Yes, it is possible to be tracked with a VPN. If you’re using a poor VPN service, your IP address might be leaked, your data might be sold, or you might fall victim to browser fingerprinting. Luckily, the first step in preventing this is easy – use NordVPN!
However, if you decide to shop around, be careful. My experience in the VPN industry has taught me some VPNs are more risky than privacy-minded – and some are downright dangerous.
For example, in 2014, Hola VPN was caught turning its users’ devices into exit nodes. They charged $20 for every gigabyte of bandwidth – of which belonged to their free VPN users!
Luckily, there are dozens of trustworthy VPNs out there.
And while a trustworthy VPN doesn’t completely negate the risk of being tracked, the 7 privacy tips I discuss in this guide will fill the gaps!
How Can VPN Usage Be Traced?
Tracing means third parties, like your ISP, website owners, and government agencies, can tell you’re using a VPN. This is surprisingly easy for them to do.
On the other hand, tracking is more about seeing who you are and what you’re doing with your VPN. Tracing is only the first step to tracking.
So, how do governments, ISPs, and companies like Google trace VPN usage?
There are three ways:
- IP Address – When you use a VPN, its server IP replaces your IP address. But there are many ways to tell an IP address belongs to a VPN. Streaming companies like Netflix rely on these methods to block VPNs.
- Port Number – VPN protocols typically use specific port numbers. Although they aren’t necessarily unique to those protocols, detecting the port numbers being used helps third parties figure out you’re using a VPN – including what VPN protocol you’re using.
- Deep Packet Inspection – Data is sent and received online in small chunks called packets. DPI is a process that carefully inspects these packets and helps block spam and malware. But DPI can also be used to detect and block VPN usage. The Great Firewall of China is an excellent example of this.
Keep reading to find out 7 essential privacy tips for keeping your online activities and data safe at all times!
Privacy Tip #1: Use a Proven No-Logs VPN With the Best Features
Unless you live in a country where VPNs are illegal or heavily restricted, VPN usage being traceable isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, if it leads to being blocked from websites and other online platforms, it can still be a nuisance. But it only becomes a problem if the government sends your VPN provider a subpoena demanding user data.
To get around both of these issues, use a VPN that:
- Has a strict no-logs policy proven through independent audits
- Is based in a privacy-friendly country (such as Panama or the British Virgin Islands)
- Offers a huge server network (allowing you to server hop and get past VPN blocks)
- Uses obfuscated servers or offers an obfuscation feature – ideally with RAM-only servers
- Has an Automatic Kill Switch, so if your VPN connection drops or is interrupted, your real IP address isn’t leaked (which makes you instantly trackable)
Finding a VPN that ticks all the right boxes is difficult but not impossible.
How Can I Be Tracked With a VPN?
The most common ways you can be tracked with a VPN are:
- VPN Logs and Leaks
- Browser Fingerprinting
- Social Media
- Money Trails
The tips shared in the rest of this guide will protect you from these tracking methods!
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Privacy Tip #2: Block WebRTC
I already spoke a little about VPN logs and leaks in my first privacy tip. And the solution is the same – choose a proven no-logs VPN provider that uses an automatic kill switch.
Most VPNs use extra security features that help protect against these kinds of leaks. The recommendations I made earlier have these features enabled by default.
However, you should always double-check the leak protection is working.
Websites like browserleaks.com have online tools that check for a wide range of leaks in real-time. These include the big three I mentioned: IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.
But it’s also best to block them yourself – especially WebRTC.
If you’re using Firefox, you can do this directly in your browser settings:
- Type “about:config” in your Firefox URL bar and hit enter.
- Click “I accept the risk.” This is just a generic warning to say that messing with these settings without knowing what you’re doing can cause issues.
- Type “peerconnection.enabled” in the search bar.
- The item will be shown under “Preference Name.”
- Double-click it, so the “Value” changes from “True” to “False.”
Chrome doesn’t give you this option because Google wants to keep tracking you through WebRTC. Luckily, you can still block WebRTC with a browser extension.
My recommendation is uBlock Origin.
uBlock Origin is also available for Firefox. I recommend using it even after disabling WebRTC in your about:config, as uBlock Origin will help block other tracking methods too!
Privacy Tip #3: Use Strong Anti-Malware Protection
VPNs protect your online data, but they can’t protect you from malware – no matter what they say.
