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What does a VPN hide?

What does a VPN hide?


Written by Jennifer Van Der Kleot for NortonLifeLock

A virtual private network (VPN) can hide a user’s internal protocol address (IP address) and block their location and browser history, allowing them to share and receive information on public internets more privately.

Whether you search for something online or communicate via social media, you leave digital fingerprints in the form of browsing history, cookies, and cached data.

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP), government, and other third parties can track, visit, and download what you search, visit, and download.

Even if you use private browsing mode, your IP address can still be collected.

When you download and enable a VPN before browsing, a VPN can provide online privacy and increased security by helping to mask your identity online and encrypt your traffic. Only hackers and third parties will be able to see the IP address of the remote VPN. This prevents them from accessing your location, browser history, or personal information that you may have sent or received during that browsing session.

Here are the seven main things that a VPN hides:

1. Search history

You can clear cookies and search history from your browser. But it is possible that your Internet service provider has recorded the websites you have visited. VPNs can hide your search history and other browsing activities, such as search terms, links clicked, and sites visited, as well as your IP address.

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Can you really remove your search history?

No. You are removing file references from your directories, but your operating system will not erase this data at the same time. It only transfers information to a special area on your Mac or PC’s hard drive.

If you use a VPN every time you browse, only third parties will be able to see the IP address of the remote VPN. This disables them from identifying your location, your ISP, and possibly other personal information.

2. IP address

Your IP address identifies your device on the Internet or on a local network. It’s the main data that links you to your website, ISP, and web search history.

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IP addresses can share sensitive information about you that includes your physical location such as your city, state, zip code, and country. It can go back to your home ISP, which could reveal your name, home address, phone number, and credit card numbers.

Instead of sending information directly from your IP address, the IP address of the VPN server is associated with your activity.

For example, if your VPN service provider has servers all over the world, it may appear that you are connecting to the Internet from a different country.

3. Medical diagnosis and health conditions

Medical providers often operate through private client portals. The Health Insurance Transfer and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets standards in the exchange of Protected Health Information (PHI). This is the diagnosis, procedure and consultation between physicians, clients and medical facilities.

HIPPA requires healthcare facilities to operate on private networks. These secure portals encrypt your medical information from third parties. VPNs allow medical professionals and patients to securely access confidential medical information without hindrance.

4. Travel facilities

Travel sites and airlines associate the information you’re looking for with your IP address. When you visit online travel booking sites multiple times to find better deals, chances are that a cookie is already restricted to a price.

A cookie is data sent from a user’s computer to a website. They can pinpoint your past travel searches, online profiles, all the way to your home address. Any action like clicking on a link can trigger an ‘event’. Marketers use analytics tracking tools to track website traffic and user behavior. Advertisers only take a short time to bombard you with retargeting ads.

VPNs can block tracking technologies, allowing you to search travel websites anonymously and avoid advertisers entirely.

5. Geolocation

We have already mentioned that your IP address can determine your geolocation. Browsers and websites use this information to map web traffic from different cities, states, and countries.

For example, when using Google Maps, you must enable your phone to detect your location. Websites use the same technology.

One of the side benefits of using a VPN is known as geospoofing. This means that a VPN “fools” websites and other online services into thinking you are in one place when you really are in another.

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This can provide access to geo-restricted services or help save money while shopping online. But remember to always check the rules of your service agreement and be aware of government laws and regulations.

6. Personally Identifiable Items

A VPN can hide your identity online by masking your IP address. It encrypts your location and the data you send and receive, which helps protect your personally identifiable information (PII). This data can come in the form of bank information, as well as Social Security numbers and a driver’s license. If a hacker gains access to your computer, your personally identifiable information may be at risk via voice files, messages, and passwords.

Even secure websites can become vulnerable to cyber attacks. Using a VPN can increase your protection when connected to the internet, from hackers and internet thieves.

7. Torrenting

BitTorrents (torrents) are metadata files and folders that are shared and downloaded between users on a network. This allows users to access movies, music, and other forms of media content.

Although torrenting is not illegal, downloading copyrighted material such as movies or songs is a violation. Since your ISP can track your activity, so can the government. Torrenting without a VPN can sometimes result in warning messages or even heavy fines from the government.

Even if done legally, torrenting can be dangerous. Downloading unknown files may result in downloading malware. These viruses can infect your computer and damage your files. VPNs can prevent your online peers from seeing your IP address, which can help prevent hackers from tagging you.

How to choose a VPN

When choosing a VPN, consider your device needs. Ease of use, speed, secure encryption, and price are all important factors to check. You also want reliable customer service, should anything happen out of the ordinary.

Consider using a secure VPN that offers strong protection and is able to connect other devices in your home. Look for reviews online, but be wary of sites that promote affiliate sites. You can also talk to your tech-savvy friends and get their insight on recommended products.

Most importantly, when buying a VPN, it is best to buy from a software company you trust. So, no matter where you are, you can search the internet knowing that your communications are more secure.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide you with educational information. NortonLifeLock’s offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat that we write about. Our goal is to raise awareness of online safety. Please review the full terms during registration or setup. Remember that not everyone can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and LifeLock does not monitor all transactions across all businesses.

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