How to hide your IP address
We are all individuals worthy of love, but we are also numbers. Keep in mind: When you were born, you were given a name and a Social Security number. When I got a car, I got my driver’s license number. And when you connect to the Internet, you receive an IP address. Most of us try to keep these numbers private to protect our privacy, but your IP address is annoyingly public, by default. There are many ways to hide or change this number, such as using a VPN, which is much easier than you think.
What is an IP address?
Simply put, an IP address is the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network. Like your home address, it contains location information and makes devices accessible for connection.
These are not random addresses. It is produced and allocated mathematically by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a division of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). These are the same people responsible for sorting out domain names and other factors critical to online communication.
The assignment of these addresses is not random either. IANA does not provide you with an IP address directly. Instead, they allocate groups of numbers for different regions. For example, the US has a reported 1,541,605,760 address assigned to it, which is about 36 percent of all available IP addresses (at least, under IPv4, versus IPv6, but that’s a story for another time). ). Meanwhile, the Vatican only has 17,920 addresses. This is probably more than you will ever need to know about IP addresses, but now you can impress your friends with these useful facts about papal networks.
Keep it confidential, keep it safe
Since there are a limited number of IP addresses (4,294,967,296, within IPv4) and many are only available by location, mere mortals like you and me generally don’t have to worry about our IP addresses. Our ISPs assign them to us (and sometimes cancel and recycle them), our routers use them, and we continue to be happy – until we need to change something.
Although very few of us are actually responsible for our IP addresses, there are a few ways to force a change. Search the Internet and you will find all kinds of mysterious command line magic words that are supposed to get you a new address. There are even some websites that can do the same. You can also unplug your modem for a while, and see if your ISP has assigned you a new address when you go online again. Or you can call your ISP directly and request a new address, but this can lead to some tedious questions.
Instead of changing your IP address, it is probably easier to simply hide it.
Hide in plain sight, use a VPN
When you point your browser to a website, the request leaves your computer, heads to the server where the website is, and returns the information you requested. Along the way, location and identity information is exchanged, and at times, it is intercepted by attackers, hackers, advertisers, and nosy government agencies.
With a virtual private network, or VPN, another layer is added to the equation. Instead of connecting to the website’s servers directly, the VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN service server, which in turn connects to the public Internet and retrieves the information you requested as normal. This goes through the tunnel to your computer, ensuring that no one can intercept your web traffic, and that the observer will see the VPN’s IP address and not your IP address.
The best VPN services go further, providing bonuses like ad blocking, malware protection, and additional protection for other devices. Some VPNs, like TorGuard ($4.99 per month with TorGuard’s promo code PCMAG), also offer static IP addresses for sale. Unlike the address assigned by your ISP or obtained via your VPN connection, this address is permanent, but is usually limited to certain countries.
Using a VPN adds an extra step to your web browsing and that generally means a slower experience. But my extensive hands-on testing showed that top-tier VPN providers will only slow you down marginally. If you have a good enough connection, you may not notice the difference. In fact, the fastest VPN I’ve tested has actually improved upload and download speeds.
And let’s not forget your mobile devices! They also have IP addresses. And you likely use them in a wider variety of locations than your home computer, including smart public Wi-Fi hotspots. While using a VPN on a mobile device can be a bit annoying, it’s a good idea to at least use one when connected to a network you don’t fully trust. All the major VPN companies have VPN apps for Android and iPhone as well.
In general, VPN applications are identical regardless of the platform. However, there are some differences with iPhone VPN apps. Apple makes it more difficult to use certain VPN protocols on iOS devices. Fortunately, the developers face this challenge and offer the best and safest options for everyone.
While most of the VPN services I’ve reviewed have subscription fees, some don’t. There are many free VPNs available, although many of them work with data and other feature restrictions.
There are many reasons to hide yourself online. IP addresses can be used to mark your actual location, and they can sometimes do so with remarkable accuracy. These addresses also act as personal identifiers, like a little phone number, allowing advertisers and opponents to track you online. They can also be used to launch targeted attacks against you.
You may even be hiding from a vigilant or repressive government. Journalists are especially likely to mask their IP addresses when reporting in dangerous areas or on sensitive topics. Of course, I’m not encouraging anyone to break local laws, but I want people to know how to keep themselves safe, should the need arise.
Hiding your IP address via a VPN also allows you to view region-locked content. The BBC, for example, provides free broadcasts if you live in the UK. If you want to watch from another country, just connect to a VPN server in London and your traffic will appear as British. The same is true for streaming services like Netflix, which have different content offerings depending on your country. For this reason, Netflix blocks VPNs and VPNS try to keep working to keep Netflix accessible.
Also, encrypting your traffic with a VPN will make it more difficult for your ISP to block certain types of traffic. BitTorrent users, for example, may want to use a VPN to prevent their downloads from being blocked. Most VPN services allow BitTorrent traffic and file sharing publicly, but it is not universal. Make sure you are not violating the VPN’s terms of service when you start collecting seeds.
Tour and beyond
Even with a VPN, your data moves almost in a straight line between your computer and things on the Internet. But when you make your way around the corner, you not only hide your IP address, you also make it more difficult to find.
Tor, short for The Onion Router, uses a series of computers distributed around the world to mask your IP address and make it more difficult to trace your digital path. Instead of a single request from point A (your home) to point B (the website server) and back again, your computer sends out layered requests, each one individually encrypted. It then goes from Tor node to Tor node (A to C to R to Z and finally to B) before finally exiting the network and reaching your destination.
Even if someone intercepts your traffic between nodes, the layers of encryption ensure that they can only discern the previous and next hops, and they still don’t know where the chain started or where it ends. The theory is that an attacker must map your entire path through the Tor network to find out who you are. Of course, not everything works perfectly in the real world, but Tor is very transparent about its limitations and is actively working on optimizing the network.
Tor is often associated with secret and vulgar dark web sites, such as Facebook. But it’s also one of the best anonymizing tools out there, and it’s used on a daily basis by security-conscious people and others who seek to evade the restrictions of oppressive government censorship. It’s free too.
If Tor seems like the way to go, but you don’t want to mess around with relays and onion requests, just download Tor Browser. This is a special custom version of Firefox that makes getting into Tor easy. But despite using a VPN may be Affect your browsing speeds, using Tor will definitely slow down your web browsing speeds.
If Tor Browser isn’t quite your cup of tea, NordVPN ($4.99 per month with TorGuard’s promo code PCMAG) also offers Tor over VPN for added protection. With this kind of niche features, it’s easy to see why it’s an Editors’ Choice winner.
There are many reasons why you might want to hide your IP address. Fortunately, there are also many technologies, apps, and services that can help you do just that. While some of them may seem mysterious and intimidating, they quickly become easier and more powerful to use, as you’ll see if you explore the links in this story.
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