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I don't know much about encryption and how internet work in general, so my question might be ill-defined... but I guess I will still try to ask a question here.

When you connect to a website directly through your standard ISP routing, the ISP will know that you connected to that website. The exact content of the connection is encrypted by say https. When you connect to a website through a VPN in between, the ISP will not fully know where you are connecting, but the VPN serve will know where you are connecting. The exact content of the connection is encrypted by https.

The difference is only whether you are giving the metadata of your connection to your ISP or a random VPN company. (so it is even more unsafe to use VPN, since ISP is probably more reliably confidential) The use of public key encryption means the website server needs to know the original connecters' public key... so the identity of the original connecter will be known by the website serve, regardless whether VPN is used or not. Is the above correct?

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The use of public key encryption means the website server needs to know the original connecters' public key...

That's not how HTTPS works. No public key of the client is involved unless client certificates are used (which are usually not). With normal TLS/HTTPS (not mTLS) only the client authenticates the server, but the server does not authenticate the client.

... so the identity of the original connecter will be known by the website serve, regardless whether VPN is used or not.

Which also makes this conclusion moot. What the server sees from the client is either the public IP address given by the ISP or the public IP of the VPN exit. There are also application level identifiers like cookies. There are no TLS level identifiers for the client unless client certificates are used - which as already said is not common.

The difference is only whether you are giving the metadata of your connection to your ISP or a random VPN company. (so it is even more unsafe to use VPN, since ISP is probably more reliably confidential)

If a VPN provider is more "unsafe" (for some not fully specified meaning of "safe") depends on a lot of factors. But if the ISP is subject to strong laws regarding privacy and the "random" VPN provider is not, then this statement might be true.

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  • Thank you for the explanation. I now understand that using VPN indeed can hide your own IP address from the website in "most situations". I thought as long as the connection is https then the website must have the user's public key so the content of the connection can be encrypted (like content of an email). From your explanation, it seems that I misunderstood https. The encryption of email is (from what I now know) probably through a mechanism, different from https.
    – Bohan Xu
    Feb 26, 2023 at 15:05
  • @BohanXu: "The encryption of email ... " - there is usually no encryption of email in the first place, at least not end to end. Your mail provider can read your mail as can any mail server which is involved in transporting the mail. Mail is usually protected between mail servers, but not at the mail servers. Feb 26, 2023 at 17:16

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