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According to this Gizmodo article, Evan Greer at Fight for the Future is quoted (or at least given as a source of information) saying that

ISPs can still install secret traffic software and inject ads into web traffic when a VPN is in place.

I get that if an ISP has installed their own software on your machine, then all bets are off. But assuming they have not done that, how can an ISP manage to inject ads into a user's web traffic while using a VPN?

  • They can't. A proper VPN tunnel end-to-end encrypts between you and the VPN provider. The only option would be to somehow get between the VPN provider and the target site, but that's a totally different thing. – Arminius Mar 30 '17 at 3:46
  • That was my understanding. I guess this is either bad journalism or maybe they are suggesting that the ISP software can do the ad injection. – Bill Kronholm Mar 30 '17 at 4:11
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[...] how can an ISP manage to inject ads into a user's web traffic while using a VPN?

They can't. A proper VPN tunnel provides end-to-end encryption between you and the VPN provider.

Your ISP has no way of injecting any content into that tunnel. Your request to a plain HTTP site is only unprotected on the way between the VPN provider and the target site.

I find the advice from the article overall dubious. Here is another bit:

If you really want to keep your browsing habits away from the prying eyes of corporations and the government, Tor is the best bet.

While Tor will keep your own ISP from reading your traffic, the author ignores (or isn't aware) that there are a lot of nosy Tor exit nodes that monitor traffic themselves. Using Tor for regular browsing will eventually be worse for your privacy than relying on a reputable VPN provider.

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The answer is in the question:

ISPs can still install secret traffic software and inject ads into web traffic when a VPN is in place.

If you use a browser provided by your ISP everything is possible (same as using Chrome if you want to be protected from Google...). But if you don't, and except for TLS vulnerabilites they cannot read the encrypted traffic sent through a VPN.

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