When using a VPN, ISPs see nothing but encrypted traffic, timestamps and amount of data transferred. They also know which VPN is being used, but encryption means that the traffic looks like complete gibberish. Also, the most commonly used level of encryption – 256-bit – is considered to be military-grade strength and is unbreakable to date, which means ISPs are unable to see any details of their customers’ online activities, such as websites visited or even the IP addresses that they are given.
However, it’s important to choose a VPN carefully, one that obeys the necessary standards to ensure it is right for every occasion. ISPs are not stupid, when users are performing illicit activities there are a couple of indicators that leave no margin for error and these entities will still be able to enforce the necessary legal actions against them. They know how to put two and two together and can find out whether a user is torrenting, for instance, even if they are using a VPN.
When accessing a website, your IP address sends DNS requests to the IP address of that same website, which in turn allows for the pinpointing of your real location. This makes DNS leak protection one of the most important aspects to look for in a VPN. This is a function still somewhat rare these days as not every provider successfully builds it into its software, and special care is needed when using those that don’t allow for manual activation. Regardless, it’s recommended to perform a couple DNS leak tests regularly.
Even with the VPN enabled, without this feature an ISP can still log a user’s IP address when it sends DNS requests if those transmissions aren’t securely protected. As such, if that IP address belongs to a torrent site, then ISPs will know that it was accessed, for how long the user stayed there and how much data was transferred. However, with a solid VPN will they only see the aforementioned gibberish, they still won’t have exact proof that users are torrenting or the precise content that was accessed. However, high bandwidth levels are often give away signs that a movie or other ‘heavy’ file was transferred. Depending on ISPs, they may then throttle the connection or, even worse, enforce the necessary legal actions against those who thought they were protected by a simple VPN connection.
On the other hand, with proper DNS leak protection then all those DNS requests go through the VPN’s servers instead of your ISP’s. This means that ISPs will only see DNS requests sent to IP addresses that are owned by the VPN company and nothing else, masking your real identity. The issue is not done yet, though, as another problem still arises from this: the logs by VPN companies.
More than just providing trustworthy DNS leak protection and unbreakable encryption, it’s especially crucial for torrent fans that a VPN doesn’t store logs either. If it does keep such records, then it’s as good as switching one problem for another since VPNs are legal companies that need to comply with the law of the country that they’re located in. In countries where torrenting is illegal, these companies will not hesitate to terminate accounts and send the same DMCA strike notices to their customers. More and more VPNs nowadays are P2P friendly and have some servers located in specific countries just for this purpose, but it’s always better to opt for a reliable VPN that doesn’t store log data or that is located in a country that allows torrents.
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Have all your VPN related questions answered by checking our VPN experts' answers to frequently asked questions:
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- Can a VPN Provider See My Traffic and History?
- Can I Use a VPN Service on My Mobile Device?
- Can I Use Multiple VPNs at Once?
- Can The Use of a VPN Be Detected?
- Does a VPN Hide Torrenting from ISPs?
- Does a VPN Protect Against Viruses?
- Does a VPN Service Bypass ISP Throttling?
- Does a VPN Work on Mobile Data?
- How Do I Get Rid of a VPN?
- How Does a VPN Work?
- How Does VPN Encryption Work?
- How Secure is Using a VPN?
- Is It Legal to Use a VPN?
- Is Using a VPN Service Easy?
- Should I Pay for a VPN?
- Should I Use a VPN All the Time?
- Should I Use a VPN at Home?
- Should I Use a VPN on My iPhone, Android Phone?
- What Does VPN Traffic Look Like to My ISP?
- What Happens if My VPN Disconnects?
- What is a VPN?
- What’s the Difference Between a VPN and a Proxy?
- Why Should I Hide My IP Address?
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- Will a VPN Work in China?
- Won’t a VPN Slow my Internet Connection Down?