Virtual private network tools offer a wide variety of advantages, from preserving your privacy when going on the Internet to giving unrestricted access to website content that places too much attention on geography. All effects of a VPN service are caused by one thing: hiding your IP address.
To better understand how to hide your IP address with a VPN tool, it’s recommended to get back to the basics and figure out how exactly are IP addresses created and assigned, along with the reasons why it’s a good idea to hide your IP address. Further, we’re examining the role of a VPN tool in masking your online identity, how to find out your new IP address, and what other solutions for IP masquerading are there besides resorting to virtual private network services.
What’s an IP address?
The Internet Protocol (IP) address represents the digital identity of any device connected to the Internet, which can be routed on the web. It acts like an endpoint (to send and receive data packets) and as a node (to further relay data packets destined for other endpoints). If it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be possible to visit webpages, send and receive messages, or do anything on the web – an Internet connection cannot be validated without an IP address.
There are various kinds of addresses that you can check out in our article with everything you need to know about IP addresses if you want to learn more. In this post, we’ll be referring only to private, public, static and dynamic IP addresses, along with IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
How are IP addresses assigned?
Public IP addresses are set by an ISP (Internet Service Provider), which is the only kind of organization capable of making this happen. Most ISPs assign dynamic IP addresses because it’s a more cost-effective solution than the alternative. This means that your public IP address changes every time the associated device is restarted (when resetting the router, for example). Dynamic IP addresses are a good option for casual users who wish to keep a layer of privacy when it comes to their online identity (even if this layer is pretty thin).
If you have a business involving server hosting, though, you might be interested in negotiating with the ISP to obtain a static IP address. It never gets modified and your clients will have no trouble remembering your IP, whether the clients are people or devices like printers, mail, FTP and web servers.
Private IP addresses and network addresses
Private IP addresses have nothing to do with your public identity, since they are assigned by your router, not your ISP. These are used to tell apart the multiple devices in your house that are hooked to the network. You should also keep in mind that IP addresses are not the same as network addresses.
A network address that is 1.2.345.0 contains all IP addresses ranging from 1.2.345.0 to 1.2.345.255. A network can have multiple subnetworks while IP addresses are assigned only to devices. For example, if all devices can be found at the 1.2.345.0 network address, they may be a printer (1.2.345.1), desktop computer (1.2.345.2), notebook (1.2.345.3), tablet (1.2.345.4) and smartphone (1.2.345.5).
IPv4 and IPv6 addresses
There are two main versions: IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) and IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). The second one, IPv6 is newer but has not been properly implemented yet, so it’s unlikely you will come across IPv6 addresses for several years. They have a more complicated format than IPv4, such as 1200:0000:AB00:1234:0000:2552:7777:1313, [2001:db8:0:1]:80 or http://[2001:db8:0:1]:80.
If you go to the Google search engine and write “what’s my IP”, you will immediately receive your current IPv4 address, since it’s available to the public. For example, 22.214.171.124 is one of the IP addresses registered by Google, while 127.0.0.1 is localhost (special IPv4 address which cannot be used on the public Internet). IPv4 addresses always have four groups of numbers, with each number ranging from 0 to 255. When you install a VPN to hide your IP address, the public IPv4 address is the one affected.
Why would you want to hide your IP address
Masking the real public IP address is practiced by numerous PC users around the world, since it brings a ton of benefits that shouldn’t be ignored. IP hiding can be done using not only VPN services but also other methods like proxy servers or Tor (more on this later). We’re listing some of top reasons why you would want to hide your IP. To find out more about this, feel free to check out our article about the top 14 reasons why you need a VPN service.
- Protect your computer from malware. If your real IP address is exposed to the public, there’s always a risk of getting infected with malware by an external party interested in doing some damage, no matter who’s on the other end of the line. Malware is represented by any form of computer activity designed to damage or disrupt user activity: Trojans, worms, spyware, ransomware, and so on. Malware agents can target you by IP address, so it’s best to use a different one and stay on the safe side.
- Browse websites without leaving tracks behind. If you hide your device’s IP address, you can anonymously surf the Internet without having to start private/incognito browsing sessions to prevent the browser from recording your history of accessed pages. What’s more, masking your IP address means that you can prevent your ISP from tracking your every move, in order to collect and sell data to the highest bigger. To know more, check out our article about methods to help you block ISP tracking.
