Here’s how to increase privacy when you go online. Find out the best ways to conceal you IP address.
Your home has its own address. But did you know that your laptops, smartphones and tablets have their own addresses, too?
These addresses are known as internet protocol addresses or IP addresses for short. They are numerical labels that are assigned to every device that connects to the internet. These numbers give away plenty of information about your computer or device, including the country, region, or city it is in; your ZIP code; and even your longitude and latitude.
That's a lot of data. Fortunately, you can hide your IP address from businesses, government agencies, cybercriminals, and other snoops. You have several options to do this, everything from investing in a virtual private network to relying on a proxy server to keep your identity private.
Here's a look at three ways you can block your IP address while connected to the web, so you can decide which option is best for your needs.
Why you might want to hide your IP address
What are the reasons to hide your IP address? Actually, there are plenty.
Your internet service provider might be tracking your browsing activity. It might, then, log what sites you visit and what files you’ve downloaded. By hiding your IP address, you can boost your online privacy.
Your internet service provider might also slow your connection speed if you’re using streaming or file-sharing sites. By hiding your IP address, you can avoid this tactic, known as throttling.
If your devices are not properly secured, hackers and cybercriminals may be able to gain access to your online accounts such as bank or credit card portals.
Advertisers love tracking your online activity. They monitor the sites you visit and forums you frequent to send you targeted ads. If you don’t want companies tracking your browsing habits, blocking your IP address is a must.
Government agencies, too, might be tracking on your browsing activity. If you want to keep your online surfing more private, you’ll again need to hide your IP address.
Using a VPN to hide your IP address
One of the easiest and most effective ways to hide your IP address is to work with a virtual private network, better known as a VPN.
When you use a VPN, you don’t connect directly to the internet on your own. Instead, you first connect to your VPN provider. You only visit sites, download files, stream videos, and access your online bank accounts or credit card portals after connecting through your VPN.
This creates a sort of tunnel that hides both your IP address and the data you’ve sent and received while online. No one but your VPN provider will be able to see where you’ve been or what you’ve done online. And when others try to pry, they’ll only see the IP address of your VPN provider, not the address assigned to your computer.
The best VPN services also come with an important feature which encrypts the data you send and receive. Someone trying to spy on your online activity, then, won’t be able to make sense of what sites you are visiting, email messages you are sending, or movies you are streaming. Data encryption makes it more difficult for hackers or cybercriminals to track your online activity.
A VPN may also allow you to bypass content restrictions. Say you want to stream a movie, but the feature you want to watch isn't available in your country's version of the service. If you first log into a VPN with an IP address in a different country, you might be able to access that restricted content. Still, you should refer to the rules in your user agreement.
Be careful when choosing a VPN service, though. Free services are available. The tradeoff may be that these providers may log your browsing activity and sell it to third-party advertisers. You might decide that it’s better to work with a VPN service that doesn’t log your browsing activity. These services usually charge fees, but the boost in your online privacy could be worth the cost.
Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is a web browser that connects you to the internet through the Tor network. This network is a favorite among some web users because it helps you stay anonymous while you're online.
When you use the Tor browser to visit web sites, stream music, watch videos, or chat in online forums, your activity is randomly sent through a network of servers before you reach the site you want to visit. This protects your location and identity.
Using the Tor browser is simple: You just download it onto your computer and then click on it whenever you want to search the web.
It's important to remember, though, that Tor is just a browser, not a VPN. If you want to boost your online privacy and hide your IP address, it might be best to use a VPN to connect to the internet and Tor to search it.
Use a proxy server
A proxy server is similar to a VPN. But it’s not quite as effective in keeping your online activity private.
When you use a proxy server, your computer will send your online traffic to the proxy first. The proxy then connects to whatever web page, streaming site or banking portal you want to visit. Like a VPN, this allows you to visit websites anonymously.
A proxy server, like a VPN, also allows you to bypass content restrictions. That's because you can log onto a proxy server based in a different country, which may allow you to get around restrictions in your home location.
There is one big difference between the two, though: A VPN encrypts the data you send and receive. Because of this, hackers can't view the data passing between your VPN provider and your computer. Proxy servers can hide your IP address, but they won't offer the benefit of encrypting your data.
Because of that, a VPN server is a better choice when you're seeking privacy while online.
The best choice? VPNs
It’s fairly clear: The one of the best ways to hide your IP address — and keep your browsing activity more private — is to connect to the internet through a VPN. This option masks both your IP address and encrypts the data you send and receive.
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Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.
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