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What Does a VPN Hide? The Bottom Line
Enough to protect your privacy and help you unblock content – your IP address and your Internet traffic.
We tried to answer the most common “what does a VPN hide”-type questions. If you have other questions you’d like to see in this article, go ahead and let us know in the comments or on social media.
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