No matter if you had password protected your laptop and kept every data secured from your wife, husband, or another family member or even from our employers. they are still watching you;
- Websites you visit, when you visit them, and the time you spend there.
- Your emails and their contents
- Torrenting and streaming stuff
- Your Bitcoin transactions
- Bitcoin transactions are visible too
- your search history
Your email account passwords and financial credentials are visible to your internet provider if you still haven’t encrypted your traffic.
Your ISP handles everything between you and your internet and monitors your browsing history. In short, they know the website you visit, when you visit the site and the time you spend there.
Let’s see what your ISP can see if your traffic is unencrypted. Also, find a solution for your concerned exposed data.
Why is your ISP Tracking You
ISP tracking is not sudden; your service provider is not monitoring your traffic without any purpose. With the DNS query resolving process, your ISP gets to know every website you visit as soon as you enter the URL into the search box.
There could be two main reasons for ISP tracking your browsing history.
- The laws of the country or region you are living in.
- Net-Neutrality rules (ISP want to promote their own services and display ads according to your browsing preference).
Country Laws regarding citizen privacy
Although every country has some regulations regarding citizen privacy, including online data processing clauses and details, these laws could be present in different forms with different names.
Some countries have lenient laws which don’t force ISPs to keep user data (instead of some suspicious individuals). But, many countries maintain laws with rules to keep user data for a certain period. This period may vary among the regions. A popular kind of such regulation is “data retention law,” which is the rule in many countries worldwide.
Your country probably has net-neutrality rules which promote equal rights to every content without favoring or prioritizing anyone. However, ISPs still do such activities without acknowledging users.
Sadly, if you live in the US, your ISP can openly sell user data and prioritize content after the repeal of net-neutrality rules.
ISPs can profit from user data and traffic in many ways. But the prominent ways are;
- Through selling your data and browsing preferences to third-party organizations in exchange for money. Almost all of the individuals have experienced popup ads while browsing. But the thing to notice is that commonly these ads match our previous searches. For instance, if you are looking for a T-shirt, your screen will display a popup ad with the tagline “cool T-shirts at a low price” or any other attractive phrase the next day.
- They are promoting their services to get more traffic. For instance, if your ISP sees that you stream videos on YouTube, they may show you their website with higher results.
What ISP can see when your traffic is Unencrypted
1. Passwords and details of the website you visit
If you visit an unencrypted website, i.e., the HTTP version, your ISP will get the exact name of that site. For instance, you visit an online shopping website, create an account, log in to the existing account, and purchase anything. Now, your ISP will get the website name, the thing you purchased, the account password and other details, and the payment information (if you entered any).
2. Your personal Emails
There are two conditions when your ISP could see your email content.
- Not using Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption when using an email provider.
- If you are using the ISP email service.
Most likely, you fall into one of these conditions.
How to get rid?
Use an email provider with TLS encryption. For instance, STARTTLS is a popular, secure email service from EFF. But you should know that the email provider can see your emails.
Also, services like Google Mail symbolize a threat with a small red lock if any recipient or sender does not correctly use TLS. You can request another email or notify the recipient to resolve the issue.
(VPN could get this resolved most efficiently)
3. Torrenting and Streaming Stuff (Reason for ISP Throttling)
Many of you might know the perils if you get exposed while torrenting. Your sensitive details, such as location and IP, are visible to many people while you torrent, and your ISP has more stuff to look at.
Even if you are torrenting legal stuff, your ISP will likely throttle your internet speed for many reasons. Commonly they throttle to remove load from their servers.
Also, you can get notices from your ISP.
4. Bitcoin Transactions
Despite the common perception of Bitcoin transactions being anonymous, your ISP can easily spot Bitcoin usage in certain conditions.
For instance, your ISP can get you if you are an ordinary Bitcoin client sending standard and uniquely formatted unencrypted messages to well-constructed TCP ports.
Your ISP can easily predict that you create a transaction by looking at the traffic you send out, but it is not received by someone else.
Can ISP see you’re using VPN?
Have you encrypted all your traffic? If yes, you are secure from hackers, snoopers, and ISP looking at your exact data.
But, still, there is a chance of ISP snooping.
Although your ISP cannot know the exact data after encryption, they can still trace the unencrypted metadata to infer your browsing patterns and practices. ISP can make robust predictions by noticing traffic patterns’ size, frequency, and timings.
A study revealed that a YouTube video has a particular pattern when you stream it on your device. Therefore, ISPs can get to the exact video if they want.
Most people think it is okay if their exact data is protected and ISP gets just your routine browsing patterns. But in some cases, your data can get exposed too. A study on IoT devices states;
“An ISP or other network observers can infer privacy sensitive in-home activities by analyzing Internet traffic from smart homes containing commercially-available IoT devices.”
Therefore, VPN encryption (which is secure and makes it almost impossible for ISP to spot the device you are using) could be undermined if you have one IoT device or various devices sending out scattered traffic.
How to block and stop ISP Tracking
Now that you are entirely aware of ISP tracking, I am sure you are curious about how to stop ISP from tracking you.
Luckily, there are effective ways to eliminate this situation and the privacy threats linked to ISP tracking. However, you should keep in mind that not every method provides you with complete protection.
The ways I will discuss with you could work well with another solution or be enough alone.
Let’s find out.
- Browsing HTTPS Websites only ensures that the data inside that particular website is encrypted before transferring. You can use the HTTPS Everywhere plugin to ensure the websites you visit are encrypted (with HTTPS in the URL).
- Using a VPN is a solution to stop all tracking discussed above. You don’t need to implement any other solution. It is because the VPN tool efficiently encrypts every app’s internet traffic. It also includes every website (HTTP also) and other traffic going towards the internet.
Make sure the VPN you are selecting supports torrenting and has a kill switch enabled in it. You can go for NordVPN, which has advanced privacy features, torrenting support (with a kill switch), and US Netflix access.
- Tor (Onion Routing) can also anonymize your browsing history. But, because of the vast network of virtual tunnels and numerous nodes, you will face obvious speed degradation.
- Adjust your DNS settings to a third-party DNS. If you are using a VPN, it will automatically set the anonymous VPN DNS server. Setting change is necessary because most devices use ISP DNS to resolve the DNS query. Popular choices for third-party DNS providers are OpenDNS and GoogleDNS.
- Use an email provider with TLS encryption (this will only secure your email content). For instance, STARTTLS is a popular, secure email service from EFF. But you should know that the email provider can see your emails. Also, some services like Google Mail symbolize a threat. The threat is denoted with a small red lock if any recipient or sender does not correctly use TLS. You can request another email or notify the recipient to resolve the issue.
Is your ISP Spying on you?
The simple answer is YES!
It is not that they have set up any surveillance team or entities who are continuously tracking your browsing history, but they are getting a lot of information you haven’t realized yet.
There are some scary aspects of ISP spying which I have mentioned above in the article. And every ISP is into the business in one way or another; it could be cookie placement, data selling to third-party organizations, and device settings for hidden spying.
Ensure to have preventive measures, or else get ready for privacy loss.
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About the Author
Rebecca James is an IT consultant with forward thinking approach toward developing IT infrastructures of SMEs. She writes to engage with individuals and raise awareness of digital security, privacy, and better IT infrastructure.More from Rebecca James
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