One of the biggest promises of VPN services is that they don’t keep logs. It is plastered on their websites and featured prominently in their marketing materials. But what exactly are logs and what makes a “no-log” or “zero-log” VPN?
What are newspapers?
In short, a log, also known as a log file, is the recording of events between two servers. When you visited this web page, your computer contacted the How-To Geek server through your ISP’s networks. The ISP and our server took note of this in their logs. The logs are available for your system administrator (your ISP or boss, if you are at work) as well as for the websites you visit.
The log contains your IP address, the time you connected, and the duration of your connection. While this may appear to be pretty innocent information, it may be worth its weight in gold for marketers. They can determine someone’s general location using their IP, and then determine some of their browsing habits based on time and length of connection. Add browser cookie information to the mix, and it can help target more profitable ads.
Logs are also used by copyright watchdogs to determine who used BitTorrent for which file and when, or by law enforcement agencies to determine who sent a threatening email. However, there is a way to avoid this data collection, which is where VPNs come in.
VPN and logs
A virtual private network is a program that allows you to connect to the Internet using one of its own servers. This means that the sites you visit will see the VPN server’s IP address instead of yours, which means that they will not be able to identify you that way.
It also works the other way around: thanks to the way the VPN connection is set up, your ISP or boss can only see the connection you have made with the VPN server and not to the sites you access through the tunnel. encrypted VPN.
Contrary to what many claim, this is not enough to keep you from going unnoticed while browsing. If you are just browsing with your normal browser, its cookies can help websites track you. Think of it this way: If you log into a VPN and then log into your Google Account, Google now knows who you are. This VPN doesn’t hide your identity from Google if you just told Google who you are! This is why using incognito mode is useful.
Even then, however, VPNs still have a huge Achilles heel: namely, their logs.
RELATED: What is the difference between incognito mode and a VPN?
What is a VPN No Log?
When you establish a connection between two servers, a log is created. There is no way around it. It doesn’t matter whether you are using your ISP’s server or your VPN’s, there is a log file somewhere. In essence, what you do by engaging a VPN is replacing your ISP’s log with that of your VPN. Technically, all a marketer or police officer would have to do is request your logs from the VPN, and they would have all the information they need on you. After all, this is how they get it from ISPs.
This is an obvious flaw, but to get around it VPNs promise that they won’t keep any logs, or at least not one that can be used to identify you. For example, many VPN providers differentiate between a connection log (also known as a network log) and an activity log (or navigation log).
The connection log is the one that keeps track of the connections the VPN server has made with websites and which should, at least technically, be devoid of any identifying information about you, while the activity log shows when you logged in and from where. According to the VPN provider, some will claim not to keep the activity log, while others will claim not to keep both.
In both cases, theoretically, your browsing should be anonymous. Websites will only see the VPN’s IP address in their logs, while a request for information from law enforcement will do nothing, as the files do not even exist i.e. so the VPN has to even comply with the requests, as many of them are. based in jurisdictions far beyond the reach of North American and European mandates, such as the Cayman Islands or Panama.
How do you know a VPN doesn’t keep logs?
A no-logging policy is the cornerstone of a VPN service’s promise to keep you anonymous. However, with that comes two major issues, both related to the fact that it’s almost impossible to prove a negative, to show that something isn’t there.
The first problem is that it’s a little hard to believe that no logs are kept. You need some sort of recording of a connection. This is how the Internet works. It is more credible to say that newspapers are destroyed as soon as they are created, but that makes for bad marketing copy.
The second problem is that there is no way to prove from the outside that the logs are not kept by a VPN. There is simply no way to do this for any site. You would need some sort of administrative authority. Then again, even if you were granted access, it is also difficult to prove from the inside: the VPN could simply move the offending logs for the duration of your audit.
These two problems combined mean that you basically trust a VPN to protect your data. Whether or not you have to do this is up to you when choosing a VPN, although generally speaking, reading reviews as well as recommendations from people you trust should mean you do. The good choice.
RELATED: How to choose the best VPN service for your needs
We recommend ExpressVPN here on How-To Geek, and of course the company promises not to keep any activity or connection logs. ExpressVPN is our top pick here at How-To Geek, and many of us have been using it for years. It is created by a stable company that has been around for a long time. ExpressVPN is even breaking new ground by creating features like Lightway, a next-generation VPN protocol that will be open source.