How to hide your IP address

5 min
How to hide your IP address

Your home IP address is one of the most basic pieces of personal information that is at the same time essential for going online. Without IPs, the Internet wouldn’t work. You share your address with online entities around the world hundreds of times during every Internet session. Still, it is your private address, which deserves to be protected from prying eyes. Does it really need to be so widely available? And can you make it anonymous? Read on!

Can you hide your IP address?

The short answer would be: it depends, and definitely you shouldn’t always hide it! The IP number is like the address of your house. Senders of messages, either offline or online, must know your address. You don’t want to share it? Fine, but you won’t receive your package. The post office and other delivery companies must store a lot of addresses in order to function at all. Your neighbors, friends, and local authorities know your location, too. It is understandable and welcome for social and legal reasons.

However, your address is your personal information, and you are entitled to keep it private. You don’t have to welcome everyone in your yard: nagging salesmen, trespassers, or worse: stalkers and thieves. You should have access to means of protecting your household, for example by keeping your location confidential.

Should I hide my IP address at all?

By the above analogy, it’s easy to see that your address on the Internet must be shared with multiple “delivery services”. That basically means all the computers your device communicates with. Internet Protocol is a multi-layer stack of networking technologies, in which several systems of addressing exist. An IP address can be dynamically changed during network reconfiguration, for example when you connect to Wi-Fi with your smartphone. 

How to hide my IP address?

An entirely anonymous IP is not possible, because it would stop any online communication. However, you may choose to protect your privacy and anonymity. Referring to the post office analogy: you might use a trusted go-between who would receive and send mail in your name. Thus, only he would be aware of your true address. This is roughly how online proxy servers work. 

A proxy server stands between you and the target server you actually want to communicate with. It has several uses:

  • Improving download speed. A proxy server can cache the websites frequently visited by its users. Thus, instead of a slower download from the original source, an identical copy is presented. This can significantly speed up the browsing experience in organizations.
  • Filtering information. Many entities, like schools or companies, disallow access to certain content on their premises. If everyone connects via a central proxy server, then it’s easy to block banned websites.
  • Anonymity. A so-called anonymous proxy sends web requests in your name, masking your IP. This is the point of hiding behind such an intermediary: preventing tracking you by the IP.

Are proxy servers safe?

There are two obvious issues with proxies. First is that you need to trust such a service. Many proxies are internal and are only used by specific organizations like schools. But there are also remote proxy servers offering to increase your security and hide your IP address for free. You shouldn’t trust them blindly. Quite often, they forbid encrypted traffic via HTTPS. It basically means they want to be able to snoop on your data transfer. This leaves a possibility of tracking you, and in severe cases, even stealing your identity. 

The other problem is the lack of encryption. When you use a proxy located far away, your IP is altered on the route from the proxy to the destination server. The other part of the way – from your device to the intermediary – is unprotected, just like an ordinary data transfer, thus being just as vulnerable to interception and attacks. 

As you see, this method leaves some uncertainties and is generally not recommended. However, this is the most recommended option you might see online because it’s mostly free. But there’s an even simpler solution: private browsing. Let’s have a look at it!

Does incognito mode hide your IP?

This feature is no longer a novelty in web browsers. Mostly, it had been used to automatically wipe one’s browsing history from a given computer. It prevents from saving cookies and form contents, too. So it certainly increases your privacy online, because cookies can perform a wide range of tracking tricks. But you need to remember that all these effects are limited to your browser only. Your surfing in incognito mode conceals your actions from the other users of the computer. Any virtual footsteps you leave on the Internet actually stay there.

As a consequence, web services can still link two basic pieces of information: your IP and all the content you request. That’s right: just like without private browsing! So the answer is no, private browsing doesn’t make your IP address anonymous. Moreover, malicious software installed on your device can still monitor all the activity performed in the incognito mode. Besides, apart from the information discarded by the browser (history, cookies, forms), there is also the DNS cache of the operating system that lists the websites recently viewed by any browser.

Summing up, this solution is ineffective when it comes to online privacy protection. Proxies do hide your IP, but do not truly increase your security. There is a far better option, though.

Hide my IP with a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) was created as a response to a specific demand. The point was to access an internal network located in a specific place (like an office) while being outside of it. Connecting physically was not an option, whether by plugging in an Ethernet cable or through Wi-Fi. Such network is called private, and such remote access is called virtual – hence the name of this technology. A typical setup includes a remote computer, for example, your laptop when you work from home, and a server managing the internal network.

A different setup results in a configuration similar to the one with the use of a proxy server. A VPN server can work as an intermediary between your device and any other network. The latter might be the entire Internet. Then, the VPN server becomes your gateway to the World Wide Web, not to the private network of your company or school. The primary difference between it and a proxy is tunneling

Tunneling is a telecommunications technique used to shield data sent with a given web protocol with another protocol. It is used all the time to adjust online traffic to various devices and networks around the globe. In the case of VPN, the data additionally gets encrypted. Thanks to that, it becomes illegible and mostly useless in case of malicious interception. It cannot be snooped on by your ISP or hackers. This security feature is the main strength of the VPN.

Do VPNs hide your IP?

Yes! Moreover, this is the most recommended method to hide your IP address. A VPN tunnel between you and your VPN provider is constantly kept up. When you normally surf the Web, the server presents its own IP to all the websites you demand. Your address is known to the server, but not to all the tracking software out there on the Internet, trying to monitor your actions.

Note that this method also doesn’t make your IP secret. The intermediary machine must know it. That’s why you simply need to give the VPN provider a certain benefit of the doubt. The metaphor with a trusted go-between is still true: at least he must know your home address if you want to receive paper letters! Therefore, choose your VPN provider carefully. 

If you are very sensitive about your security, read the license agreement and privacy policy. It should inform you how exactly your traffic is supposed to be handled. Watch out for services that claim to be 100% free, even without a paid subscription. They need to make money, too, and sometimes do it by sharing your browsing history with third-party advertisers. This could endanger your privacy instead of protecting it.

Now you know the basics about how and from whom your IP address can be hidden. There are further methods out there, like using the Tor network. But it comes with a price of a much slower connection and has questionable morality, as it can be used for criminal purposes. If you want to hide your IP, whether for the sake of privacy or to avoid geolocation, the VPN is most probably the best choice.

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