How to hide your IP address
Your IP address can reveal a lot about where you are and what you’re doing online. Learn why and how to secure yours.
Your internet protocol (IP) address is a unique address for your computer that is generated to reveal where you’re connecting to the Internet from. It can also generate unwanted attention from hackers, advertisers and other agencies without your consent or knowledge.
Thankfully, these situations can be avoided by using one of several methods to hide your IP address. Here are four tried and proven ways to secure your Internet connection and remain protected.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a numerical code that identifies a computer in a network. It also contains physical location data about the computer using it – often with alarming accuracy. It’s a bit like the numbers on your house that tell the postal service which home is yours.
Why would I want to hide my IP address?
One day you’re reading a news article about a particular country. The next day you're seeing banner ads on your favourite website advertising a trip to that very same country. It’s not a coincidence. Adware built into websites track your IP address so it knows where you’re coming from and what you’re viewing.
It’s kind of cool but also kind of spooky; you’re constantly being tracked online without your knowledge or consent. It can also create unintended problems - imagine browsing for a wedding ring for your partner and they happen to use your computer. Even if your delete your browsing history, they're going to see the ads.
And it's not ads you need to worry about. The fact is that if advertisers can track you that easily, so too can people with more nefarious purposes. Hiding your IP address keeps such people from knowing everything about your computer connection, and could prevent you from becoming the unwitting victim of targeted attacks on your data security.
In addition to adding an extra layer of protection, hiding your IP address can also make web browsing a more open and unconstrained experience. Many people use tools like VPNs to access websites and material that is otherwise geo-blocked or region-restricted in their location. For example, changing your IP address to make it appear you’re in America will allow you to access HBO, Hulu, CBS Sports and other streaming services that haven't launched Down Under. (You will still need to pay for these services, of course.)
Using a VPN in this way is not illegal. However, you could be breaking the terms and conditions of your membership to the streaming service. This is something to keep in mind.
Why should I care about my privacy online?
If people with malicious intent can see where you’re located and what you’re viewing online, there are more than just a few ways that this can be used for no good.
- Entering your computer through a port. When your computer runs a program while hooked up to the Internet, a port opens up to grant your computer access. If someone has your IP address they can enter your computer through that port. If you’re running Microsoft Paint, no big deal; if you’ve got your bank app running, we have a problem.
- Spoof sites. Smart hackers can also spoof up dummy versions of your favourite website. Then when you go to that website, you get the fake version of it and run the risk of unknowingly passing on your personal or financial information.
How to hide your IP address
There are four basic ways to hide your IP address when you go online. Each has its own pluses and minuses depending on what you want to accomplish.
- Use a VPN service: VPN stands for 'virtual private network' and basically creates a private tunnel between your computer and the Internet through which encrypted data passes. It gives you a different IP address from the service providing the VPN. The downside is that there are a million different VPN providers. The better ones charge monthly fees while the cheaper and free ones generally have negative features like limited bandwidth or built-in adware.
- Use Tor: Previously known as The Onion Router (TOR), it directs Internet traffic through more than 7,000 relays to conceal where a user is accessing the Internet from. This service is offered free of charge and works with PC, Android and Mac devices. Unfortunately, the number of relays and volume of people using the service means it can be painfully slow.
- Use a proxy server: Proxy servers are a bit like VPNs in that they take your IP and run it through another computer. Thus, it appears your IP is the IP of the other computer and can make it seem like you’re viewing the Internet through the country of that other computer. However, there can be lots of risks involved here. Some proxy computers are compromised, meaning they are recording or stealing information, and they usually slow down your connection.
- Use free/public Wi-Fi: Once you’ve left your own neck of the woods, the IP address changes. If you go to a restaurant, a coffee shop, book store, hotel or the airport, using their free Wi-Fi network means you’ll be assigned its IP address too. However, this comes with its own set of risks, like having your connection intercepted or spied on.
With so many VPNs out there, it’s not easy to choose the one that's right for you. We've reviewed some of the best VPNs to help you stay secure from just US$4/month. Read more…
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