Numbers control and manage the civilized world. Just think of all the numbers assigned to you over your lifetime: a phone number, a Social Security number, a passport number, a bank account number, a driver’s license number — the list goes on. Each of these numbers serves to identify you in some way. These numbers associate particular activities (financial transactions, for instance) to you personally. A similar tracing is possible on the internet using what is known as your IP address. The IP address that I use can link me to all my online activity. But there are ways to get around this intrusion on my privacy. To start with, I can hide my IP address.
What Is My IP Address?
An IP address is a number assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). There are many technical aspects to the way that IP addresses are handled, but we won’t go into all that for now. Speaking generally, IP addresses are 32-bit numbers that identify devices on the internet. Any device that uses the Internet Protocol (IP) will have an IP address. Here is an example:
IP addresses come in two types: public and private. A public internet IP address is different from a private address (like the one shown above), which is only for use in a local area network (LAN). The same machine can have both a public and a private IP address assigned to it.
Where is my IPv4 address found? I can check the IP address on my computer using the command line. In my case, the ipconfig command shows:
Notice that the IP address in the command line and the one shown from the website are not the same. That’s because my laptop has been dynamically assigned a private IP address (10.201.104.252) by the library system, but the external internet sees only my public IP address
What Is My IP Address Location?
Let me demonstrate how to find my IP address. I have logged into the internet through a public wi-fi at a library in Florida. What if I want to find my IP address? Using the website What Is My IP Address, I can see that the public IP address that my laptop is using is 126.96.36.199. I can also see the IP location. Right now I am in Florida — or at least the library router that I’m going through is in Florida. An IP address can tell you a lot. There are plenty of sites online that will let you do an IP lookup to find out more about an IP address.
Any time that you see an IP address that’s in a private address range, you should know that this IP address is used only for the local network. Here are the ranges for private IP addresses:
- 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255.
- 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255.
- 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255
While an organization’s administrator assigns private IP address ranges, IANA distributes public internet address ranges. ISPs then take these ranges and they distribute them to their client businesses and individuals. What is important to note here is that IANA classifies these IP addresses by region. Take a look at the map from the IANA website:
At the moment, the world sees me and my laptop through the library’s IP address. And if I were at home, it would see me through the IP address assigned by my ISP. But that can all change.
Mobile Phone or Public Wi-fi
Checking out your options while on public wi-fi is not always easy. While researching for this article, I wanted to check out an application called Hidester. But, of course, the library system would not allow it.
Disconnecting and going through my mobile phone hotspot is one option. This is not a matter of hiding my IP address per se. I would really just be going around the firewall by connecting through a different network. But it’s clear that while on my own hotspot, my laptop would be using a different IP address. The same is true for public wi-fi. Your IP address would be different from the one that you use on your home internet. That’s one way to change IP address.
Using a Proxy Server
If you were to use a proxy server such as Hidester, you would truly be able to hide your IP address. A proxy works as a relay. When you connect through a proxy, it mirrors all your internet activity and provides the results back to you. A proxy basically acts as man-in-the-middle between you and the internet.
There are a few problems with using a proxy server. First, it will be slower than going straight through the internet. If you happen to be an American traveling overseas, you might want to use a proxy server back in the U.S. so that you could access your subscription streaming services. But you will experience a slight delay because of the additional processing time on the proxy server along with the time it takes to make the additional hop.
Another problem with a proxy server is that it offers no security like a VPN. Sure, it does the job and hides your IP address. But for a similar monthly fee, you could be using an encrypted VPN service
This is really the best option when you want to hide your IP address. VPN does everything that a proxy server does and more. VPN encrypts the internet traffic between you and the destination server. This is especially helpful when sending confidential data using public wifi.
While connected to VPN, your device will have a virtual IP address. So you may be in England but using a VPN server anywhere around the world. To the outside world, you will appear to be at the same location as that VPN server.
To hide your IP address and your internet activities, you could use the Tor browser. Tor is short for The Onion Router, and it uses technology developed by the U.S. Navy to create multiple layers of encryption. Unlike many proxy servers or VPN services, Tor is completely free. But it does come with a price.
What you might save in money, you will pay for in additional wait time. Tor can be extremely slow because it runs encrypted traffic through at least three Tor routers. The trade-offs might be too high if you’re just looking to hide your IP address.
Hiding your IP address to become anonymous is only one aspect of internet security. It won’t protect the confidential data that you are transmitting, and it won’t keep hackers from trying to trip you up. Internet users have their own reasons for disguising their IP addresses. (You might be surprised to learn — or maybe not — that many ISPs actually sell information about their customers’ browsing habits to third parties.) You can gain access to geo-blocked content by hiding your IP address. And you can use it to try to avoid the blocking of websites by governments, such as in China. Your best bet for disguising your IP address is to use a VPN. You may as well get some real security while you’re at it, and a VPN will give you more bang for your buck.