- Prevent annoying personalized ads. Marketing websites create customized ads and banners based on your visited pages, in order to become more attractive. It can be all traced back to you through your IP address but you can stop this by assigning another IP to your device. Apart from the fact that seeing the same ads everywhere you go is irritating, you can also risk spoiling a surprise for a special someone that you have been browsing gift websites for, and who has access to your device.
- Access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime and other streaming websites. It’s a well-known fact that these media services aren’t available to all countries in the world. What’s more, Netflix has a personalized library of media content by country, based on what it thinks to be more appealing to that country. Because they determine your geographical location based on your IP address, you can hide it and go with an IP address from another region that’s whitelisted.
- Protect your Internet connection when using public wifi. Hotel, airport, school, subway and other types of free, public hotspots are notoriously dangerous due to the no-security policy employed by such networks. In fact, hackers are known to attend free hotspots to hijack the connection of other users and steal data, such as credit card details. If you must use a public wireless network without the help of a VPN application, make sure to not perform any activities that involve you writing your credit card info.
- Get better prices for online services. Unfortunately, companies that provide certain products or services online can show varying prices based on your geographical location. Based on your shopping history, they can tell whether you’re an eager or cautious buyer and display different prices accordingly (more expensive for eager users, cheaper for cautious ones). Examples include airpline tickets, car renting, and hotel booking. The more clicks you make and the longer it takes you to make up your mind on something, the bigger the price gets over time. However, if you hide your IP and try other addresses from different countries, you might end up getting a better deal that you might’ve expected. It’s a guessing game when it comes to VPN and varying prices, so take your time to explore servers from multiple countries and compare results.
What’s VPN and how does it work?
The role of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service is to create a secure tunnel when you access the Internet, in order to protect your connection and prevent anyone from identifying your real IP address. It encrypts all data packets you send and receive to ensure that they reach only the device they were meant for. Even if someone was capable of intercepting the message, they wouldn’t be able to decode it without the correct key (not even your ISP). Check out our article on VPN encryption if you want to find out more.
All VPN applications have access to a special scope of so-called “fake” IP addresses originating from various countries all over the world. They provide a list of new IP addresses in their graphical interface, giving you the possibility to choose a preferred country, depending on which region you want to reach. In some cases, the list of countries may include subgroups of cities, each having multiple IP addresses to pick from.
Hide your IP address using a VPN tool
Once you pick a VPN service and pay for a subscription plan, you can download and install the client to get started. The graphical interface and settings should be intuitive enough to be operated by any type of PC users, even those with zero experience when it comes to virtual private network tools. All you have to do is select a new IP address and allow the application to use it. Keep in mind that the program has to remain running at all times since you will be immediately disconnected from your new IP address and restored to your original one when the VPN service is stopped.
The default configuration of any VPN application should be more than enough for hiding your IP address. Keep in mind that most tools connect you to the nearest VPN location if you don’t have a preference, which can mean gaining a different IP address from the same country. When you become more familiar with the program, you can explore more advanced options and configure them accordingly, like choosing a VPN protocol that puts emphasis on security or speed, or enabling extra options to improve your online privacy.
How to find out your IP address
To see for yourself that the operation was successful after enabling the VPN tool, ask Google to show your current IP address and its geographical location. Please note that your real IP address cannot be traced when you’re using a reliable VPN utility. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering that it might fail due to various reasons. For instance, you might have to disable WebRTC in your web browser to prevent it from leaking details about your real identity.
If you’re not pleased with the connection speed after turning on the VPN, it might be necessary to head to the app’s settings panel to make some modifications, like choosing a different encryption protocol. We have another article ready for fixing common issues with slow Internet when using VPN.
Free versus premium VPN for IP masking
It’s generally recommended to purchase a subscription for premium VPN because it’s better than a free alternative from all points of view. For example, premium VPN provides you with a bigger range of country servers to choose an IP address from, more methods of encryption, and priority customer support, among many other benefits.
When it comes to free VPN tools, they typically adopt an ad-supported business model. For example, the setup file of the downloaded VPN application may come bundled with third-party applications that have nothing to do with the VPN’s functionality, but which you may accidentally install on your computer. Also, the tool may display ads, banners and various marketing offers during runtime. But the worst part is that some free VPN services can take advantage of your situation by turning you into an endpoint to provide better services for other, premium users. Plus, they can collect and share data with marketing companies in exchange for profit, which makes them no different from ISPs.
