We browse the Internet every day. We buy and we sell, we share important documents and information about ourselves and others. Every password we ever typed, every file we have sent, every transaction that was made, it’s all there. And did you know that, besides you, someone else has access to all of this information?
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the company that allows you to connect to the Internet, for a certain amount of money. It’s a necessity, but do you know how much risk you are putting yourself in every day?
While many people know that their ISP holds certain information, they do not know to what extent this happens and how it might be dangerous. Once you find out, you might be surprised at the total amount of your online activity they not just see, but also keep. Although some people might be completely indifferent to this information, others find it a huge privacy invasion.
What information can your ISP see?
By this point, you are probably wondering "does my internet provider know what websites I visit"? Well, the straightforward answer is yes. But let's break it down to what else your ISP knows about you when you're online:
Your IP address. Your Internet Service Provider must know your IP address in order to deliver information successfully. In theory, they collect port numbers and addresses, and this is something that for many people is not unusual, but rather standard. However, in reality, this information can reveal much about you and your online activity. So should you be worried?
Every website you visit. Following the previous one, your ISP will see every website you visit. In this case, it’s important to note that an HTTP website is unencrypted, while connecting to an HTTPS means you will be slightly more secured and your ISP won’t be able to see what you are doing there. The “S” stands for “secure”. For instance, if you are shopping from an unencrypted website, your username, password, any payment information, as well as what you bought, will be visible to your ISP. However, with an HTTPS they can only see that you visited the website, but not your activity there.
The content of your emails. IP addresses can tell your IPS to whom you’ve sent a mail, and if you use an email service that is not supported by TLS encryption, even the content of your email will be visible.
Torrenting and Bitcoin transactions. Many people use BitTorrent and similar torrenting apps to download content. Movies, music, games, no matter whether it’s legal or not, your ISP will track everything. Also, it’s possible to track your Bitcoin transactions, even though this cryptocurrency is meant to be more secure and anonymous. It happens when Bitcoin clients send un-encrypted messages to established TCP ports, and from your traffic, the transactions can be easily tracked back to you.
Ever since the controversial events happened in the US, when Edward Snowden revealed just how much access the government has over your personal information, people began to worry about their online privacy. Even though the access to this information can be gained only with a warrant, the ISPs can also voluntarily hand over data, including your IP address and the record of all the websites that you visited. Even if everything you do online is perfectly normal and legal, the thought that someone might be watching your every move is disturbing. Of course, this is not the way it works, but privacy is a basic human right, so when someone is endangering it, you need to know how to protect yourself.
Protect yourself with a VPN
The best thing you can do in order to keep your online activity private and safe from prying eyes is to find a decent Virtual Private Network (VPN). It will encrypt your activity, while also masking your IP address. But how does it work and to what extent will a VPN help you in your fight for privacy and staying anonymous?
A VPN is a network that allows you to communicate in a private way, by encrypting the data you send from a computer or mobile device to an Internet gateway. Besides protecting you, it can also be helpful in many ways, from unblocking content to bypassing Geo-restrictions. No matter what you chose to use it for, a good VPN provider will make a “tunnel” that will keep you safe from hackers, snoopers, and ISPs, so they won’t be able to reach your browsing history, messages, downloads, password, or any kind of personal information.
Depending on the VPN’s properties, your entire web session can become as secure as a bank, while your IP address will be masked in order to protect your identity from tracking. With this said, a VPN can also allow you to access Geo-restricted content (for example, Hulu, a video streaming service, that has a huge movie library but is only available in the US). For this, you need to make sure that the VPN you choose has a large number of servers, covering as many locations as possible.
Fortunately, there are some that offer a combination of everything. Many times they can be a bit pricey, but if you really want to be protected, you won’t regret this investment.