Many people use VPNs to increase the privacy of their internet browsing and streaming activities. A VPN encrypts your data, scrambling it into gibberish that is difficult to read even if someone were to intercept it. While this makes it harder for ISPs and website servers to identify the sites you visit, it doesn’t mean that you are completely anonymous online.
VPNs work by rerouting your internet traffic through their own servers. Because this requires extra steps to send your information, it can slow your internet speed down a bit. This can be especially noticeable if you are connecting to a remote server far away from your location or when using a VPN with a device that isn’t supported by private networks, such as an old Roku or Fire TV Stick.
Some websites can detect when users are using a VPN by analyzing their connection attributes. This includes the volume of data that is sent over a network, known IP addresses, packet headers (which include pieces of information like a sending and returning address on an envelope), and other elements. Websites that offer services such as e-commerce or gaming have legitimate reasons to know when their visitors are using VPNs, as fraudsters may try to conceal their identity with these tools.
Other tools used to detect VPN service include a type of network monitoring called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). This uses programmed rules to examine the contents of data packets and can detect patterns in that information, such as the unique encryption signature of a VPN. This tool is often employed by countries with strict censorship policies and by hardware manufacturers who want to prevent cyberattacks.
WebRTC leaks are also a common way to determine if you’re using a VPN, as they can reveal your original IP address. To check for these, run a VPN test and follow the directions to ensure that your VPN is properly configured to not leak WebRTC.
Lastly, your VPN’s server locations can also be used to detect your usage. Because a VPN connects your computer to multiple servers around the world, it can appear as though you are located in different places at the same time. This can make your connections look suspicious and cause some websites to block you from accessing them.
If you are attempting to connect to a bank’s website and you are using a VPN, the process of rerouting your data through a third-party server can flag your connection as suspicious and result in a temporary hold on your account. This is not a problem if you are connecting to your bank’s website through a server in your home country, but it is a risk if you’re trying to access the site from a different region or from a foreign country.
VPNs are also sometimes detected by companies that have agreements with VPN providers to block their users’ traffic. This is done to protect the integrity of their websites and prevent fraudulent activity by snoopers, as well as to comply with laws requiring them to monitor user activity and content. This can be done by identifying the VPN’s IP address or by using network-monitoring software that looks for specific patterns.