The IP address is your calling card on the internet. Whenever you’re visiting a website or using an online service, it becomes visible to the destination server. The problem? Well, your IP address is enough to determine your location or even your identity, and it can be used to launch a cyberattack against your network.
However, there are ways to leave a lesser online trail leading directly to your home network and identity. In this article, we look at five ways to hide your IP address and protect your privacy.
5 ways to hide your IP address
Hiding an IP really means displaying a different IP to the internet – one that isn’t your home router’s IP address. You cannot avoid using an IP altogether because connections without an IP are impossible. You can mask your IP address, however, and here’s how:
Use a VPN
- Can be either free or paid, depending on your provider
- Free providers might not be very secure, so you might need to look for a paid provider
The most discrete way to vanish from your ISP’s, government’s, advertisers’, or hackers’ sights is using a VPN or Virtual Private Network. Using this method, you can connect through an external server. Doing so will make it seem like the VPN server’s IP address is your own.
Not only do VPNs hide your IP address, but they also encrypt your connection, so even your ISP cannot tell what you are up to. The only thing they can see is that you’re using a VPN.
VPNs secure your entire connection, including your torrent client, so you can download all your LinuxISOs without worrying about receiving a letter about copyright infringement. Some providers even have special P2P or streaming servers set up to allow higher speeds.
Use a Proxy
- There are plenty of free proxies
- Data routing isn’t as private when compared to VPNs
The proxy is a poor man’s VPN. It also works by routing your internet connection via an intermediary server. However, in this case, the connection isn’t encrypted by default. They may still have a firewall or a web filter so that some protection measures will be available depending on the configuration.
- Free and very private network
- There are plenty of rogue nodes that might be tracking you
The Tor network improves on the proxy formula by scaling it and making it free. Using the Tor browser, users connect to the internet through a network of “volunteer nodes” or servers, chosen at random. Data passes through at least 3 nodes before reaching its destination. It’s also encrypted at each point of the journey, making it impossible for any of the nodes to know what you’re up to.
From the perspective of the website you’re visiting, your real IP address is invisible. Instead, the IP address of the last node your traffic goes through is now your IP address.
The downside is that the Tor network is on the slower side. Meaning, you likely won’t be able to enjoy video streaming or file downloads. Considering that each data packet has to jump back and forth across the globe till it reaches you, that’s unavoidable.
Use public wifi
- Free solution
- Some public wifi networks might not be safe
Arguably the simplest way to hide your IP address is using public wifi. As long as you’re online, every activity that you do will be addressed to the IP address of the cafe, hotel, or airport, rather than your own. On the flip side, these networks might have additional restrictions like website blocks or traffic blocks.
Also, some countries have laws in place to monitor public wifi connections. Then, there is the case of CCTV cameras: knowing who connected at what times and inspecting the camera feed can give you a match.
Use Prepaid Data SIM Cards
- You’ll need a separate SIM card with a 3G dongle or an extra phone
- You can still be tracked via the device’s IMEI address
In many countries, you can buy a SIM card with a set amount of data. Although it’s intended for mobile phones, there’s nothing stopping you from using it to share an internet hotspot. That way, you can use the Internet via mobile data, rather than your home wifi, and your IP address will be as temporary as the SIM card.
As soon as you exceed your SIM card’s data cap, dispose of the card. Keep in mind that the 3G dongle has an IMEI number used to identify such devices.
What is an IP address?
By design, every device that connects to the Internet has to use an IP address. This is a unique number assigned to any network connection that uses the TCP/IP protocol (considered the standard). Using it, data can be exchanged and not get lost.
Generally speaking, there are two IP address standards: IP version 4 (or IPv4) and IP version 6 (or IPv6). All the devices that have Internet connectivity use IPv4 and some of them have support for IPv6. IPv6 is newer, more complex and has more features – eventually it will become the global standard. All IPv4 addresses fall into two categories: they’re either public (those used to connect to external servers) or private (those used on the local network).
Read more: IPv4 vs IPv6
Public IP addresses
Public IP addresses are essential for data exchanges on the Internet. They are used for WAN or wide area networks. Broadly, when you’re thinking about the Internet and the ability to exchange data with others easily, you’re essentially thinking about WAN. Public IP addresses are what allows you to send and receive data. For example, when you’re hosting an online game or downloading torrents over P2P networks, your WAN address is what makes the exchange possible. Through it, other people can connect to you and vice versa.
