No matter what electronic device you’re reading this article on, it has been assigned an IP address. That address is how this website knew where to send the web page you’re viewing right now.
When a device connects to the internet, it receives an IP address. This allows other devices on the internet to know which computer sent a request for information, so they know who to respond to. It works great, and it’s the base technology that powers the routing of information on the internet.
Unfortunately, the very same IP address that allows communications on the web also allows third parties to track, monitor, record and block your online activities. Third parties can even use it to detect your physical location.
That’s why it’s a good idea to hide your IP address.
There are multiple ways to hide your true IP address while on the internet, and in this article, I’ll go over each one and discuss the pros and cons of each method. I’ll also explain what an IP address is, what it does and why you should care about the whole process.
What’s an IP Address?
As you are likely already aware, the internet is a vast, global network of computers, mobile devices, gaming consoles, smart TVs and even refrigerators (which will text you when you need milk).
Each one of these devices is assigned an IP address when it connects to the internet.
An IP address is a unique 32-bit number that is assigned to a connected device, which allows other devices on the internet to identify it. This all works much like the address of your home or where you work.
An IP address is assigned in the following format: x.x.x.x, where the value of x can be any number from 0 to 255. (This is known as the IPv4 format. There is also another format for IP addresses, known as the IPv6 format, that allows an even greater number of connected devices to be identified, but that is an article for another day.)
Now, if Mr. Clark Kent expects to receive snail mail at his physical address, he has to let everyone know that his address is “344 Clinton St., Apt. #3B, Metropolis.” If he wants to send and receive information from the internet, his connected device will need an address, too.
Let’s say the address assigned to his computer is 184.108.40.206. From now on, any time another device on the internet sees a request from that address, they’ll reply to that address with the requested information. Believe me, all of this happens much faster than it sounds.
I mentioned before that each IP address is unique. It needs to be that way, since if two devices tried to use the same address, there would be an address conflict, and other devices wouldn’t know where to send the information to.
IP addresses are allocated to geographical areas around the globe. They are assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) via the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). Each country is assigned a range of addresses to be used inside their borders.
If you know what to look for, you can easily tell which country a device is located in by looking at the device’s IP address. (More about that later.)
The primary takeaway: an IP address identifies your computer or connected device on the internet, and it can be used to narrow down your physical location. Keep this in mind – it’ll make things easier to understand in the sections following this one.
Okay, But Why Would I Want to Hide My IP Address?
There are a number of reasons why you would want to keep your IP address hidden from other users on the internet.
In this section, I’ll discuss the reasons why you might want to hide your IP address from other users on the net. Some of them are security-related, while others are related to your convenience and entertainment options.
(Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to use the internet just like you always did – other people just won’t be able to detect your location or monitor your online antics.)
1. To Hide Your Location
If someone can view your IP address, they can actually get a really good idea of what your physical location is. They might not be able to find your front door, but they can narrow your location down to your zip code.
Have you ever visited a website and seen advertising on the site, showing ads for local merchants and services? The local used car lot didn’t pay to have its ads shown all over the world. Instead, those ads are geographically targeted to a particular area. But how do they know where you are?
Try this. Go to the IPInfo.io website. What do you see?
Wow, that’s a lot of information, eh? The IPInfo folks can tell all of that with just your IP address? Yep!
That is only a little bit creepy. Your IP address can be used to target you for advertising, special offers, localized content and much more – including DDoS attacks, but more about that later.
2. To Get Around IP-Related Restrictions at Work or School – or Your Entire Country
If you’re a regular visitor to Pixel Privacy, you know that there’s plenty of content-blocking going on out there.
Whether it’s your employer blocking your favorite fantasy football site or your school blocking Netflix or League of Legends to keep your mind on your studies, it seems that there’s always some third party or other blocking content.
Your own government could even be blocking certain websites and services, whether out of a misguided desire to keep their citizens pure of heart or simply to keep them from information that would allow them to realize what’s really going on inside their own borders.
3. To Get Around Roadblocks Put Up By Netflix or Other Online Services
As if roadblocks that your employer or your country’s government put up weren’t bad enough, the services themselves often put up roadblocks as well!
Streaming video services like Netflix sign licensing agreements with movie studios and television networks to stream their films and TV series.
These agreements are on a country-by-country basis. This means that content that is available in the U.S. might not be available in the U.K. or other regions.
