Much like we wear name tags when being introduced to a large group of people, so your laptop, smartphone or other device has an IP address as a form of identification, the only difference being that you can’t go online without one.
Standing for Internet Protocol address, your IP is assigned by your internet service provider, but the allocation is far from random. Each IP address is allotted according to geographical location and is much like your home address insofar as it identifies both the host and its location, enabling traffic to travel back and forth.
How to Hide Your IP Address
Just as you don’t give your home address out to everyone you meet, so you may not want the virtual world knowing your IP address. There are a variety of ways to hide or mask your IP address, including:
A Virtual Private Network creates an encrypted tunnel through which you access the internet, masking your real IP address with a fake one generated by a VPN server. This is an easy and efficient way of hiding your IP address and is ideal for those also wanting some element of security and anonymity while browsing, gaming, streaming, or torrenting.
A VPN sits between your device and the server, meaning that all information is encrypted before it even reaches the network, making it the best in terms of security and the most comprehensive, as it protects your emails and other communications as well as your online activities. VPNs are easy to install and compatible with almost every device imaginable. Giving you access to thousands of IP addresses, a VPN can give you the capacity to virtually travel the world without leaving your favorite armchair.
Any diversion or interruption of traffic, such as the journey your email takes from your device, via a VPN server, and onto the network, has the potential to slow down your online activities. The best VPNs, like ExpressVPN for example, however, have very little impact on your upload and download speeds and, in some instances, may even speed things up a little by preventing throttling.
A proxy or proxy server enables you to access the internet via an intermediary which then hides your real IP address and allocates you an alternative one instead. Many people use proxies to get around network restrictions at work or college but this method is neither as secure nor as fast as using a VPN. Furthermore, proxies are limited to your online traffic only so your anonymity is only protected so far. Proxy servers will also log your online activities and have a greater leak potential than the best VPNs.
A proxy server isn’t network-wide either, so you’ll have to configure your proxy to run on specific applications which isn’t ideal for those with concerns about their technological proficiency. As a result, most people will opt for public proxies as these are much easier to set up but, because they’re free, they also get overloaded with traffic. Web proxies are also pretty straightforward but are limited in their capabilities and not as versatile as a VPN. The SOCKS proxy is by far the most versatile and the fastest but, in most cases, will store some logs of your online activities and can be hacked into, meaning the connection is effectively insecure and vulnerable.
The Onion Router, or TOR as it’s more commonly known, is run by volunteers so is a completely free method of hiding your IP address. Similar to Chrome and Firefox, TOR is basically is a browser but one that hides your real IP address and allows you to browse anonymously.
While there are certain advantages to using TOR, such as the ability to access blocked content and get around geographical restrictions, it won’t give you the same level of online security as a VPN. Although TOR does use several layers of encryption, traffic and timing analysis can be used to peel away those layers and reveal both the place where the data or request originated and its destination.
As a result of this wrapping up and unwrapping of encrypted layers, using the TOR network can be extremely slow so isn’t suitable for streaming videos or gaming, for example. As the network is run entirely by volunteers, some of the servers are old and poorly maintained, while others may be operated by nefarious individuals that you’d really not share traffic with. TOR isn’t quite as compatible as a VPN like Surfshark or CyberGhost, and getting it up and running on an iPhone can be challenging.
4. Use a Free or Public Wi-Fi Connection
Whenever you switch to a different network or WiFi connection, your IP address will change. Rather than taking your home IP address with you, you’ll be allocated the one that’s attached to the connection you’re using. This means that, should you be using the public WiFi at your local Starbucks, your device will show up as having that IP address.
This may sound like a great way of hiding your IP address but it can be extremely dangerous. Unsecured public WiFi hotspots are easy targets for hackers and other cybercriminals simply because of the number of devices sharing the same cyberspace. The best way to prevent your online banking information from being intercepted, or your device infected with ransomware, is by using a VPN. Which kind of takes us back to the beginning again.
5 Reasons you may want to hide your IP address
In certain circumstances, being able to hide your IP address is extremely advantageous. Whether it’s accessing restricted content or saving money on flights, using a fake IP address can give you wings, especially in the following situations:
1. Access Geographically Restricted Content
Due to copyright laws and other legislation, there is a lot of content that can only be accessed in its country of origin. Look at Netflix, for example. Americans have access to all Netflix content, but should they travel to Hong Kong they’ll suddenly find they have less than 10% of the choice that they had back home. Why? Copyright means that some content can only be broadcast in certain areas, leaving you with a very limited selection. However, if you can mask your Hong Kong IP address and connect via a server or proxy in the US, you’ll be free to watch whatever you want.
