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Scat Hawkins
Scat Hawkins

What ISPs Can See

Unless you are paying your bill or having connectivity issues, then you might not give much thought to your Internet service provider (ISP). Do you ever stop to think about what your ISP can actually see and knows about you? Much like Google, your ISP knows pretty much everything about you. And ISPs share your personal information for marketing and other uses.

What ISPs Can See


We believe that the Swire paper, although technically accurate in most of its particulars, could leave readers with some mistaken impressions about what broadband ISPs can see. We offer this report as a complement to the Swire paper, and an alternative, technically expert assessment of the present and potential future monitoring capabilities available to ISPs.

Even if connections to are encrypted, DNS queries about are not. In fact, DNS queries are almost never encrypted. ISPs could simply monitor what queries its users are making over the network.

He has been using the same Internet Service Provider (ISP) for years and yet it was the first time Josh received an email from them. It was a passive warning about something that Josh had downloaded from the Internet the previous month. In the email, the ISP requested him to not visit a certain questionable website, and that is when it clicked him. He had downloaded a file that was apparently protected by copyright. But more than what he did, what troubled Josh more was the confirmation to the fact that his ISP logged his on-line activities. Which brings us to the pressing question: what do ISPs see? What information do they track? How open is your connection? And how bad is it?

Of course, all these information is in the form of metadata i.e. internet protocol (IP) addresses and port numbers. Which means that your ISP will have to do some extra technical work to get what they want. Why they want it and is it even worth going after your data is dependent on the ISP itself. Big players often work with governments to crack down on pirates who upload and monetize copyrighted content on-line, which gives us enough reassurance about where the dispositions of organizations who promote ISP spying lie.

However, if your connection with a website is encrypted (for instance, when you visit a website that uses HTTPS) then your ISP will need a lot of work to decrypt the information that is being shared. ISPs can still deduce what websites you visit to a certain degree of certainty.

We have covered the dangerous world of torrenting before, and that is one of the biggest examples of how and what ISPs can know about your on-line activities. A quick look at what other IP addresses you visited can give them a lot of information about your intents and surfing interests. According to recent studies, this data can be processed to also extract information such as your financial background and health issues.

Using the DNS resolver by Cloudflare or Quad9 is an option too. This will add a layer of encryption to DNS, ensuring you get more privacy for your searches. Advanced VPNs, such as ExpressVPN, include encrypted DNS in their offer, and often on every server. Same as with Tor, it's best if you can use a combo of privacy settings, preferably in one privacy tool. Which is exactly what the leaders of the VPN industry ensure.

Will my ISP know I am using a VPN to bypass its intrusions and restrictions? Probably, yes, but that is as far as their knowledge goes. Your ISP might realize that you're using a VPN (since your IP address will be different and traffic encrypted) but not for what purposes. This means your browsing data and the details of your search remain completely private. If you use VPN obfuscation (stealth servers) even the fact that you're using a VPN becomes obscured.

Is it legal for ISPs to track users' data? Unfortunately, more and more countries are acquiring mandatory data retention laws, which not only makes it legal for ISP to store your data but, in most cases, it's actually mandatory. These laws can differ very much from country to country. So the best thing is to check what is legally acceptable in your country.

Internet service providers, Wi-Fi administrators, governments, app and website owners, and many other third parties can directly see, or indirectly find out, what you do online. It's not as much that they enjoy meddling in your business (except for some governments), as they believe using your data can boost theirs. Their methods are often unscrupulous and you never know where this data-sharing/selling chain ends, or where else your information may end up.

However, cable television companies and the telephone carriers already had wired connections to their customers and could offer Internet connections at much higher speeds than dial-up using broadband technology such as cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL). As a result, these companies often became the dominant ISPs in their service areas, and what was once a highly competitive ISP market became effectively a monopoly or duopoly in countries with a commercial telecommunications market, such as the United States.

When you open an Incognito tab in Chrome or a Private window in Firefox, the first screen lets you know that while your browsing history and cookies will not be stored in this mode of browsing, you will still be visible to your government or internet service provider (ISP), i.e., they can see what pages you visit.

If you visit an unencrypted site that uses HTTP instead of HTTPS, your ISP can see all that you do on that site. It can find out all the URLs you visit, you login details (including your password), and if you buy something, your ISP can also see your payment information. However, if the site uses HTTPS, your ISP can only see that you visited that site. It cannot see what you did on that site.

If all of your internet traffic is encrypted, your ISP cannot see much. However, your encrypted web data is followed by unencrypted metadata and your ISP can analyze it. Using this information, they cannot find out which site you visited or what action you performed on those sites.

For example, each Youtube video has a specific traffic pattern when it is streamed to you. By simply checking this traffic pattern, your ISP can find out which video you are watching. If you use internet on multiple devices, connecting them all through a VPN-enabled router will make it nearly impossible for your ISP to find out which device you are using at what time.

There are several tools you can use to hide what you are doing online from your ISP. Tor, VPN, and proxies all prime example. A virtual private network, or VPN, is by far the best, and most secure, tool you can use to prevent your ISP from tracking your browsing activities. Follow these steps to prevent your ISP from tracking you online.

If you are using a modem and router provided by your ISP, then they can potentially have full access to data about your connected devices. This is because if you are using their device, then you don't really have a network of your own - your house is just an extension of their network. Some ISPs may use off-the-shelf hardware, in which case they may not take advantage of their access to your home. However, since they provided the hardware, they also have an opportunity to customize the firmware (the software running on the router) to do whatever they want. The router certainly knows about all the devices connected to it, and it would be very easy for them to customize the device to send them data about what devices are connected and when. It wouldn't surprise me if many companies do this for general data collection purposes or to look for violations of their terms of service. In many places, I'm sure doing so would be completely legal. Whether or not any particular ISP is actually doing this is another question, and difficult for me to answer.

Regardless of whether or not An ISP tracks your devices through your router, they can still see all of your network traffic of course. This means they can read any traffic that goes across in plain text (which primarily, but not exclusively, means HTTP). If you use their DNS servers (which will be the case unless you change it yourself) then they can also tell what sites you visit, even if over HTTPS. Lots of information about your devices can be gathered from your traffic, so they probably wouldn't have any trouble tracking connected devices exclusively through your HTTP traffic, as long as the devices are actively fetching data from the internet.

If you really want to hide info from them though you'll mainly want to setup a VPN service 24/7. They must be properly configured to make sure you don't leak data though, so it helps to know what you're doing when setting one up. Personally I don't think that step would be worth it for the average user, but that's a decision for each person to make on their own.

Yes, your internet providers can see what you search for, including your private history. Through your IP address, your wifi provider can track and see everything you write in your search bar, whether it is private or public.

After explaining what ISP tracking is and why it is not secure, it is clear that protecting yourself from ISP tracking is important. Keeping your search history and visited websites is important to keep yourself safe online. The only way to ensure your safety when it comes to ISP tracking is to hide all your online activities as well as your IP address, and the best way to do so is to use a good VPN while browsing websites online.

ISPs can monitor which websites you visit and the right to sell this data to advertisers. Worse yet, they are practically inescapable. An ISP handles nearly every one of your Internet connections and, depending on where yo


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