Is My Internet Service Provider Spying on Me?
Everything and anything that we do is being monitored regularly, and while the news is often warning us about cyber-criminals and government surveillance, many of us are just simply oblivious to the threat that is right here in front of us now, each and every day.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have access to absolutely all of your online traffic and while you may not feel that you have anything to hide, this sensitive and personal information is ripe pickings for data mines who desperately want your private information.
This article will cover who is looking at your private information and what they do with this. It will also offer very viable solutions such as using a VPN or proxy to get around this invasion of privacy.
The Real Role Of The Internet Service Provider
You use an Internet Service Provider everytime you go online and try to connect to the internet. An ISP is an organization that can be commercial, community-owned, non-profit or even privately owned.
Their vast data centers provide a hosting platform for websites and are connected to high-speed internet mainlines that are significantly faster than your connection at home. Inside these colossal centers the machines work hard collecting, sorting and routing traffic to the right places.
Nothing is secret inside these centers and it wasn’t until recently, where several large cases of data abuse has come to light, that people have started questioning how safe our private data is and how is it exactly used?
Now is the time to start paying attention to your privacy and one of the first steps is to understand the role of the Internet Service Provider and what it knows about your private data and how to take essential steps towards protecting yourself for the ultimate online freedom.
Does My Internet Service Provider Know What Websites I Visit?
If they wanted to, your Internet Service Provider could look up your entire internet history in a heartbeat.
Every time you visit a website (even in privacy mode), the data centers will track the IP addresses of the websites that you visit. Your Internet Service Provider also has a record of your commands, text and traffic sent over the web.
Your private emails are more difficult to obtain, but not impossible, especially if the ISP you use also provides your emails!
Your Internet Service Provider Is Watching You Right Now…
- Watching Porn – We bet you thought you were safe using your laptop in incognito mode or privacy mode? We have bad news for you…your Internet Service Provider can still track which websites you visit and exactly what you watch despite the extra privacy settings.
- Streaming – This is potentially more dangerous than you think. You might want to look at what you stream from now on as your ISP can see everything and will often take note if you’ve breached piracy laws by streaming something illegal or have bypassed copyright laws.
- Downloading – Users that are regular P2P file sharers or torrentors can be flagged down and reported by their Internet Service Provider.
- Sending Emails – Whilst it’s more difficult to view emails your ISP can and does view your private emails including all its content. If your Internet Service Provider is also your email provider too then there’s an even higher chance you’re being monitored.
- Passwords – This is possibly the scariest realization of all. Your passwords aren’t safe. Think about how much time in the past you have spent trying to formulate intelligent passwords only you will remember in order to protect sensitive information such as bank details etc Your ISP can legally intercept this data if requested by higher authorities.
- Website Activity – Internet Service Providers monitor all of your online habits and behaviors. This means that they get an overall look at who you are and form a profile of where you visit, eat, shop and also…your darkest secrets and most embarrassing online searches.
- Bitcoin Transactions – all of your financial transactions are monitored by your Internet Service Provider.
What Does Your Internet Service Provider Do With Your Private Data?
There are a surprising number of uses for your private data and even if you think you are happy to share your personal information publicly, you might change your mind when you consider that these are some of the ways that ISPs use your data:
- Internet Service Providers earn money from selling your private browsing history to advertising companies
- Anonymous logs are sold to marketing companies in order to determine current trends
- Under the Data Retention Law, specific governments require that your private online activity be stored for a set period of time
- Law enforcement subpoenas force Internet Service Providers to hand over sensitive information to police
Are Internet Service Providers Watching You Now?
You’ll often hear people argue that Internet Service Providers are only vaguely watching people at any given time or that they have “nothing to hide”.
While it may be true that ISPs are only half watching you, the truth is that they are monitoring your every move online and could, at any minute, pull up any private information that they so wish to find.
It’s the same argument with people who claim they don’t mind as they have no criminal activity to hide – it’s beside the point. These companies have all of our data on record and often use this information in ways that can be used against us.
Can Internet Service Providers See Your Search History?
The short answer is…yes, of course!
While most internet users are fully aware of the danger of searching online, we still carry on as normal because we need the internet.
