What Your Internet Service Provider Sees Once You’re Connected to a VPN

A VPN can hide your device and location, but websites and ISPs can still identify you in other ways. (PHOTO: Privecstasy/Unsplash) A VPN can hide your device and location, but websites and ISPs can still identify you in other ways. (PHOTO: Privecstasy/Unsplash)
<center>A VPN can hide your device and location, but websites and ISPs can still identify you in other ways. (PHOTO: Privecstasy/Unsplash)</center>

In order to access the internet, you need two things; a device that can connect to the web, and a subscription with an Internet Service Provider (also known as ISP) the gateway to the web. These ISPs connect your device to the servers that make accessing online content possible. There’s a catch though, they are able to track and log your internet activity. They do collect your data because data retention laws and regulations ask for it — and depending on where you are in the world, the data is used for a variety of purposes.

Thankfully, there is a simple solution in the form of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This will encrypt all of the internet traffic running to and from your device and tunnel it through an intermediary server. This means that it’s unreadable to your ISP since they won’t be able to track anything back to you because you’re provided with a new IP address over a VPN connection. Each server you connect to shields your original location, IP, and data being shared online. All trails will lead back to the VPN IP address you’re provided with.

But what does your network carrier see when you connect to a VPN?

Whether you’re using a VPN to stream music or movies or bypass any website to access content that is not available in your country —once you connect to a VPN, your ISP knows that you are connected to an IP address that is owned by a VPN. But that’s all they can see. They cannot see which websites you visit or in which countries you’re browsing for that matter. Your ISP basically connects you to the websites you want to visit. They get a request from you in the form of a data package and send it where you tell them to. When you’re using a VPN you basically tell them to send that request to the VPN server.


1. VPN protocol used
We did mention that your ISP is at least able to figure out that you are using a VPN. One of the reasons it can do that is because it can see your port number based on which it can guess your protocol. Each of the protocols IKEv2, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), or any other protocol has specific port numbers.

2. Your real IP address
A VPN hides your real address and location only from the websites you visit, but not from ISP. ISP knows your real IP address. It also knows the times when you establish a connection and how long you browse.

3. Connection timestamps
Even though your ISP can’t see what sites you are visiting with a VPN, they know when you connected to the internet, how long you surfed it and when you left. In other words, your ISP is aware of the connection timestamps.

4. Amount of data transferred
Your ISP at least knows the amount of bandwidth you are using. They’ll also know if you download a large file and also the amount of traffic being sent to and received by your device. However, your data will still be encrypted and unreadable.

The table below summarizes the content that ISP can and can’t see when a VPN is used.

what can isp see with vpn used

But does your ISP care if you use a VPN and can they block the VPN Server’s IP Address?

An ISP will care about its users connected to VPN services, only if the country they’re located in, prohibits the use of VPNs and certain websites from being accessed. Your IP address is registered, and when you connect to the VPN using a new IP, your ISP will be able to detect it. So yes, to an extent they do care.

Now, in the beginning, we mentioned that an ISP knows that you are using a VPN. And, since they can perceive its presence, they can even block it. In this case, you won’t be able to connect to the blocked VPN server anymore. But under what circumstances will they be forced to take a step like that?

Well, an ISP won’t have any reason to block your VPN server’s IP address, but, in case, an ISP perceives that you are indulging in some illegal activity then they can block your VPN server IP address.


Will your ISP be able to detect your activities using a VPN in incognito mode?

Yes, they can. Browsing in Incognito mode means your activity data isn’t saved on your device or a browser’s history and that doesn’t mean your activities are completely secure. This also largely depends on the VPN you use and how secure it is. So, it’s important to use a good premium VPN service. You need to do some background checks online.

Free VPN services often do more harm than good. Even though they might let you access a foreign Netflix content library you cannot be sure there’s any protection going on at all. be cautious while using them.