We’ve argued before that online anonymity is important. And, as the notion of privacy gets trampled on with each passing year, online privacy will only become more important.
You’d be surprised by what someone can do with just your IP address.
Which is why many people use fake IP addresses. To be clear, “fake IP address” is a bit of a misnomer that implies creating a new one out of thin air. That’s not possible. The best you can do is hide your IP address behind someone else’s already-existing IP address.
This means you can’t truly be anonymous on the internet because a dedicated entity might be able to trace it back to you. But 95 percent of the time, masking your IP address is more than enough.
Method 1: Using a VPN
VPN stands for virtual private network, but is much simpler than it sounds. Basically, you can connect your computer or device to someone else’s network, then browse the web through their network. Whatever activity you’re doing looks like it’s coming from them, not from you.
In other words, when you connect to a VPN, you’re masking your IP address with one of the IP addresses in that network. This also means that all of your traffic gets routed through that network, which can have some unintended consequences.
For best results, use a paid VPN service because there are several risks and downsides to free VPNs. Of the many risks, the most important one is that you can never quite trust a free service. Are they selling your data? If asked, would they give up your true IP address? It does happen.
As such, we only recommend using a logless VPN. Since they don’t keep logs, they can’t give up your IP address even if requested. Plus, most reputable paid VPNs strongly encrypt all of your traffic to and from the network, preventing any snooping from your ISP or government.
How to Get Started With a VPN
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are both excellent options. If neither suit you, check out our overview of best VPN services. Long story short: whichever service you pick, you just download an app, run it, and use it to connect to the VPN on demand. It’s really that simple.
VPNs are useful in so many circumstances. See our compilation of notable activities when a VPN is crucial. Furthermore, educate yourself on these common VPN myths as well as these signs that a VPN client is trustworthy.
Method 2: Using a Web Proxy
A web proxy works in much the same way as a VPN: you connect to the proxy server, then all your web traffic flows through the proxy server. As such, your IP address gets hidden by the proxy server’s IP address.
But there are two major differences between proxy and VPN.
Second, some browsers let you route only browser traffic. To use a web proxy, you go into your web browser’s settings and manually input the proxy server’s IP address. This allows applications and devices outside the web browser, like Skype, to still use your actual IP address.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy
Find a free web proxy using a site like PremProxy or Proxy List. Using a proxy server in your country will keep it fast, but using a proxy server in another country can be useful for bypassing region-blocked content and adding a tiny layer of extra obscurity.
- In the main menu, select Options.
- Navigate to the Advanced tab, then the Network section.
- Under Connection, click Settings…
- Select Manual proxy configuration, then type in the proxy’s address and port in the HTTP Proxy field.
- In the main menu, select Settings.
- Scroll down and click View advanced settings.
- Scroll down and click Open proxy settings.
- Under Manual proxy setup, enable Use a proxy server, then type in the proxy’s address and port in the Address field.
In Chrome, Opera, and Vivaldi
- In the main menu, select Settings.
- Under Network, click Change proxy settings…
- In the Connections tab, click LAN settings.
- Enable Use a proxy server for your LAN, then type in the proxy’s address and port in the Address field.
Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and other Chromium-based browsers do not have a built-in browser-specific proxy feature. Instead, they only use system-wide proxy settings.
However, you can use an extension like Proxy Switcher & Manager to use web proxies that only affect browser traffic.
Method 3: Using Public Wi-Fi
Instead of routing your traffic through another person’s network, you can opt to connect directly to their network — and the easiest way to do this would be to hop onto public Wi-Fi.
The funny thing is that this is really the only way to hide your home IP address. When you’re on public Wi-Fi, there’s no way for someone to trace it back to your home. And if it’s a popular hotspot (e.g. a Starbucks or an airport), your activity will be obscured by dozens of other users at any time.
But do remember that public Wi-Fi has its risks!
By default, most public Wi-Fi hotspots are unencrypted. All your activity while connected can be seen by anyone else on the network (if they’re sniffing it out), which includes login details for websites like banks and e-commerce shopping. Public Wi-Fi hotspots can also spread malware infections to your device.
On top of this, there are several other ways for hackers to steal your identity on public Wi-Fi. So while you might be hiding your IP address, you’re still opening yourself up to a whole host of other privacy and security risks.
As such, it’s not really a viable alternative to VPNs and proxies if your only goal is privacy. Not to say that you should avoid public Wi-Fi altogether. Just know what you’re getting into!
Are You Protecting Your Online Privacy?
Did you know that you are the biggest threat to your online privacy? Most of us tend to share way too much info online. If you’re really worried, your first steps should be to change your bad habits and heed these expert online security tips.
And don’t forget that online anonymity can backfire.
Why do you need to hide your IP address? Are there any other methods that we’ve overlooked? Share with us in the comments below!
Image Credit: The encrypted VPN connection using via Shutterstock
Originally written by Jack Cola on Nov 27, 2009