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I pay monthly for a VPN. However, I browse online while connected to my university WiFi which requires authentication to use. The WiFi is open (no password directly) but when someone connects to it a page pops up and we have to input our university NetID (which is linked to our names and info) and password.

So my question is: if I use a VPN while connected to the university WiFi could they tell what URLs I have visited? Or would the VPN be enough to hide my browsing history even though the WiFi requires authentication to connect?

2 Answers 2

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Your university will know who you are (because by signing in to the wifi, your local IP address is tied to your account), and they will know that you are sending traffic to vpn.provider.com, but if they look at that traffic, it'll look like:

ueB0yp/DDT5kYdRpL2MUFj1lQvvneqVfN0/eV2LU48OAMnFWPWAbqg/QcbdJpbRA
9XYF3Yo1kIZ9RYObsotJ/eTZejSQuuvoGgge1Vui4vgKsvz2ce6GfiEFV9St1vnw
I4AbJ2mFu4JkyYMvl45Ydg==

ie encrypted cipher text that can only be decrypted by your laptop and the VPN server. The VPN server then opens a connection to the server you're actually trying to reach.

Laptop --university_inspection--> VPN server --> facebook.com

The university will have no idea if the traffic is actually facebook, or pornhub, or the message board of whatever weird political group you're into because it all looks like generic ciphertext going to vpn.provider.com.

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    It should probably be noted that if your DNS is not set to go through the VPN, then the WIFI owner will know what you are looking up (but not what you do there)
    – Nullman
    May 18 at 11:38
  • @Nullman Great point! Yet another win for DNS-over-HTTPS! May 18 at 19:45
  • ODOH sounds like an even better (if slower) idea
    – Nullman
    May 19 at 8:53
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If you use a VPN while connected to the university WiFi, they will not be able to tell what URLs you have visited.

VPNs encrypt all internet traffic, effectively hiding your browsing history from your ISP. However, that doesn't mean the ISP is blind to your activities. They may be able to tell that you're connected to a VPN and for how long, based on the fact that the encrypted traffic is headed to an IP address of a VPN server.

Source: https://www.security.org/vpn/browsing-history/#:~:text=VPNs%20encrypt%20all%20internet%20traffic,address%20of%20a%20VPN%20server.

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    This adds nothing to the previous answer. And you do nothing to address the wifi authentication issue.
    – schroeder
    May 18 at 11:02

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