Can You Be Tracked If You Use a VPN (2022 Updated)?

Can You Be Tracked If You Use a VPN

Like a teenager wearing a helmet that’s bout to do a stunt, the proper protection can make you feel invincible. This logic also applies to online security like antiviruses and anti-phishing tools. But what bout virtual private networks? Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?

Because VPNs encrypt your connection and traffic logs, third parties cannot easily track you. However, any data you willingly give up (such as your account information) isn’t encrypted. So without proper measures taken, third parties can track some of your data. 

To make a long story short, VPNs are only some of what is necessary for you to gain greater online anonymity. Below, we will provide you with some security tips and more information on how some groups can track you online.

Can A VPN Be Traced?

To answer this question, it’s essential to identify what a VPN does. Using a VPN hides three different elements:

  1. Information from your IP address (this includes location data)
  2. Traffic logs (this consists of the websites that you visit)
  3. Connection logs (this includes a list of the services that you use and connect to) 

Hiding the combination of these three aspects makes it impossible to follow you. So, when trying to track your online journey, a VPN makes it impossible for you to be traced. 

Knowing that your active browsing history is untraceable is an excellent start towards remaining secure online. However, not following through with further security tips will still cause your exposure. 

Can You Trace a Free VPN?

Free VPNs have the added benefit of you not having to pay anything. But because these services need to find a way to make money, there is an inherent risk with their use, making them more likely to be traceable.

For example, the privacy policy of these free VPNs allows them complete access to your data. These VPN services take your connection and traffic logs and sell them to other users.

These sellers will often hit you with programmatic advertising right on the app. VPNs that use this form of advertising are immediately worthless, as they provide and direct the means necessary to track your online activities. 

Stick with free VPNs that use the service as a means to buy more from them. At the same time, this might be inconvenient (due to server or data limitations). However, it is better than companies that deliberately sell your information. 

What if You Connect To A VPN Server in the Same Country?

Some people might believe it is more secure to connect to servers in other countries. This “need to connect to other countries” is a myth, as you can be just as confident when relating to the same country.

Because you are hiding behind an encrypted wall, there’s no information telling the tracker where you come from. Because numerous people connect to various countries, you could come from anywhere.

Can Services Tell When You are Using a VPN?

If you’ve ever received a message from Netflix to turn off your VPN, you know that some services have ways to identify your VPN use. Online providers can often tell this based on the connection data they retrieve from you. So yes, online services can tell when you use a VPN. 

A deep packet analysis looks at the data packets you send, determining information behind these back-and-forth communications. When you have an activated VPN, the information coming from you is in the form of a garbled mess. You would need the original cipher to determine what the communication says. 

In some cases, people identify this and combine it with different TCP/UDP ports you come through. Online services might decide to block you based on garbled data and ports you come through. This comes from them not wanting you to take up their bandwidth, given that these companies can’t make money from tracking you. 

Will Government Agencies Track Your VPN Usage?

Unless federal agents can identify you as a criminal, don’t expect tracking. In most cases, casual VPN users aren’t targets for federal agents. If your browsing history does show a list of concerning searches, that might change. 

The more significant concern comes from people who use Tor over VPN (a combination of the Tor browser and virtual private networks). Tor harbors the dark web, where criminals can perform nefarious acts like stealing credit card details and buying drugs. 

If you use both regularly, you increase your odds of becoming a target. However, no logs VPN services will have no data on you. Instead, government agents are more likely to talk to your internet service provider (ISP). 

Can Your VPN Be Hacked?

Provided you have a good VPN; it is challenging to hack. Regarding brute force attacks (the most likely kind of hacker intrusion), VPNs use AES 256-bit encryption, which will take years to get through. 

The most accessible way hackers can get through VPN services is through server-side exploits. For example, a Fortinet vulnerability was found to leak over 500 thousand VPN login credentials. Members of Fortinet VPN had to force reset their passwords to avoid unwanted account access. 

Sometimes, the data centers that house the servers are the source of the leak. In this case, VPN service providers have to be picky about what centers they choose. 

Will Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Track Your VPN?

Because ISPs will derive very little information from your VPN data, they don’t usually track it. However, if federal agents believe your data to be suspicious, they might force ISPs to keep an eye on VPN connections. 

When users do illegal things, global governments might find ISPs complicit if they don’t track their users. Local and international governments have significant sway over the how and why people get tracked. 

Different Ways Third Parties Can Track You 

Outside of reading your connection and traffic logs, third parties can track you in many ways. Here are some of the most common:

Following Your Online Accounts

The creation of online accounts makes your VPN usage partially useless. Those online providers typically have permission to track your journey through account data. You can read about this through the privacy policies of various major companies. 

