Authored by a Symantec employee
Most of us use search engines on a daily basis. But did you ever stop to wonder what happens to your search histories? Now Congress has allowed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell your browsing histories.1 So if you value your privacy, then you may want to learn how a VPN can help hide your IP (Internet Protocol) address, keeping your identity anonymous while you search the Web.
How a VPN helps hide your IP address
Even if you’re using a private browsing mode, your IP information can still be collected. The primary methods for hiding your search history and staying anonymous online are to change your IP address by using a virtual private network (VPN), such as Norton WiFi Privacy, or a special anonymization service, like Tor.
Tor, a shortened form of “The Onion Router,” works by sending your encrypted and re-encrypted data through several random nodes on the Internet, creating a circuitous route. It’s similar to how you might try to throw someone off your trail while playing hide-and-seek in the woods: by taking a hard-to-follow route and erasing your footprints. Because the various nodes only know the IP address from the node before and after, none of the nodes knows the complete pathway the data takes. Plus, each completed pathway is only valid for 10 minutes and then Tor generates new random paths. However, your data is not encrypted at the exit node.2
With a VPN, your online activities are anonymized and protected because the VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your data throughout the entire transmission. Instead of sending information directly from your IP address, by using a VPN service the VPN server’s IP address is the one associated with your activity. If your VPN service provider has servers around the world, you could appear to be connecting to the Internet from Berlin when you’re actually in Mumbai.
What information can a VPN hide?
Maybe you’re worried about a medical diagnosis, so you turn to the Web for information. Or maybe you’re trying to find the best deal on an airline ticket online. Unfortunately, Web browsers do track your search history. And they associate that information with your IP address, which essentially identifies you and your location much as a return address does. You can clear your cookies and search history from your browser, but chances are your information has already been recorded by your ISP or a website you visited.
So, if you want to keep your personal research private or get that airline ticket at a better rate without getting locked into a price by cookies, remember that your searches and browsing history aren’t as private as you might think. However, there are options for protecting your information and searches from prying eyes, like masking your IP address with a VPN.
Disclaimers and references:
1 ZDnet, “Trump signs law allowing ISPs to sell your browsing history,” April 4, 2017.
2 Torproject.org, “The solution: a distributed, anonymous network.”
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