One question we get constantly asked by our community is, “Can my WiFi provider see my search history?”
In this article, we want to expand on that and provide a comprehensive answer.
But first things first.
Yes, potentially your WiFi provider or a WiFi owner can see your browsing history.
However, the ability to check what you do on WiFi depends on the variety of factors.
The main ones are:
- Type of router you were connected to
- Implementation of a TLS/SSL certificate on the website you visited
- Active VPN connection
Let’s also not forget that your WiFi provider can try to be using packet sniffing tools like, for example, WireShark.
From that point, everything gets way trickier, and therefore we strongly recommend that you should leave your VPN all the time.
Now, let’s dive deeper into details.
Do WiFi Routers Track Internet History
Yes, they do. Though it is not common.
Old WiFi routers aren’t meant to be used for traffic tracking on their own, meaning one would have to have some pretty extensive technical knowledge and a set of right tools to spy on connected users.
That being said, if you connect to a newer WiFi router that comes with a built-in tracking feature and pre-configured software, your browsing privacy will become very questionable.
So all-in-all, Internet history can be tracked on a WiFi router. But when it comes to old routers, one needs to be somewhat tech-savvy to make this happen.
WiFi Browsing History: What Can Be Monitored
Unfortunately, things that can be monitored on WiFi aren’t limited to browsing history only. There is much more what your WiFi provider can see.
- The exact time when you connected to the Internet
- Time spent online
- Specific URLs on the website you visited
- Time spent on the website
- Unencrypted HTTP websites data
- Source & destination IP addresses
HTTP vs HTTPS
When you enter a website URL into your address bar, you may notice that each domain starts with either http:// or https://. These are the two types of transfer protocols that websites use to send and receive data packets over the web.
HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
HTTPS is an advanced version of HTTP. It’s referred to as Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.
The key difference between these protocols is the implementation of a TLS/SSL certificate on top of HTTP.
The TLS/SSL certificate is a global standard security technology that allows secure communication between a web browser and a server.
In other words, all data that comes from and to the SSL-backed website is encrypted to some extent. So, if you visit a page on an HTTPS website, your WiFi admin won’t see the content of the page. However, he will still be able to see what websites you visited and what pages on those websites you opened.
Can WiFi Provider See Your History On A Phone
Yes. If you use a smartphone to surf the Internet, your WiFi provider can see your browsing history.
Except for browsing history, your WiFi provider can also see the following information:
- Apps you were using
- Source & destination IP addresses
- Unencrypted HTTP websites data
However, let’s assume your WiFi admin wants to see what you were doing online bad enough, and he invested resources into the logging infrastructure. Then, even your delicate data can be subject to monitoring.
- Call & text logs
- Text messages
- Voice messages
- Images or photos
That’s of course more than enough to completely ruin your privacy and personal life.
But, everything can be even worse if hackers intercept the traffic you transmit over WiFi. Then they will easily steal your account credentials, passwords, credit card details, and other valuable information no matter what device you use to access the Internet.
The truth is that WiFi is flawed and, by its nature, open technology.
So, unless you protect yourself with VPN encryption, you can never be confident in the security of your data.
Can WiFi Owner See What Sites I Visit
There are lots of routers with a built-in tracking feature from companies like Netgear. When deployed such a router will track all browsing activities so that a WiFi owner could easily check what sites you were visiting on WiFi. Furthermore, if this person is a tech nerd, he or she can also use special software to check your browsing history on any type of router.
How To Hide Browsing History On WiFi
Generally, there are 2 ways to hide your browsing history on WiFi.
You can use either Tor or VPN.
You can use the Tor browser to hide your search history from the WiFi owner.
All traffic that passes through the Tor network is encrypted, so nobody will see what websites you browsed.
However, it’s still possible to see that you connected to the Tor network, and that itself may be quite suspicious.
Also, Tor is really slow for things like video streaming, so you’ll be literally confined to certain activities that don’t require high-speed connectivity.
The other way to prevent somebody from sneakily keeping tabs on your search history is to use a virtual private network.
With its help, you can anonymously browse the Internet, even if you’re connected to someone’s WiFi.
That’s because a VPN assigns you a completely different IP address, hides your identity, and solidly encrypts your traffic.
VPN for WiFi: Why Use It?
So, there are two options: Tor and VPN. Which one is better?
To find a detailed answer to your question, you can check one of our articles – Tor vs VPN.
But here is a quick sneak peek.
VPN is much faster than Tor
With a virtual private network, you can do plenty of things that require fast connection speed. For example, you can stream HD video without any issues as all your transmitted traffic is routed through a single high-speed tunnel. On the contrary, Tor uses several voluntarily run tunneling servers, also known as nodes, that significantly slow down your connection speed, thus limiting you to certain activities.
VPN offers better security
A VPN provides a significantly better level of protection than Tor does. Firstly, it offers you robust AES-256 encryption that's almost impossible to exploit. Secondly, it keeps your data protected all along the way until it hits the destination point, whereas Tor decrypts data packets coming out of the last node. Premium VPNs also provide advanced security features such as Kill Switch.
All content is accessible
A VPN allows you to choose any server from any region in the world, making it possible for you to access any content you want. As for Tor, it will randomly pick a couple of servers from its global network. In the vast majority of cases, these servers won't match the ones you need to uncensor your favorite websites.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully, we’ve managed to elaborate on the topic and provide you with the information you were looking for. Here is a short summary of the article:
- Your WiFi provider history can see your browsing history on any device
- It's possible to see your browsing history on all types of routers if one wants it bad enough
- Except for search history, there is other sensitive data that can be monitored
- You can hide your WiFi history by using Tor or VPN
- VPN is a better choice than Tor if you want to be confident in your security