While not all companies will follow your online journies through Google, leaving behind a breadcrumb trail for followers isn’t preferable. Leave any personally identifiable information off of these accounts, and never use your real name. 

Tracking Your IP Address

While your IP address can be concealed, it remains static between VPN connections. Hiding behind a consistent VPN server gives you a constant IP address. Even if most of the data behind that address is garbled, it won’t stop people from tracking you.

While this racking is primarily useless, changing your location or IP can prevent followers from getting consistent information. Still, not changing every once and a while can allow advertisers and ISPs to get a general idea of who you are. 

Following Your Cookies

While first-party cookies are primarily harmless, third-party cookies are left behind and track you based on browsing habits. Advertisers use data from these cookies to determine how to best target you. 

If you don’t clear your cookies between sessions, this situation is more concerning. For example, you might have a pre-VPN set of cookies that drops your actual location with every site you visit. So be sure to clear your cookies between each session. 

Malware Injection

A malware injection allows hackers to track your data through keyloggers and information identifiers. Typing information in specific locations will enable hackers to gather your passwords and personal data. Through this, malware can be a hazardous area.

To avoid this issue, make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date. Schedule weekly sessions where you perform a deep scan of your computer to identify problems. 

DNS Leaks

DNS (Domain Name System) leaks are the scourge of VPN users. If your service provider doesn’t keep a tight ship, DNS leaks can reveal your location. If tracking cookies catch this, it results in a significant leak of your browsing data and other information. 

To avoid DNS leaks, be sure your kill switch is active. Also, make sure you pick a VPN that isn’t known for having numerous outages. 

Digital Fingerprinting

Digital fingerprinting is the process of identifying you based on device details. Service providers and advertisers use this information to advertise to you more effectively. It is a lesser-known method of being able to identify someone by combining this data with other elements. 

The usage of digital fingerprinting enables some people to find out more about you with no supporting elements. Those who follow specific behavior patterns with unique phones are primary targets of this exposure. 

Additional Tips To Stay Safe Online

If you want to stay safe while browsing, you’ll need to do more than having a VPN. Below are some additional tips you can use to remain safe online:

Don’t Share Personal Data On Online Accounts

The main mistake people make when creating online accounts is too much honesty. Not every service provider needs your real name and information to use what they have. This is doubly true if you only plan to use free services. 

Avoid making online accounts if at all possible. If you need to create an online account, avoid giving out accurate information. You should also apply this same logic to using email accounts. 

Use Anonymous Emal Services

Online email services like google will freely share your data with account creation. However, privacy-based services (like ProtonMail) offer the same benefits with less exposure. 

There are other encrypted email services out there. Using them will prevent the automatic exposure of providing your email address. 

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Brute force attacks happen when someone attempts to overload systems by entering numerous passwords. Even if the event you use a password generator to make this complicated, there is always a chance someone will enter the correct password (especially if the service you use has no defense)

By making use of two-factor authentication on encrypted servers, it becomes harder to access your online accounts. However, be picky with the two-factor service you use, as if you give your data to another service that might misuse it, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.

Hide Your Social Media Accounts

Having a public Facebook or Instagram isn’t ideal. While privacy enthusiasts can use the Tor browser to look for anonymous social media, most people still struggle with staying away from mainstream social accounts.

To avoid most of the problems with social media, provide a fake name and information to Facebook. Using Facebook should always be done under cover of a VPN. Ideally, it would help if you worked on deleting the most offensive social media accounts

VPN Tracking FAQs

Who Can Track You Online?

Hackers, network owners, government agencies, and ISPs are a few more famous examples of who can track you. With the right tools, anyone on the internet can follow you with unsecured data.

Can I Remain Secure Without a VPN?

Compared to the internet a few years ago, it is easier to remain secure online without a VPN. As significant companies push for more HTTPS (SSL certificates), it is hard to track based on connection logs. However, your data is forfeit to these same significant companies who would use it for personal gains, so a VPN is still your best solution. 

How Do I Know I Can Trust a VPN Company?

All companies are subject to the public ax if they fail to follow their mission. Because VPN companies must meet public security demands, you will hear about potential leaks quickly. You can also check out their privacy policy to see what they do with your information. 

Conclusion – How Do You Prevent Tracking Efforts? 

By limiting account creation and using a VPN, you can prevent most potential tracking before it begins. So be picky with where you put your info and always remain secure with your logs. If you get lx in the efforts, someone will exploit the vulnerability.

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