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 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 and advertisement generation software. These situations can be avoided by using one of several methods to hide your IP address.
What is an IP address?
An internet protocol (IP) address is a numerical code that identifies a computer in a network. It also contains physical location information for 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 mine?
One day you’re reading an article about that volcano erupting in Hawaii, the next day you’ve got banner ads on your favourite website advertising a trip to Hawaii. 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. And the fact is that if advertisers can track you that easily, so too can people with more nefarious motivations. 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.
On the flip side, hiding your IP address can also be used to make browsing the web a more seamless 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. If you’re a Game of Thrones junkie on business in a country that doesn’t get HBO, changing your IP address can make it appear that you’re somewhere else, letting you hop online and get your fix of Jon Snow’s brooding looks and perfectly feathered hair.
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 her. 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.