We’ve argued before that online anonymity is important. And as the notion of privacy gets trampled on with each passing year, online privacy only becomes 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 is called IP masking.
This means you can’t truly be anonymous on the internet—your actions can be traced back to you. But masking your IP address is good enough for functional anonymity.
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.
When you connect to a VPN, you’re masking your IP address with one of the IP addresses on that network. To trace the traffic back to you, the VPN would have to give you up (or your IP address would have to be revealed via DNS leak).
For best results, use a paid VPN service because free VPNs come with too many risks and downsides. 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. Such VPNs don’t keep activity logs, so they can’t give up your IP address even if requested. Plus, most logless VPNs encrypt all of your traffic to and from the network, preventing any snooping by ISPs or governments.
Which VPN Should You Get Started With?
ExpressVPN and CyberGhost 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.
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.
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.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Firefox
- 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.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Microsoft Edge
- 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.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Chrome, Opera, 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.
Note: 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 is 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. Starbucks), your activity will be obscured by dozens of other users at any time. But remember that public Wi-Fi has its own 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.
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 step should be to read our guide to online security and privacy.
Image Credit: Alexander Yakimov/Shutterstock