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What Does a VPN Hide? (And What It Doesn’t)

WRITTEN BY
Daren Low
UPDATED
June 18, 2024

 

You may have heard about VPNs and their numerous features, such as letting you watch region-locked shows and movies, or securing your connection when you’re on public Wi-Fi.

 

One of a VPN’s most touted features, however, is its suite of privacy protection measures. You may have also found yourself wondering, “What can I hide with a VPN?” Lucky for you, this article answers just that.

 

 

How Does A VPN Work?

 

Before learning about what a VPN can and can’t hide, you may be scratching your head as to what a VPN is.

 

Simply put, a VPN (virtual private network) is a powerful tool that protects your privacy and keeps you safe online by using an encrypted server and hiding your IP address from corporations, government agencies, and would-be hackers. It transmits your data to a server via a secure channel, and the guideline that supports this communication is called the VPN protocol.

 

A VPN also encrypts all of your web traffic—including what you type into search engines and websites—preventing any prying eyes from taking your search history and selling it to the highest bidder.

 

digital highway

The digital highway is vast—and unsafe.

 

Think of a VPN as your own private network of tunnels in the vast, winding highway of the Internet. Anybody with the right tools and the right knowledge can just look at all the web traffic zooming past and comb through all that data to grab individualized search queries and other information.

 

Using a VPN, however, conceals that data in the aforementioned tunnels, safe from any snooping ISPs or potential attackers.

 

If you’re worried about the information that your ISP knows about you, or if they’re throttling or blocking certain websites and services, a VPN is the perfect solution. Now, on to the big question: What does a VPN hide?

 

 

VPN Conceals Your IP Address

 

Think of your IP address as your online fingerprint: It contains your location (your city, state, and ZIP code) and ISP.

 

If a hacker gets a hold of your IP, which can get leaked via you visiting a dodgy website or something as simple as playing a video game, they may be able to trace your IP back to your ISP, potentially revealing sensitive information such as your name, home address, and phone number in the process.

 

vpn keeps digital thumbprint safe

A VPN keeps your digital fingerprint safe and secure.

 

A VPN takes your IP address and provides you with a completely different one, sort of like in spy movies where they get fake fingerprints. You can even configure your VPN to have your IP located in another country, protecting your precious IP address (and everything that it contains).

 

Any attackers that would be able to get your new VPN-provided IP address would be following a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to nowhere (or another continent).

 

 

VPN Hides Your Geolocation

 

switch vpn server to another country

You can readily switch servers from one country to another using a VPN.

 

As we’ve already mentioned above, your IP provides your location to anybody that has access to it. However, this is not limited to just attackers; this also extends to your subscriptions to different services.

 

For example, when you log in to Netflix, you’ll only be able to access their US catalog, and nothing else. But what if you wanted to watch shows exclusive to the UK? That’s where a VPN comes in.

 

You can easily configure your VPN to connect to an encrypted server in another country (known as geo-spoofing), granting you access to Netflix’s UK-exclusive catalog or any other content that is restricted to a country that your VPN service has servers in.

 

In addition, geo-spoofing via a VPN also allows you to bypass website restrictions, allowing you to visit sites that would otherwise be censored or restricted in the US.

 

It also allows you to find the best deals for various items. For example, some online retailers charge a premium to US customers based solely on their location. Using geo-spoofing, however, you can change your IP to be located in a nation that offers cheaper prices and better deals.

 

 

VPN Lets You Download Huge Files Without Getting Throttled

 

Whether you use your Internet connection to watch videos, play games, or stream movies, all of your online activities involve a download. Although this information may seem like a no-brainer, what you may not know is that your ISP may throttle your connection speed. Some ISPs may throttle high-bandwidth sites such as YouTube to save a quick buck.

 

Your ISP may also throttle your peer-to-peer downloads (torrenting), even if you are using torrents legally. In some cases, you may even receive warning letters or fines from the government due to your torrenting activities.

 

vpn protects from isp speed throttling

With your ISP throttling your speed, you can kiss blazing-fast download speeds goodbye.

 

By using a VPN, however, you can encrypt all the data that goes through your ISP. Because of this encryption, your ISP won’t be able to figure out if you’re watching a movie or just enjoying a relaxing game with friends after a long day of work, preventing them from throttling your bandwidth and leaving you free to watch The Office or clutch a game unhindered.

 

 

VPN Keeps Your Personal Data Secure

 

Because it is essentially just a bunch of computers connected over a network that spans the entire world, the Internet (and any information online) is quite vulnerable to a large array of attackers.

 

Whether it’s some lone hacker trying out his latest piece of malware or state actors attacking networks in a massive, coordinated strike, no piece of data out on the Internet is truly secure.

 

By routing all of your traffic through an encrypted virtual tunnel, however, a VPN helps add a layer of protection to your personal data against potential attackers. Encryption, in essence, disguises your data as a string of random letters and numbers that will be very difficult (if not impossible) for hackers to decrypt.

 

 

VPN Anonymize Your Search Queries (But Not All of Them)

 

vpn provides some digital privacy

Search engines are both a friend and a foe when it comes to digital privacy.

 

On the other side of the coin, corporations also vie for your digital information. For example, have you ever searched for a nearby restaurant on Google and then suddenly got ads for restaurants or food delivery services after a few hours or days?

 

These are targeted ads, which are tailored to you (more precisely, your IP), specifically. Search engines and social networking sites make money by selling your search queries to advertisers, who can then target their ads to specific markets.

 

What a VPN can do, however, is protect all of this information that you send out into the vast Interwebs, be it an innocent search query for a place to eat or your confidential banking details. With all of your incoming and outgoing data encrypted, it’s highly unlikely that a hacker can make sense of all the encrypted information.

 

Similarly, corporations will find it impossible to bombard you with targeted ad campaigns because your IP will be different whenever you make an online search using a VPN.

 

However, there are still things that a VPN can’t hide.

 

 

What VPNs Can’t Hide

 

vpn cheat sheet

This handy cheat sheet shows what a VPN hides from whom. (Credit: ExpressVPN)

 

A VPN cannot hide any of the activities that you do when you’re logged in to an account. For example, if you log in to your Google account before searching for, say, “cheap, high-quality shoes,” Google can easily just prioritize your account name and information over your IP address, disregarding any obfuscating measures that your VPN may provide.

 

To remedy this, you can just log out of your Google account before making a search query while connected to your VPN.

 

In addition, one common misconception is that a VPN can protect you from viruses, phishing attacks, and malware. Unfortunately, these lie outside of the scope of VPNs and require the use of antivirus software.

 

Simply put, a VPN hides your IP address and encrypts the data that you send out and receive; however, it cannot completely anonymize your data if you log in to other websites.

 

Everything that you post, share, and search for while logged in to an account is still accessible to anyone that can view or access that account and its activities.

 

 

So – What’s the Best VPN for Me To Hide My Info?

 

Given today’s threat-laden Internet landscape, having an additional layer of defense against attacks and data theft is quite necessary. Through the use of VPNs, everyone from Internet newbies to tech-savvy individuals can keep their personal data safe in a way that is both easy-to-use and effective.

 

With all of these benefits and all of this information, you may be wondering: Which VPN is the best for me? Fear not, for we have a handy list that will help you figure out which is the best VPN for you.

 

 

 

VPN Guides and Best VPN Services

What is VPN and how does it protect you from online threats? Check out all curated resources below.