2. Get Cheaper Online Deals
Many online retailers use a system known as dynamic pricing to charge more for a product in instances where they believe the consumer is both able and willing to do so. To get an idea of the size of your wallet, retailers use a variety of algorithms which gather data and analyze it. This information includes your IP address and, if you live in a desirable zip code area in a wealthy country like the US, the site will pick up on this and inflate the prices on its site accordingly.
Research indicates that things like flights and hotel bookings are particularly vulnerable to dynamic price hikes. If, for example, you booked a flight from Denver to Johannesburg, South Africa from your Denver IP address, you’d save nearly $100 on the best price available from a South African IP address. Curious, hey? Obviously, finding the best prices requires using a multitude of IP addresses in different countries which is most easily done with a VPN that has an extensive server network, like ExpressVPN.
3. Avoid Government Surveillance
In some countries, online surveillance is rife and, while your online activities may be innocuous enough, that doesn’t mean you necessarily want authorities listening in. Indian authorities have just announced plans to trace and read messages on social media platforms like Facebook and chat services such as Whatsapp. Anything that criticizes the government will be removed and, in the most serious cases, the user responsible could face a prison sentence.
Even if you don’t plan on saying or doing anything that might raise a red flag with government authorities, you never know what might violate their strict regulations, so using an IP in a different country is the safest way to go.
4. Stop Adverts and Tracking
Every site we visit wants to track our online behavior in an effort to use that information to channel specific products and services our way. This tracking acts in a similar way to the algorithms used for dynamic pricing and can equally inflate or deflate the prices you see online. By using one of the methods for hiding your IP address, you can prevent some of this tracking, but the only way to protect yourself completely is by using an encrypted tunnel like that provided by ExpressVPN.
5. Prevent ISP Throttling
Your Internet Service Provider has access to everything you do online and, within the US, there are no regulations to prevent them from tracking and logging your online activities. Your ISP may even decide to throttle your bandwidth in order to curb certain activities, such as streaming, torrenting, or online gaming.
By hiding your IP address, you can circumvent bandwidth throttling by not allowing your ISP to see exactly what you’re up to. Both a proxy and a VPN can do this for you but, as we said earlier, a VPN is generally the easiest and fastest option.
Proxy, TOR, or VPN?
If you don’t mind switching from one to another, proxies, VPNs and the TOR network all offer effective ways of hiding your IP address. For example, if you only want to access Facebook anonymously, then a proxy is a quick and easy solution. If, on the other hand, you wanted complete anonymity, then TOR is the answer.
A VPN is probably the most versatile solution, if not the cheapest, giving superior levels of encryption, enhanced security over multiple connections and applications while maintaining the ability to hide your IP address and circumvent geographical restrictions. A VPN will also keep your personal data private, even when using an unsecured public WiFi connection.
The best VPNs, like ExpressVPN and CyberGhost VPN, are also very user-friendly and simple to set up so much more inviting for those wanting some level of security without having to delve deeper into the technology behind it.
Hiding your ISP address is not particularly difficult but it will give you the key to unlock content all over the world while keeping your own activities private and confidential. A VPN is by far the best solution, but a proxy server or TOR can also be effective depending on the circumstances. Most people use a VPN for activities such as online gaming, for security reasons, and streaming, for access reasons.
A VPN can also help make your bandwidth go that little bit further by preventing ISP throttling and also by blocking ads and trackers that sneakily consume your data and slow down your connection speeds.
By using a VPN like ExpressVPN, you can select different IP addresses from all over the world so, one minute you could be in Poland saving hundreds of dollars on an online flight booking, and the next you could be in the UK enjoying the latest series on BBC iPlayer. While this would also be possible by using proxy servers, the whole process is more time-consuming and complex, and the connection itself too slow for streaming.
Even if you don’t really feel you have anything to hide, a VPN can help protect you against serious cybercrimes, such as identity theft, and safeguard your device against potential malware infections. They say the best things in life are free, and the best things on the internet are free if you have a reliable VPN to get you access to them!