How to Hide Your IP Address – Stay Anonymous When Online
If you value your privacy when online, then masking your IP address is an essential step to make sure that no one can snoop on you. Here are some methods to do it.
How much time do you spend online on an average day? Two hours? Four? More? It’s likely that a considerable chunk of your day to day is spent looking at a phone screen or diddling away on a laptop. All the while you’re connected to the internet and sharing your location, identity, and data to a whole interconnected network that can snoop in on you whenever it wants.
You wouldn’t broadcast your exact location to everyone you know and don’t know 24/7 if you were given the choice. You certainly wouldn’t allow someone to take all your internet data (the websites you visit and what you do on them) and then sell it to the highest bidder. If you’re not masking your IP address, then you’re essentially allowing all of this to happen right under your nose.
In this post, we’ll bring you up to scratch on why you should be hiding your IP address, how to do it, and what the benefits are. Strap in for the ride.
What is an IP address?
Your IP address is like the license plate on your car. When you connect to the internet, your actions are carried out by Internet Protocol. This is what sends packets of data back and forth between your device and the websites you visit. All your devices have their own unique IP address. This helps the network to identify you and your location and in turn helps that network to make the quickest and most effective connections.
In short, your IP address is how networks identify you online.
Why should you hide your IP address?
First of all, anyone can get hold of your IP address. They can do this by accessing your device for a moment and opening one of the many websites that shows you your IP address. Now that they have your IP address, they can later use it to keep track of your exact location and even to attack you to steal your data. From here they can gain access to all the websites that you visit, what you do on them, how long you stay on them, and more. That’s probably not something you want the world to know.
Hackers don’t even need to access your device to do this - there are plenty of ways that they can find your IP address.
In the US, Congress passed a bill that allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to collect your data and sell it off to the highest bidder. Exactly what world do you want to live in? One where the very people who provide you with your connection steal your data and sell it off to multinationals or anyone with a bit of money in their back pocket?
One more common reason that people tend to want to hide their IP address (a less sinister one, at that) is to circumvent geo-blocked content. A good example of this is being able to access the US version of Netflix, which has a much more vibrant library of movies and TV shows than can be found on the international version of the streaming service.
By changing or hiding your IP address, the sites you connect to can be fooled into thinking you’re somewhere else and thus, they’ll allow you to access them even when the country you’re in isn’t allowed to. Internet users in countries like China, Russia, and Iran often use VPNs and proxies to do this, although, it happens in the US and Europe, too.
From here, we’ll go over some of the ways that you can hide or change your IP address, and we’ll explain exactly how this works.
VPN - The most effective method
By far the most popular and effective method of changing your IP address is by using a VPN service. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects you to a separate server where you send all your data. From here, you connect to the web from the VPN server, meaning that any site you visit will only see the VPN IP address and not yours.
Of course, for this to work, you do need to send your data and IP address to the VPN server, which is why it’s important to use a trustworthy one. VPNs are private companies that operate servers around the world. It’s important that you use one that doesn’t log any of the data you send to it (including your IP address) as the VPN company will ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the country that it’s headquartered in. This means that the authorities of said country could issue a subpoena and demand that the company hand over all the logged data of its users. The best VPNs don’t log your data, so it would be literally impossible for them to hand anything over.
Using a VPN not only masks your IP address, but it also encrypts the data you send to it, meaning that hackers and even government agencies won’t be able to see any of it. The best VPNs use AES-256 encryption - the same security used by major banks and the US military.
To put this level of security into perspective, a successful attacker would have to try out 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,936 possible combinations to crack AES-256 bit encryption. Yeah…
By using a good VPN, you can guarantee that your IP address is hidden and that your data is totally secure. Not even your ISP can see what you’re doing.
As a final note, some VPNs have what’s known as a ‘kill switch’ that automatically disconnects you from the internet if it senses that your IP address might be being leaked. Always use a VPN with a kill switch, just in case.
Tor - How to hide your IP address for free
You’ve probably heard of Tor - or “The Dark Web” as it’s often called. The private browser connects you to a network of volunteer servers run out of people’s computers around the world. Your data is encrypted, then bounced around several random servers before reaching its destination. This means that by the time your data gets to where it’s going, it would be practically impossible to figure where the hell it came from.
Tor has become a bastion for activists, journalists, drug dealers, arms traders, and more. The anonymous browser is one of the most effective tools for hiding your IP address and ensuring that you’re totally secure while online.
That being said, The Onion Router does have its weaknesses. Glitches in websites themselves can cause leaks which government agencies have been known to exploit. Possibly the biggest downside of Tor is that if the authorities find out that you’re using it, you’ll be put on a list for potential further investigation. This is due to the browser’s use by criminals and subversive factions around the world.
On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you’ll be discovered on Tor, especially if you use in conjunction with a VPN. It’s also totally free - although, it will slow down your connection due to the long route that all your data will have taken before arriving at its destination.
PROXY - The classic method
A proxy works similar to a VPN. Anyone who went to school in the time of banned flash games will remember using one to access sites like Miniclip. A proxy hides your IP address by sending your data to a proxy server and then sending it onwards. In this way, it works similar to a VPN.
Thing is, a proxy server won’t encrypt any of your data and your ISP can still identify you and see what you’re up to when you’re using one.
Proxy servers are best used to fool websites into thinking that you’re somewhere else. This is great for watching Netflix or BBC iPlayer when you’re in a country where this isn’t usually available.
Proxy servers are also free and they’re based all around the world, making them ideal for the dabbling user.
The Final Verdict
If you’re looking to hide your IP address, then the most effective way to do so is to get a VPN. We recommend ExpressVPN, Nord VPN, or OpenVPN. None of these are free, but they’re all relatively cheap (especially NordVPN) and they’re some of the best choices out there. Be careful when using free VPNs, as the companies do sometimes collect your data and sell it on to third parties. They’re also full of loopholes and are prone to leaking your IP address.
If you’re looking for something free, then we recommend the Tor browser - be careful though, as this is a little shady…