There are several good ways to hide your IP address. A VPN is the best way to hide your IP address, but other options include Tor and Shadowsocks. Proxies work, too, but come with security risks.
Your IP address is like your public ID on the internet. Any time you do anything on the internet, your IP address lets servers know where to send back information you’ve requested. Many sites log these addresses, effectively spying on you, usually to deliver you more personalized ads to get you to spend more money. For some people, this is a significant issue, and there are ways to hide your IP address.
Why Would You Need to Hide Your IP Address?
One of the big reasons that people hide their IP addresses is so that they can download illegal material without being tracked. But there are a lot of other reasons you might want to hide it.
Your IP address is the set of numbers that identifies you on the web and also reveals your physical location. From that follows that hiding your IP address allows you to hide your identity, which comes with all kinds of benefits.
For one, hiding your IP address means it’s harder to track you online: marketers like to target ads using IP addresses, for example. Whenever you access a website, the server you connect to logs your IP address and attaches it to all the other data the site can learn about you: your browsing habits, what you click on, and how long you spend looking at a particular page. They then sell this data to advertising companies who use it to tailor ads straight to you. This is why ads on the internet sometimes feel oddly personal: it’s because they are. Your IP address can also be used to track your location, even when your location services are turned off.
Disguising your IP address is also a great way to avoid government surveillance: whether you’re trying to circumvent active spying or trying to escape internet censorship in countries like China that block some online content, ditching your real IP will help you get around these restrictions and view blocked websites.
Hiding your IP address is also great for getting around less serious blocks: many streaming services cordon off parts of their library depending on the country you’re in. By using a different IP address, you can easily unblock Netflix and other entertainment, making the most of your subscriptions. Even some free websites may geo-lock their content, making it unavailable in certain countries.
Another reason to hide your IP address is if you’re torrenting or otherwise committing some kind of software piracy. The agencies that combat this type of online behavior use your IP address to track you and hand out fines. The only way to avoid this is to remove your IP from sight.
Can an IP Address Give Away Your Physical Location?
Your IP address gives away more information about your physical location than you might think.
Here I’ve done a basic IP lookup, which returned my location down to the area of the city in which I live. Anyone with your IP address can do this, and while it won’t give out your actual home address or name to everyone, anyone with access to your ISP’s customer data can find you fairly easily.
The spying and selling of user data aren’t limited to websites either. Under US law, your Internet Service Provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) has the right to collect information about you without your permission and sell it, just like any website owner does. While they all claim they don’t sell customer data, it is certainly worth a lot of money to ad companies, and there is nothing legally stopping them. This is a major problem, as half of the people on the internet in the US only have one choice of ISP, so for many, it’s either be spied on or go without internet.
How to Hide Your IP Address
The two primary ways to hide your IP address are using a proxy server or using a virtual private network (VPN). (There’s also Tor, which is great for extreme anonymization, but it’s very slow and for most people isn’t necessary.)
A proxy server is an intermediary server through which your traffic gets routed. The internet servers you visit see only the IP address of that proxy server and not your IP address. When those servers send information back to you, it goes to the proxy server, which then routes it to you. The problem with proxy servers is that many of the services out there are pretty shady, spying on you or inserting ads into your browser.
VPN is a much better solution. When you connect your computer (or another device, such as a smartphone or tablet) to a VPN, the computer acts as if it’s on the same local network as the VPN. All your network traffic is sent over a secure connection to the VPN. Because your computer behaves as if it’s on the network, this allows you to securely access local network resources even when you’re on the other side of the world. You’ll also be able to use the Internet as if you were present at the VPN’s location, which has some benefits if you’re using public Wi-Fi or want to access geo-blocked websites.
When you browse the web while connected to a VPN, your computer contacts the website through the encrypted VPN connection. The VPN forwards the request for you and forwards the response from the website back through the secure connection. If you’re using a USA-based VPN to access Netflix, Netflix will see your connection as coming from within the USA.
In all these cases, hiding your IP involves rerouting your connection to a different spot in the world and letting you assume the IP address of that location. For example, if you’re in the United States and need a Canadian IP, you’d use a program or app and connect to Toronto or Vancouver, say. The way in which your connection is rerouted and secured can differ wildly between different solutions.
Get a VPN to Hide Your IP Address
The best way to hide your IP address is to use a virtual private network, better known as a VPN. This handy type of program reroutes your connection through a special type of server, essentially replacing your IP with that of the server for the duration of your session. On top of that, it also encrypts your connection, offering added security and privacy.
Whatever the reason you’re hiding your IP address, VPNs are the ticket. They can get past any kind of blocks, whether thrown up by governments or Netflix, they can hide your torrenting and help you avoid marketers. They’ll also work on almost any system, no matter if you need to hide your VPN address on iPhone or Android, Windows or Mac.
VPNs are handy tools, but they come with one big issue: they cost money. Most free VPNs can’t be trusted, so you’re looking at an outlay of at least $50 or so per year, more if you use a top-of-the-line solution like ExpressVPN. As a result, they’re not a good fit for everybody.
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Another option is to use The Onion Router, which you’re more likely to know as Tor. Tor is a browser that lets you reroute your connection much like a VPN does, though instead of a server run by a company you’re more likely using a device—called a node—set up by a volunteer. Because the network is run mostly by enthusiasts, it’s entirely free to use.
However, as much as we like Tor, there are a few issues with it. First off, it’s slow: since Tor isn’t encrypted like a VPN is, you need to bounce your connection around a few times to make sure no one node can trace you back. This can badly slow down your connection, to the point of unusability.
The second issue is that because of the way it’s set up, there are doubts how secure Tor really is. For example, you shouldn’t torrent over Tor and even sensitive information should be sent with some care, like encrypting it yourself before sending. On top of all that, Tor can’t crack Netflix, either.
Because of all these issues, a new type of tool has evolved which has some of the characteristics of Tor but supposedly combines them with the best of VPNs. Called decentralized VPNs, they’re supposed to be the future of the internet.
After playing around with them for a while, we’re not really sure how they fix Tor’s shortcomings or if they’re as safe as VPNs. However, they’re great for streaming Netflix at little cost, so that’s something to keep in mind.
If streaming and torrenting aren’t priorities for you, you may want to check out something called Shadowsocks, a protocol developed by a Chinese dissident to tunnel under the Great Firewall. Essentially, it reroutes your connection through a server but does so unobtrusively, without strong encryption. As such, it works great for avoiding censorship but won’t work for torrenting.
Setting up Shadowsocks is easy using a program called Outline, though you do need a server to route your connection through. Outline will help you set one up for $5 per month, but you can also see if you can arrange one of your own through a friend in a country without censorship.
Finally, we come to proxies, a powerful VPN alternative that we have to mention purely because we kind of have to. While proxies do reroute your connection, they don’t do much to hide your IP as they don’t use encryption. As a result, you can use them to unblock YouTube when you’re at school, say, but not much else. It’s just too unsafe.
Overall, when hiding your IP address, VPNs are your best bet. Tor is a bit iffy unless you know what you’re doing, while Shadowsocks is a very specific tool. VPNs can do it all, and better, too. Check out our selection of the best VPNs to see which would be the best fit for you.
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