Your ISP assigns a single IP address to your router. So, essentially, every device connecting to the internet through your router uses the same IP address.
Private IP addresses
You might be wondering: how does the package not get lost if all your housemates are using the same IP addresses? The answer is that your router assigns a unique IP address to every device on your local area network (LAN) and remaps the connection to go to the right device. This process is known as network address translation (NAT).
These LAN IPs are not used to connect to the Internet – they are mainly used for interconnectivity on your LAN. For example, your laptop, mobile phone, Samsung Smart fridge, and game console are all on the same LAN but have different private IP addresses. You can connect to them directly from within the LAN, but not from outside it.
How you get your IP address?
Your IP address can be either dynamic or static.
- Static – an IP address that is permanently assigned and doesn’t ever change
- Dynamic – such IP addresses are assigned by a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server. A dynamic IP address changes all the time
Reserving specific IP addresses for users is more expensive, so this option is less common. Much more widespread are dynamic addresses that use a leasing system. If you disconnect your router from the network, the lease line is broken, and your IP address can be transferred to other users.
Why should I hide my IP address?
Your IP address links you to your online activities, gives away your location, and opens an avenue of attack for hackers. Having this in mind, it’s no wonder why you may want to hide it.
The dynamic IP system is designed to make the management of IP addresses easier for ISP providers, it has nothing to do with privacy. Yes, if you unplug your router for a set amount of time after which the lease expires, the address will pass to some other user. When you decide to plug it in, you’ll get a new IP address. However, your ISP still knows who was using an IP address at a particular time. This isn’t even the least of your problems.
Suppose you’re living in a restrictive country where the availability of information is strictly controlled. In that case, you might want to hide your IP, making your online activities harder to track. There’s no secret that countries like China keep a close eye on their citizens, or that consuming the “wrong information” can lead to dire consequences. Likewise, the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances share signals intelligence on a global scale. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you might not like the idea of someone watching behind your back.
IP targeting is a method of targetting specific households with advertisements. It costs virtually nothing, and marketers can target the same household many times without the user being aware of what’s going on. The ads are displayed on the websites that they are visiting. Unlike cookies, this method cannot be blocked and can be used to show highly relevant content.
You may be wondering how these marketers know who to target with what advertisements. The answer is they buy this information in bulk from your ISP. In the US, ISPs have been given the right to log your online activity and sell the data to the highest bidder. It’s pretty much free money. On the other hand, user privacy becomes a commodity that’s bought and sold.
Your IP address can be all someone needs to get you DDoSed just because you were a better player in an online match. It could also be the missing piece needed to doxx you or break into your network. You could even become swatted – in some cases, an approximate IP location is enough.
How to find and check your IP address?
When you connect to the internet, your IP address is exchanged in the background. Yet while you’re not manually typing in your IP address when scrolling through a web page, that doesn’t mean you can’t determine what your IP is.
The easiest way to do it is to go to websites like whatismyip.com or iplocation.net. Not only will these websites tell you your IP address, but they’ll also display your IP location, which can be alarmingly accurate.
How to protect your IP address?
The best method to protect your IP address is to limit its exposure on the web. That means using Tor and VPNs to keep your IP address hidden. It’s crucial because your IP leads back to your router and thus your home network. Suppose a hacker only gets your burner IP address. In that case, he can’t direct his attacks against your main gateway to the Internet.
However, IP protection is only one of many steps towards network security. You should update your router and firewall rules. Check if they allow remote SSL connections. Avoid using the default password, and don’t allow unauthorized ping requests. You can always use an antivirus service with web monitoring.
What is IP masking?
IP masking is a synonym for hiding your IP address. It means using a VPN, proxy, or Tor to connect through intermediary servers to use their IP instead of your own. In this sense, the borrowed IP acts like a sort of mask for your real one.
What is an IP scrambler?
IP Scrambler is a term for a proxy server that switches after each connection. Meaning that once you connect to an IP scrambler, it connects to proxy server #1. After the web request is completed, it connects to proxy #2. There’s a limit to proxy servers, but your connection is jumping back and forth.
Is masking your IP address illegal?
No. In most countries, it’s perfectly legal to hide your IP address.
Can someone find you by your IP address?
Yes. It is possible to track someone using an IP address, but it does not reveal your exact location. However, this applies only to hackers and individuals. Your ISP knows your actual address because it’s registered when you sign up for an Internet plan. Keep in mind that hackers can learn your name, city, approximate location and cross-reference this information with what you post on social media to track where you live.