To prevent viewers from outside of a licensed area from viewing content for a particular region, Netflix will block IP addresses from outside the licensed area from accessing the content.
Music providers, gaming servers and other services are known to throw up similar geographical roadblocks.
4. To Block DDoS Attacks
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a popular method that cyber attackers use to overwhelm a computer or server by flooding it with traffic, preventing legitimate requests from being serviced.
In plain English, this means that a DDoS attack causes the internet connection of the victim to slow to a crawl or shut down completely. The user is no longer be able to access websites, stream video, stay connected to gaming servers or perform any other online activity.
While this technique has been used mostly to wage attacks on high-profile websites run by online merchants, banks and credit card companies, they have also become a popular tool of less-than-honest gamers looking to score an easy victory by flooding their competitors’ connections with an attack.
5. To Protect Your Anonymity
If you’re online, someone is attempting to track you.
Whether it’s your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government and law enforcement, or the suspicious-looking guy or gal at the next table down at the coffee shop – someone is looking to track your online activities.
If you live in the United States, your ISP can sell information about your browsing habits to third parties without your permission.
The government in the U.S. is becoming increasingly intrusive when it comes to tracking its citizens’ online travels, all under the guise of protecting you from terrorist activity.
And that guy or gal down at the coffee shop? They simply want to steal any kind of information they can from you – whether it’s your Amazon.com login and password, or your checking account or credit card information – so they can use it to order free stuff or sell the information to the highest bidder.
And let’s not forget how your general geographical location can be determined simply by detecting your device’s IP address.
How to Hide Your IP Address
There are quite a few ways to hide your IP address from other users on the web, and some of them work better than others.
In this section, I’ll discuss 4 methods you can use to hide your IP address, as well as the pros and cons of each.
1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Using a VPN is arguably the best and most convenient method available today for hiding your real IP address and its accompanying online activities from prying eyes.
Briefly, a VPN:
- Hides your real IP address, preventing a popular method of detecting your physical location.
- Encrypts your online traffic, preventing any nosy third parties from detecting your activities.
- Allows access to blocked content, including Netflix, Hulu and other geo-restricted streaming services.
- Provides a safe way to engage in BitTorrent activity and prevent your ISP or entertainment industry lawyers from detecting it.
A VPN hides your real IP address by assigning a new address to your internet connection. This part of the service offers multiple benefits.
- It prevents third parties from detecting your real geographical location.
- It unblocks geographically-blocked content by giving your connection an IP address belonging to the region where the blocked content is located.
- It hides your actual IP address so it can’t be used to track your downloading and file-sharing activities.
A VPN routes your internet connection through a tunnel of encryption, preventing any observers from reading the information your device sends and receives.
While an observer may be able to detect that you are connected to a VPN server, they will not be able to see the information passing through the tunnel.
When you connect to a VPN server located in another country, your connection is assigned an IP address identifying it as being located in that country. This convinces Netflix, Hulu, gaming servers and other providers that you’re located in a licensed area, and they allow you to access the content.
When your ISP detects that your IP address is being used to engage in P2P/BitTorrent file sharing activities, they will block you from accessing those services, no matter what type of files you are sharing. A VPN’s encrypted connection hides such activity from your ISP.
For more information about how VPNs work and for in-depth reviews of VPN services, be sure to check out the VPN section of the Pixel Privacy website.
When considering a VPN provider to hide your IP address from detection, I highly recommend taking a close look at ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN is arguably the best VPN provider available today. The service delivers in all of the important categories required of any VPN.
First, the provider delivers fast connections speeds, making it perfect for downloading files, streaming video and music, and for online gaming. Those connections will keep your online travels undercover thanks to the military-grade encryption that the provider uses.
ExpressVPN provides access to geographically-blocked content thanks to its server network of over 3,000 servers located in 94 countries around the globe.
Your online activities while connected to the provider’s servers are not recorded in any way, as ExpressVPN keeps no logs of any kind recording your activities while using their service. The company also protects your payment info thanks to accepting Bitcoin as payment for their considerable services.
No matter which device you use to connect to the internet, ExpressVPN likely has you covered via their comprehensive native app support. Apps are available for most popular platforms, including macOS, Windows, Android and iOS devices.
For more information, or to find out more about ExpressVPN, read our extensive review of the provider.
Avoid Free VPNs
While it may be tempting to use a free VPN service to hide your IP address, I strongly recommend against it. While a “free” VPN may not cost any money upfront, the price you actually pay can be a dear one.
