Can VPN Traffic Be Monitored?
Updated: December 12, 2016
No. If you are using a VPN, all of internet traffic passes through an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPNs server. Provided you are using a VPN with a decent encryption protocol (avoid PPTP, which is now not sufficiently strong enough to protect your data) the content of your traffic cannot be seen, and neither can details of the sites you have visited.
One of the main reasons people sign up for a VPN is to increase their online privacy. In the wake of the revelations from Edward Snowden about the extent of Government surveillance on the internet activity of ordinary Americans, public consciousness of the issue on online privacy has never been higher, and many people looking around for ways to better protect themselves are finding that using a VPN is the best, and most cost-effective option.
For those VPN users for whom online privacy is their primary motivating factor, there are plenty of questions to be asked about just how private they are when using a VPN. And one of the many questions we frequently get asked here at Fried.com is, ‘Can VPN Traffic be Monitored?’
This purpose of this article is to explain the answer to that question, which is no, VPN Traffic cannot be monitored.
How do I know my traffic cannot be monitored?
VPNs use a technology known as encryption to secure data passing between your device and the external server operated by your VPN provider, which you choose to connect to.
This encryption renders the data travelling between the two places unintelligible and therefore makes monitoring it completely impossible. There are a variety of different Encryption Protocols (types of encryption) that VPN providers use. Of course some are better than others, but all are extremely good with the exception of PPTP, which is an old protocol now widely scored. As long as your VPN provider does not use PPTP to encrypt your data, you will be fine.
The server which your data visits then acts as the de-facto destination as far as the websites you are visiting are concerned. This means they can only see the IP Address of the server, and are unaware of your existence beyond it. Therefore, not only is your traffic invisible, but your presence is also totally anonymous.
What’s the Catch?
Well, there is only one potential weak point in this set-up, and that is with the VPN Provider itself. The only other person who can link your internet activity to you is your VPN provider. This means that your security is to an extent down to the level of trust you are willing to place in your provider.
For many users though, this is not a problem, as they have signed up with one of the growing number of VPN Providers who offer a guaranteed ‘no-logs’ policy for all their users.
What is a ‘No Logs’ Policy?
If your VPN provider has a ‘no-logs’ policy, this means that they keep absolutely no data about your online activity through their servers. At the end of your session, the information about what you were doing is automatically permanently deleted from their systems.
Why is this important? Well, for those that don’t offer such a service, there is a record somewhere of what you are doing online. This data could then be subject to requests from law enforcement agencies, or even end up in the public domain should your VPN provider be hacked.
Therefore, a no-logs policy guarantees that not only is your Traffic not being monitored, but there is no-way anyone can find details of what you have been doing online, once your session has ended.
Why would a VPN want to keep such logs?
For some VPNs, especially free ones, this data is a valuable revenue stream as the data can be exploited for commercial profit. For others, they may be required by local laws, or else otherwise have internal policies, which dictate that such information must be kept for a set period of time.
If you want to be sure that your traffic is not being monitored, it is important to sign up for a VPN with a verifiable ‘no-logs’ policy. It is important to note that a few VPNs will make the claim when it is not demonstrably true, so getting the research right before signing up is important.
In short, no, your Internet traffic cannot be monitored while you are using a VPN provided you have chosen a provider which you can be sure does not keep any logs of your activity, and which has a level of encryption which guarantees the security of your data.