What’s worrying is that many notable search engines have been found tracking results and violating customer policy in recent years. Cue new search engines such as DuckDuckGo who promise to be the secure alternative to the usual popular search engines and have claimed to offer total private searching. These safe searches rely on an HTTPS connection – responsible for securing the data between your computer and the website.
‘Safe searches’ only provide a false sense of security however, as Internet Service Providers can get through this encryption. Their data centers store your private search information and many sell this information on to web providers.
Many advertising companies use this information to determine current trends and reveal what customers are looking for and more importantly what search terms they use to obtain their ideal search results.
Embarrassing search history can also be a problem when cyber-criminals get their hands on your ‘intimate’ information and use this against your for potential blackmail.
How To Hide Your Online Behavior From Internet Service Provider Spies
In this technological age, our lives are increasingly based more and more online.
Many of our relationships form online, some of our embarrassing habits start from browsing certain types of websites. We shop online and bank online. Literally, everything we do is now mainly online which essentially means nothing is safe and secure.
Now is the time to get serious with online security and get ready to face the threat from Internet Service Providers. The simple act of protecting your browsing history will not only protect you from malicious web providers but it also protects against third-party breaches in the ISP data centers.
Here are the best ways to increase your online security:
- Tor – Most savvy web users will already be aware of TOR or The Onion Router. Which is a global project and browser. When you use the Onion browser your information is essentially split into different nodes which in basic terms means that it encrypts your activity and makes it more difficult to track you online.
If you’re sending personal data then The Onion Router is a good choice. The downside to this is that it only works with its brand browser so if you use apps that connect to the internet such as Instagram and Snapchat they will remain un-encrypted.
- Virtual Private Network – a VPN creates a direct and private route to the internet and as it’s fully encrypted it essentially bypasses your Internet Service Provider. A VPN means you can browse anonymously.
Of course your online behavior won’t be safe from everyone as your VPN provider will have access to your online activity but many VPN service providers make a point of upholding customer privacy so you can feel a little safer knowing they’re unlikely to use your information for malicious purposes. If you’re planning to use a VPN then do your research and find the company that provides the best and most secure service. Most offer 30-day free trials.
- Proxies – very similar to a VPN; a proxy provides an alternative route to the web which bypasses your Internet Service Provider but works slightly differently meaning thousands of users can connect to the software making it a lot slower than a VPN.
- Private Browsers – there are numerous private browsers that work the same way that Tor does in that they hide your online activity from your ISP. They work on the same principle where your privacy is the most important aspect of the service.
- HTTPS Browser Extension – those that aren’t committed to a specific browser (you know who you are) can try special extensions that do the same job. It’s a safer option as it prevents your browser revealing sensitive activity logs but it isn’t the perfect solution because your Internet Service provider will still be able to look at the websites you visit, with your commands, text and viewed-content encrypted.
None of these offer absolute privacy, but when you use some of these in conjunction with one another then you have a better chance of hiding your private online activity from spying Internet Service Providers.
Is A Virtual Private Network The Best Option For Online Privacy?
Your Internet will be able to see if you’re using a VPN or TOR service, but it’s still a viable option for safe and secure browsing. Through using a VPN your online activity will be directly funneled to the specific websites you visit and then encrypted – as a result your data will be significantly safer and less likely to be used in unsavory ways.
A VPN is the only way to browse online in public areas too as public hotspots are like open invitations for hackers to gain sensitive and private data from you. Another benefit to using a VPN is that it’s safer to use if you partake in P2P file sharing or downloads.
Can Internet Service Providers Read Encrypted Information from VPNs?
The answer to this is yes and no.
An ISP can tell if you’re using a VPN or TOR service but as we mentioned the information would be encrypted which means it doesn’t make much sense to them. Internet Service Providers can be sneaky though in that they can read certain information in the encrypted metadata attached and in the past have identified websites such as YouTube using this method.
The good news is that certain VPN service providers can use methods to confuse the ISPs and throw them off the scent! When looking to use a VPN service it’s absolutely essential to do your research to ensure that they’re the right fit for your needs.
We recommend using ExpressVPN.