We’re living in the age of the surveillance state, and it’s not just the state surveilling, either. Governments and corporations are walking hand-in-hand down the road to totalitarianism in lockstep with jackboots on. Though there are plenty of ways to change that, in this article, we’ll be talking about how to avoid it by showing you how to hide your IP address.
The reasoning behind that is simple: if they don’t know who you are or where you’re from, nobody can come after you. Hiding your IP address makes you a lot more secure, and we recommend it as one of the most important steps you can take in our online privacy guide.
As a bonus, ads will have a harder time tracking you, though using one of the best pop-up blockers is still a good idea, and you can more easily access geoblocked content across the globe. We talk about that more in our article on getting past the Netflix VPN ban.
How Do I Hide My IP Address?
Before we discuss how to hide your IP address, let’s talk about what it is you’re doing. For one, you’re not really hiding your address as much as replacing it with another one. Blanking out or removing your IP is impossible. Without it, you couldn’t visit websites or even access a local network. If you’re not sure what all that means, read our guide to how DNS records work.
To replace your IP address, you have to send it to another server. Normally, you access the internet by sending a signal to your internet service provider and from there it goes wherever you want it to go. When you’re trying to hide your presence, you need to send it to a second server after your ISP to cloak it with that server’s IP address.
For example, let’s say you’re in Los Angeles. Normally you send your internet connection into the world via a data center in, say, Burbank, California, but you want to keep what you’re doing secret from your ISP and, by extension, the U.S. National Security Agency and its PRISM program. To do so, you need to connect to a third-party server after your Burbank-based one.
Once you do so, a world of opportunities opens for you. There’s no rule that says you have to pick a server in California or even the U.S. For example, you could access the Netflix offerings in other countries or do some banking abroad. The possibilities are practically endless, but do note that the farther away a server is, the more your connection will slow down.
By hiding your IP address, you won’t just stay away from prying eyes, you’ll also open yourself to a world of entertainment. You can get an Austrian IP address and watch public television there, or connect to Britain and watch all seasons of Doctor Who on the BBC.
There are two easy ways to get that extra measure of safety and the added entertainment, as well as a few more complicated ones. We’ll go over them one by one, starting with proxies.
Hide an IP Address with a Proxy Browser
The simplest way to hide your IP address is to use a proxy, or, to be more technically correct, a proxy browser. In most cases, you go to the service’s website, enter the web address you want to go to and the proxy will “take over” your browser in a special window and transport you to wherever you want to go. It’s that simple.
That said, its simplicity comes with a few downsides, most notably security. We talk about it at length in our article weighing the pros and cons of VPN vs. proxy vs. Tor, but the short version is that proxies are inherently insecure. Your connection is being rerouted, but that’s it. Anybody with a mind to can see what you’re doing.
Hide an IP Address with a VPN
A VPN is a step up from a proxy in that it reroutes your traffic and encrypts it at the same time, which is much better than a standard connection. We explain that in detail in our VPN security guide, but the upshot is that a VPN is the gold standard for hiding your IP address. If you use a good one, it can even get past the Great Firewall and the Russian VPN ban with ease.
VPNs are much better than proxies at getting past geoblocks, too, which is another reason to prefer them to their lesser siblings. That said, there are two downsides, as well.
First, VPNs are generally harder to use than proxies, requiring installation and interaction in a client.
The other downside is more substantive, namely price. Good VPNs cost money, and our best VPN picks will set you back $30 to $100 per year. There are free VPNs, but as you can read in our best free VPN article, they’re often stripped down versions of the paid option. They’ll often cap how much you can use them per month or limit you to a few, usually slower, servers.
Though it’s never easy to part with money, VPNs are the best way to invest in your safety and anonymity online, with the bonus of allowing you to stream to your heart’s content.
Hide an IP Address with Tor
A third option when you want to hide an IP address is to use Tor. If you’ve been around for a while, you probably know it as TOR, as the name was originally an acronym for “The Onion Router.” Tor is, essentially, an open source browser network that uses servers set up by volunteers to access the internet without leaving any trace.
Rather than send your connection from your home to your ISP server, you instead get bounced around several nodes, spots where the internet goes out into the wider world. It’s not unlike those silly scenes in TV shows where they’re going after cybercriminals and the investigators need to track the bad guys through several connections.
There are several serious drawbacks to using Tor that keep us from recommending it for most users, though. Thanks to its decentralized, open source nature, it quickly became the standard way to access dark web websites such as Silk Road and other dens of inequity where cybercrime thrives.
Because of that, law enforcement agencies take a keen interest in monitoring traffic that might be going through a Tor node, so you’re only one slip away from showing up on the FBI or Europol’s radar. It’s the cyber equivalent of going 30 over the speed limit on the road in front of your local police station.
On top of that, most websites refuse traffic coming through a Tor connection because they’d like to avoid being associated with the dark web. If the mainstream internet is a liquor store, Tor users are the unwashed reprobates hanging out outside the doors.
Other Ways To Hide Your IP Address
There are other ways to hide your IP address besides VPNs, proxies and Tor, but they’re often impractical, ineffective, morally ambiguous or a combination of the three.
One way to hide your IP address is to access the internet with your smartphone’s mobile data. You could even tether your computer to it. That’s not a good way to stay hidden on the internet, though, because your SIM card will usually be linked to your name and address. Plus, most smartphone users can be tracked and providers are always happy to cooperate with the law.
Another option is to use somebody else’s WiFi connection, but that’s a crappy way to treat your fellow man. In this age of security cameras, going to a coffee shop to log in isn’t as safe as you’d like it to be, either. It’s just another way to invite trouble, especially if you’re doing something illegal such as torrenting in Europe or the U.S. or speaking your mind in Russia or China.
If you’re going to hide your IP address, we suggest using a VPN to do so. Though proxies are free, they’re ineffective and offer nowhere near the security of a VPN. As for Tor and other methods, they’re little effective and will likely be more trouble than they’re worth. If you need a quick recommendation, check out our ExpressVPN review.
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What do you think is the best way to hide your IP address? Did we miss any reliable ways to do so? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading. Stay safe out there.