In the 21st century WiFi is a common network to surf the internet. In public places like railway stations or airports most of us connect our devices with the free WiFi available there. But have you ever thought about whether these WiFi networks are able to track your browsing history or not? Let’s help you to find an answer.
Yes, WiFi admins can easily track browser history through WiFi. For the websites that use HTTP, WiFi admins can even keep a track of individual web pages users visit on those websites. In contrast, websites with HTTPS encryption hypothetically admins can only track the IP Address of the visited website.
What Exactly WiFi Admins Can Keep Track?
There are two types of urls we generally visit on the internet HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) & HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). HTTP is not encrypted whereas HTTPS are protected with a layer of encryption. Depending upon the type of url you visit WiFi admin may get different types of data.
For the urls with HTTP, WiFi Admin’s can easily check all the urls users are visiting through that particular WiFi, furthermore in such scenarios with the help of a packet sniffer like Wireshark Admin’s can also check what exact content users are consuming in that website.
For the HTTPS urls, With the help of routers only WiFi Admins may not get the exact domain names of the websites but can easily get the IP Address of the visited website and then they need to do further analysis to find the exact source of the IP Address. In the modern days it is very much easy to decode an IP address to know it’s source.
However with HTTPS enabled in the urls, WiFi Admins directly can not check the content that the users are consuming in the websites. But these days, it is also possible to decode HTTPS traffic with packet sniffers, which is an advanced level procedure.
Apart from browsing history WiFi owners can keep track other user behavior as well, below are some of the most common ones:
- Time duration users spent on each website.
- Exact times when the users come online.
- How much time users connected through WiFi.
- Exact dates of visited websites.
Only with the help of router’s Parental Control (Generally tracking settings of a router can be found under parental control), WiFi owners may not be able to collect all the data.
Moreover, some budget segment routers do not provide the features to track history under their parental control. So in that case can WiFi Admins keep the track?
Can Browser History be Tracked Without Accessing Routers Parental Control Settings?
Yes, WiFi Admin can easily track the websites users are visiting on their network without the help of routers Parental Control. Using a service like Open DNS (Only track domains) or Wireshark can be very useful in such cases.
However, keeping track of exact browsing history like which exact YouTube videos you are watching or which exact article you are reading on a website is still possible but not as easy as to track the domains.
Using Open DNS: DNS servers help us to fill the gaps between users and web servers. Web servers do not understand website names, they can only understand IP address, DNS servers help to decode user entered website address to it’s source IP address and then send it to the server. To keep track of the DNS, Open DNS system helps to replace ISP provided DNS Servers with their own DNS Server. To set up Open DNS and monitor your network’s traffic you check here.
Using Sniffing Tools Like Wireshark: Wireshark also helps us to capture data packets and keep a log of it. With the help of these packets we can check the domain of the visited websites However by default, It won’t decode the HTTPS requests. To decode HTTPS requests via wireshark you may check here.
One must keep in mind that tracking anyone’s browsing history is not at all a good practice, we always need to respect others’ privacy. We are not promoting tracking by any means. We are just presenting what is available on the internet.
After knowing all these, you must be thinking that if it is possible to hide your visited websites from WiFi owners or from public WiFi?
How to Hide Browser History from Public WiFi & WiFi Admins?
When you are using a public WiFi or someone else’s WiFi, surely you won’t want your browsing history to be monitored by them. Just deleting the browsing history from your device or depending upon HTTPS won’t solve the issue. With the help of the right tools they can easily check which websites you were browsing.
So being actually anonymous you need to take further steps mentioned below:
Using Virtual Private Network (VPN)
NordVPN enables an encrypted tunnel between users and VPN services. With the help of encapsulation technology NordVPN warps each data packet with an outer packet which is then encrypted. This ensures the security of the data while transferring. When the data is arrived at the server, the outer packet is decrypted. NordVPN uses two popular VPN protocols, Openvpn & IKEV2 (Internet Key Exchange version two) which makes it fast and secure.
If you want to purchase NordVPN, you can check it’s best offers & pricing.
With all these layers of security your browsing history will be in a safe and secure place on public WiFi or on Someone else’s WiFi network.
Using Tor Browser
Tor is a VPN inbuilt free web browser. As it has an in-built VPN, it can hide your IP address as well and provide an anonymous IP address to the WiFi networks.
Tor is free and helpful but certainly has some drawbacks. It’s quite slow. You may need to give much more time than NordVPN to load a web page or watch a YouTube video. Unlike NordVPN, Tor browsers do not provide any additional layer of security.
If browsing history is only your concern and do not want to spend money on VPN then you may use Tor Browser. But if you want an additional layer of protection to your online credentials switching to a VPN is a better alternative.
Can Google searches be tracked through WiFi?
Google is today’s most commonly used search engine all over the world. Billions of searches are made every day on Google, So it has become a concern for the users if WiFi owners can check the actual search made through google.
We have mentioned the difference between HTTP and HTTPS. Google is obviously using HTTPS protocol. So it is easily possible by WiFi owners to see that you are on google’s domain but very much difficult to track if you are searching for your favorite food or favorite actress!
However, by difficult it does not mean impossible. It is still possible to use packet sniffers and decode the search history by advanced level hackers. If required, organizations can hire such experts to decode Google searches.
Can Incognito Mode Protect Your Browsing History from WiFi?
Browser Incognito modes are made not to keep track of local history only. Incognito mode does not provide any additional security layer for WiFi or any other networks.
In Spite of the mode you are using on your browsers. If the WiFi owner is using the right tools, browsing history can be tracked. If you want to know more about incognito mode and what actually it can help you may check our blog on “Can You Get Hacked on Browsers Incognito Mode?”
By now you must have already decided what to go with – avoid all the public or third party WiFi or not?
We will be glad if your answer is No! That’s what will be a smart choice. However, even if you plan to use open WiFis like the ones at coffee shops or airports, using a VPN or Tor browser to make sensitive transactions like putting website credentials or filling up credit card details is a must.
But for normal browsing, you need not to be cautious about even if your history gets tracked, like for checking the cricket or football score, doing random web browsing or watch a YouTube video, just keep an eye on HTTPS url (Avoid HTTP only urls completely) and then you may use public WiFi.
In most of the cases, you will find that your neighbors or friends are unaware or do not care about tracking your search history. Because primarily they will only get to know the domains not exact the searches. And to decode the exact search history they may need to hire an expert! But keeping protection is always handy! So you can use a VPN like NordVPN or Tor Browser.