Using a free VPN can put your online privacy at risk almost as much as going without a VPN.
Free VPNs are like any other for-profit company: they need to have an income stream to keep the lights on and the internet connections connected.
Many “free” VPNs have only one product they actually sell: your online activities when you’re connected to their servers. They keep logs of your activities, then sell that information to advertisers and other nosy third parties.
In addition to recording your online antics, free VPN providers have also been known to inject ads and tracking cookies into your browsing sessions. None of this adds up to the security and privacy that a VPN should deliver.
In addition to a loss of privacy, you’re also giving up many of the conveniences that a paid VPN provides. Instant access is one of them. Some free VPNs will require you to wait in a connection queue before allowing access to a server.
When you’re finally able to connect, you may find your server connection options are limited to a few select servers – the same servers all the rest of the free users are being herded onto. This could cause your connection to slow down considerably. (Think the 5 highway in Los Angeles during rush hour.)
My advice is to avoid using a free VPN provider – no good will come of it.
2. Use a Proxy Server
A proxy server is a computer or an application that acts as a go-between (or a “proxy”) for requests your connected devices make to the internet.
The proxy server takes requests from a client, passes the request along to the proper location on the internet, receives the requested information and sends it back to the original requestor.
In the past, proxy servers were mainly used as a means of connecting multiple users to the internet in cases where a direct connection might not have been feasible. This was widely the case in the early, “dial-up” days of the internet.
In modern times, proxy servers are a way for a user to keep their identity and their original IP address undercover.
While proxy servers work quite well and are, in many cases, less expensive than VPN services, they do not provide the encrypted connection protection a VPN does, leaving your activities open to prying eyes.
It should be noted that there are “free” proxy servers available on the web.
However, be warned that these services usually offer slow performance, and at least one free proxy server provider was found to have been monitoring the information sent through their servers, as well as routing their users to unwanted ads and even loading malware onto their computers.
There are trusted proxy service providers available. Some VPN providers also offer free proxy servers, such as Hide My Ass!, which is perhaps the most well-known provider to offer the service.
3. Use The Tor Browser
Users who are serious about keeping their identity and activities undercover while browsing on the web will want to take a close look at the Tor Browser.
The Tor Browser is free and sends your browser activity through a network of relays run by volunteers, which obfuscate your actual IP address and make it difficult to impossible to track your online travels back to your IP address.
As you can see below, the Tor Browser does an excellent job of hiding my actual IP address, making it appear that my U.S.-based connection is coming from a town in Germany.
The Tor Browser is an especially popular tool among journalists, bloggers and online activists located in countries where all internet traffic is tightly monitored and restricted.
While the Tor Browser is an efficient way to safely browse the internet, be advised that your browsing activities will be slowed down by quite a bit due to the extra leaps around the web that your browsing traffic is making.
For more information about the Tor network and browser, or to download the browser for your devices, visit the Tor Project website.
4. Use Public Wi-Fi
I am including this option simply to present all of your options.
I do not recommend using a public Wi-Fi hotspot to “hide” your real IP address. While using a public Wi-Fi hotspot does lend you a slight amount of anonymity, as you’re not connecting to your home or office IP address, it poses valid security concerns.
When you use an open public hotspot, you are opening yourself up to monitoring by any other user who is connected to that hotspot. In addition, that Wi-Fi hotspot is connected to the internet via an ISP, posing further monitoring issues.
If at all possible, use a VPN instead. A VPN will hide your real IP address and encrypt your internet traffic, keeping it safe from being monitored by any third parties.
Options You Shouldn’t Consider
I have seen other websites suggest “hiding” your IP address by using your mobile device’s hotspot capabilities, calling your ISP for a new IP address or even unplugging your cable modem until it is assigned a new IP address.
However, none of these actually hide your IP address, and all of them still leave you open to monitoring online. Not only that, but your internet activities can be traced back to you. So don’t. Just don’t.
Let’s Wrap It Up
In this article, I’ve shared the various ways users can keep their real IP address undercover, thereby protecting their online activities from being monitored by outsiders.
Of all of the methods we’ve taken a look at, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the best way to protect all of your online activities from being observed and your personal and business-related information from being stolen.
Of all of the VPNs I have used on a regular basis, my personal favorite is ExpressVPN. For more information about ExpressVPN or to subscribe to the provider, visit the ExpressVPN website.