How and why you should hide your IP
A lot of discussion online in the past couple of years has centered around privacy, and what you can do to safeguard yourself from advertisers and anyone else tracking your online activity.
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is one of the key tools that can be used to identify you online, so many people are already taking steps to keep their IPs hidden. But how exactly does hiding your IP address keep you safe, and what are the options you have for hiding it?
Online and offline privacy
Any website you visit can see your IP address and record information about your activity on their site. By itself, this is not usually something to worry about. Where it starts to get worrying is when data from multiple sites, all linked by your IP, starts being put together.
Intrusive advertisers are able to follow your activity on any site they have placed their ads on, and can track you as you browse around the web. Intelligence agencies, hackers and anyone else who manages to gain access to website data can also quickly put together a profile of your online life.
Your IP not only allows your online behaviour to be tracked, it can also be used to find your physical location. Since your IP is directly linked to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), knowing which country and general region you are connecting from is incredibly easy. More importantly, many ISPs assign and log IP addresses according to a specific location-linked system, which can sometimes be used to track your location right down to your neighbourhood.
Getting around blocks
You might also want to hide your IP address because you are blocked from visiting a website or using a game server that you want to use. IP addresses are generally shared by all the devices on a local network, like those which share your home router for example, and this can cause particular problems on public WiFi networks.
Internet forums and game servers sometimes ban the IP addresses of users who break rules, which may catch other users of the same network in the crossfire. If you have a friend or sibling who gets banned on your home network, any device connected through the same router could face problems.
One of the most common reasons to hide your IP is to get around geo-blocking. Streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go have different catalogues available in different countries due to country-specific licensing agreements.
By hiding your real IP you can gain access to streaming content that would normally be unavailable in your country, for example you could watch Netflix’s US offerings from the UK. Many YouTube videos that include licensed music are regionally restricted, but you can watch them from elsewhere by hiding your real IP.
How to hide your IP address
Proxies route your internet traffic through their own servers, so websites you visit will only see the proxy’s IP address, hiding your true identity. There are many free proxies available online, so they are a cheap option if you simply want to hide your IP while browsing the web.
Proxies do need to be configured for each programme individually, so you will have to set up the proxy on your browsers and game clients one by one rather than having a system-wide solution.
Your web traffic will also not be encrypted, which means that anyone listening in on your connection will still be able to track your online activity. With free proxies you will also not be able to choose which server you use, restricting your ability to bypass things like geo-blocking.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) hide your web traffic behind their servers, just like proxies, but also offer other security benefits. Unlike proxies, VPNs protect your activity with end-to-end data encryption, stopping hackers from listening in on it and ensuring that if anyone tries to view your activity and details, they won’t succeed.
Major VPN providers have servers around the world, allowing you to easily get around geo-blocks on streaming content and YouTube videos by simply connecting via whichever server is in the location you need.
After you’ve connected to the internet through your VPN service, you can check that your IP address has successfully changed using a free tool like HMA!’s IP address checker.
The Onion Router, commonly known as TOR, is a network of servers managed by the TOR non-profit organisation that routes web traffic through multiple points throughout the network. The traffic is encrypted and sent randomly between the servers, making it impossible to track.
To use the TOR network, you simply need to download the TOR browser. It’s entirely free, and allows you to safely hide your IP when you browse the web. However, your web traffic will still not be completely secure, as intelligence agencies follow traffic leaving the TOR servers closely, so while websites won’t be able to track you, your activity can still be intercepted.
While hopefully you don’t have to worry about intelligence agencies coming after your web traffic, the main drawback of TOR for most users is its speed. Since all your web traffic will be routed around TOR’s network rather through a single extra point like a VPN server, browsing the web can become a real drag.
What’s the best way to hide my IP?
For easily browsing the web through blocks on a single browsing tab at work or school, proxies offer a quick and free solution for hiding your IP address. If you want your whole connection to be covered at once, or if you’re concerned about the security of your data, investing in a VPN is the right option for you.
TOR should generally be used in addition to rather than instead of VPNs, and the combination of the two offers the ultimate protection for your online privacy. However, unless you are trying to evade a totalitarian government or a network of elite hackers, the slowness of TOR might be off-putting to everyday users.