How to Hide Your IP Address and Protect Your Privacy
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked evidence revealing just how prevalent government surveillance is on internet users around the world. The extent to which
the United States government, as well as other governments around the world, undermine our online privacy is incredible. Of course, our privacy isn’t just at risk from meddling cyber-spies, but companies as well. Users are monitored, tracked and profiled across multiple websites by various companies whose business is to sell this information to advertisers and other parties.
To combat these efforts by government and enterprise, privacy-conscious users use multiple techniques to make tracking them ever-more-difficult.
If you’re interested in how to protect yourself from identity theft by protecting whatever little privacy you still have online and want to know how to hide your IP address, this article is for you.
In this article, we’ll look at one of the most widely used techniques used – hiding one’s IP address – and learn how to set it up.
What is an IP Address?
Let’s start at the very beginning. An IP address is your computer’s current “address.” Just like a physical address, which lets the UPS guy know where to deliver your packages, this tells other computers and servers who/where you are so you can get the information you are looking for. An IP address looks like a string of numbers (for example, 188.8.131.52).
The interesting thing about IP addresses is that something called “geolocation” can be used to know the approximate location of a device. It isn’t as accurate as GPS, but it does provide invaluable information for anyone trying to track you. And that’s where IP masking comes in. Masking your IP address means that anyone tracking your activity online will have a harder time seeing where you are.
While there are a number of ways to mask your IP, here are the three most commonly used ones.
Option #1: TOR
Using the “Onion Router,” or TOR for short, is not only the easiest way to mask an IP address, but it’s probably the most secure as well. It was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory and, like an onion, consists of multiple layers of encryption.
Remember in the movies, when the government agents try to trace a call, and it jumps around different points across the globe? This is similar to how TOR works.
- When you use TOR, instead of directly reaching, say, Facebook, you send the request to a computer in the TOR network.
- That computer sends the request to a second node, and the second node sends the request to a third node.
- Finally, your request reaches Facebook, and when Facebook sees your activity, it looks like you’re coming from the third node’s IP address and not your own.
What’s cool about TOR is that everything is kept totally disconnected. The third node in the chain only knows who the second node is, which only knows who the first node is. Only the first node knows who you are – making sure that it is incredibly difficult to reveal your true identity.
Average number of TOR users per day, around the world
TOR is also associated with a lot of questionable areas of the internet, known as the “Dark Web,” sites that are only reachable when you actually look for them. TOR still works well in masking your IP when you access legitimate sites, but there is a downside – since TOR is frequently used by hackers to hide their illegal behaviors, many companies will automatically suspect you of criminal intent if they see a user coming from a TOR node IP. Sites like Google will ask users to fill out CAPTCHAs before using their search engine while hiding behind TOR, and any kind of online banking is out of the question.
But TOR is extremely secure, and what’s more, it’s really easy to use. Just download the TOR browser, and surf directly on the browser to get linked into the anonymous network.
Option #2: Proxy Server
If you’re interested in protecting your IP address without raising any red flags, you can use a proxy server instead. A proxy server is a lot like TOR since your requests are being sent through a middleman server. Unlike TOR, this option only hops around once and it isn’t always encrypted, making it less secure.
Note: When you’re surfing with a proxy server, most of the time only your browser activity will be masked. Other information or activity on your computer will not be.
There are several ways to incorporate proxy services into your internet activity.
- Do it yourself: Buy a hosting plan (called a VPS or virtual private server) and install the software on your server/computer. This is a good option for techies who know what they’re doing. Most people should choose a simpler option. If you are bold enough to try it on your own, check out these tutorials online, which will help.
- Pre-fab proxy: There are plenty of companies that have pre-made proxy servers for sale, and they come with varying levels of anonymity, record keeping, and activity logging. Choose carefully if full anonymity is important to you.
- Free proxy: Of course, if you just want to overstep the barriers stopping you from watching your favorite TV series, then you can opt for a free proxy server. There’s not much in the way of anonymity, but these services will confuse Netflix long enough to let you stream away.
Setting Up a Proxy in Your Browser
To set up your browser to work with a proxy:
Go to Options > Advanced > Network tab > Settings > Manual proxy configuration. Enter the IP address in the HTTP Proxy field and enter the Port. You may need to check the box next to “Use this proxy server for all protocols.”
Go to Settings > Show advanced settings > Change proxy settings. In Windows, the Internet Properties dialog opens. On a Mac, the Network dialog opens.
Go to Preferences > Advanced > Proxies: Change Settings. The Network dialog opens.
In Microsoft Edge
Click on the three dots on the top right corner > Settings > View advanced settings > Open proxy settings.
Here’s what to do when you reach the network management dialog:
- If you’re using Windows 10 with the desktop app opened, turn on “Use a proxy server” and enter the proxy Address and Port.
- If you’re using an older Windows version or the network settings dialog opened in a “classic” window, click on LAN settings > check “Use a proxy server for your LAN,” and enter the IP Address and Port of your proxy.
- If you’re using a Mac, click on Advanced > Proxies, choose the type of proxy (Web Proxy HTTP or SOCKS Proxy), and enter the proxy IP and port in the Web Proxy Server field.
Option #3: Virtual Private Network
Many people use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, to mask their IPs. VPNs are similar to proxies in concept except of one major difference – whereas proxies send your communications through an individual middleman, VPNs redirect you through an entirely different network. The website you are accessing (Facebook in our last example) sees only the network that the last leg of the request is coming from, not your actual location, making VPNs much more secure and able to offer significantly greater anonymity.
Connecting to a VPN usually requires you to log in with a password. Once you are signed in, all your activity is cloaked behind the veiled network. VPNs can monitor and log your activity though, so look for a reliable one that has a strong no-logging policy.
Setting Up Your VPN
VPNs are run through your operating system, not your browser like other proxies. Here’s how to set up a VPN:
- On a Mac, click on the Apple logo > System preferences > Network > + on bottom left > choose VPN > choose VPN Type (which should be given to you by the VPN provider) > choose Name > click Create > enter Server Address and Account Name > click on Authentication Settings and provide your username and password > click Connect.
- In Windows 10, type Settings in the search bar and choose the Settings app > Network & Internet > VPN > Add a VPN connection > enter the VPN provider (most likely only Windows (Built-in) is available), Connection name, Server name or address, VPN Type (should be given to you by the VPN provider), Type of sign-in info, User name, and Password > Save.
- In older Windows versions go to Control Panel > Internet Properties > Connections > Add VPN > enter Internet address > click Create > Double click on the VPN connection added to the list > enter the User name and Password.
The bottom line is that no one wants their web activity spied on, and it’s your right to protect your privacy. Check into your IP masking options, consider identity protection services for your iOS or Android and make sure you go with a trustworthy service that’ll keep your information safe.