The best a VPN can do is use a robust firewall on its servers (or a similar feature you can enable in the app) to block connections to dodgy sites.
A VPN can’t protect you from accidentally downloading an infected file from a legitimate website. Nor can it interact with a phishing email – or any other methods used by hackers to get you to install malware.
If you get infected, you’ll be tracked even when using your VPN because the malware is on the device itself. For this reason, you’re better off using robust anti-malware protection methods.
Here are my top recommendations:
- Malwarebytes (comes with a free browser extension)
- uBlock Origin (will block script-based attacks in Chrome and Firefox)
- NetCraft (anti-phishing extension for Chrome and Firefox)
- NordPass (password manager – safer than relying on memory or your browser)
- Enable 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) on all of your accounts.
Privacy Tip #4: Always Clear Cookies
I love a box of peanut butter cookies as much as anyone else.
However, I don’t like the type of cookies that websites install on your computer (Viva La Dirt League did a great skit on the play of words here – you can check it out above!)
Granted, some cookies are necessary for helping sites run smoothly.
But many – especially persistent, advertiser, and other third-party cookies – destroy all online privacy because they continue tracking you online, whether or not you’re using a VPN.
Clearing your browser cache after a session is one solution – but you need to do this every time. A second, easier solution is installing the Cookie AutoDelete browser extension.
Whether you’re using Firefox, Chrome, or any other browser based on these two, Cookie AutoDelete automatically deletes cookies for you.
You can choose if you want cookies deleted after you close the tab or after closing your browser. For the best privacy, I recommend opting for the tab version.
And remember – always open new links in a new tab!
Privacy Tip #5: Use Anti-Browser Fingerprinting Methods
Browser fingerprinting – aka canvas fingerprinting – is a method that gives individual users a unique digital fingerprint used to identify them online.
Your fingerprint contains tons of data that can be used to personally identify you. It’s scary accurate too. Only 1 in 286,777 browsers have the chance of having an identical fingerprint, according to the EFF’s research.
There’s no way to escape browser fingerprinting altogether other than going wholly off-grid and never being online. But there are a few things you can do to make yours less unique:
- Use Firefox, as Mozilla blocks all third-party fingerprinting by default. Chrome, on the other hand, recently started making fingerprinting even more invasive.
- Use DuckDuckGo as your search engine instead of Google. You can even install the DuckDuckGo browser app on smartphones and tablets.
There are more advanced options, too, like using different browsers or even devices for different online activities. But for most people, these three tips are enough.
Privacy Tip #6: Limit Social Media
I’m not about to tell you to delete all your social media profiles.
Instead, limit how much information you share with them. Be smart about what you put up. No one needs to know your home is empty because you’re at the pub or on vacation. Save those pictures for when you get back!
Make your profile(s) as private as possible so only people you accept as friends/followers on the platform can see your info at all.
And if you use Firefox, you can install browser extensions like Facebook Container. This prevents the social media giant from tracking you online and selling your data to their advertising partners.
Privacy Tip #7: Use Anonymous Payment Methods
Cryptocurrency isn’t as anonymous as people believe. But it’s far more anonymous than paying by card, EFT, or even cash (in some cases).
This is why I love that some VPN providers give you the option of being an anonymous user by paying for your subscription with cryptocurrency. When you do this, there’s no money trail linking you to the VPN.
Luckily, my 3 top recommendations from earlier all accept Bitcoin payments!
ISPs can detect VPN usage by looking at your IP address. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as your VPN has a strict no-logs policy and has been audited.
Yes, the government or police can trace VPN usage. The government monitors all online traffic, so the fact your data is encrypted can tell them you’re using a VPN. However, the police would need to ask your ISP for that information. Luckily, in both cases, they can only see that you’re using a VPN – not what you were using it for.
No, your original IP address cannot be traced when using a VPN. The only IP address others can see is the one belonging to the VPN server you’re using.
Using a VPN is a great way to protect your online privacy. But you can still be tracked with a VPN – so you shouldn’t stop there.
If you use the 7 privacy tips I shared with you in this guide, you’ll have a massive advantage over people who rely solely on VPNs to protect themselves.
And as far as VPNs go – always use one with a proven no-logs policy.
For me, one of the best options is NordVPN.
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