Nevertheless, you can turn to free VPN for simple, short-term activities, like downloading a file that’s not normally available to your country or checking a website that you suspect to be blocking your real IP address. As long as you’re not downloading illegal torrents, breaking any of your country’s laws, or basically doing anything that involves strong online security and privacy, it’s okay to use free VPN. Otherwise, always choose the premium options – it might be expensive but it will be worth it.
Other ways to hide your IP
VPN is currently the best option for hiding your IP address and protecting your privacy while still benefiting from good connection speeds. If you are experiencing slow Internet, make sure to check out our article about why VPN affects Internet speed and how to tweak it.
However, having access to a VPN application is not always possible and we wouldn’t want you to run out of options when this happens. Two other good are turning to proxy servers and the Tor encrypted network. You can also try requesting a dynamic IP address from your ISP, although this barely fixes the IP hiding issue, as well as use public wifi or connect to your mobile network only when you really have to.
Using a proxy server
A proxy server works similarly to a VPN service: it acts like an auxiliary endpoint between your device and the public internet, routing all your traffic to another device while maintaining your IP address secret. If someone were to pinpoint your visible IP address, they would only obtain the location of the proxy, which can be anywhere in the world. There are numerous free proxy servers out there which can be configured with minimum effort. Plus, there are many proxies available everywhere, so that you can make your IP address look like it belongs to any country.
The downside to using a proxy server is that it’s really slow, especially compared to VPN. On top of that, it provides weaker encryption: aside from spoofing your IP address, it cannot prevent the government, your ISP or any skilled hacker from acquiring other information about your real identity. The gateway between the encrypted traffic and the public Internet knows your IP address, which doesn’t ensure 100% privacy, since the proxy provider can take a look (this usually doesn’t happen with premium proxy servers, though). What’s more, a proxy server cannot protect the entire system like VPN but only one application at a time.
Using the Tor encrypted network
If the Internet can be defined as a network of networks, then Tor is an encrypted network that’s part of the bigger picture. What makes Tor one of a kind is that it’s being maintained by a large community of volunteers who take care of each relay and bridge. It becomes more impressive when realizing there are several thousands of relays and bridges operating under the Tor network. Thanks to its, Tor has millions of daily users.
When using a Tor client (such as Tor Browser), all data packets sent and received through Tor are routed through its encrypted network. Information is bounced from one relay to another until it safely reaches its destination. The main difference is that everything is 100% anonymous – not even the relays have any details about your IP address, so they have no idea about where the packets come from but only when they need to be.
Compared to the Tor network, a VPN solution is easier to use and better for regular usage because Tor usually slows down the Internet. On the other hand, Tor is free and better for rare usage when it’s important to maximize security.
Use a public wireless hotspot or your mobile network
It may seem odd to be advised to connect to a freely available wireless network or your mobile network without taking additional precautions, especially when we here at FindYourVPN.com often argue against it for obvious, security reasons. However, if your sole purpose is to change your IP address, then using public wifi or turning on your 3G/4G data plan gets the job done, technically speaking. For example, these two methods are harmless for quick activities like verifying if a website has blocked your IP address (the one of the device you normally use for going online), but definitely not for online shopping or anything that requires you to type your credit card details.
We strongly advise against it if you have a better alternative, like using VPN or connecting to Tor, since hackers can easily snoop the public wifi and get hold of your sensitive information, like the previously mentioned credit card details, as well as user credentials to email accounts. Meanwhile, the 3G/4G data plan is expensive and routes Internet traffic the normal way: without additional security measures.
Request a dynamic IP address from your ISP
Unless specifically requested, Internet Service Providers rarely assign static IP addresses nowadays, since this solution is more expensive. You most likely have a dynamic IP address already but you can check this to make sure. In the rare circumstance that you were associated with a static IP address (usually happens with companies), you can try contacting the ISP and kindly ask to switch to the dynamic plan. Granted, this does little for masking your IP address and only changes it from time to time. But it’s still a better solution than doing nothing. Of course, this method cannot even be compared to using VPN.
Everything that has to do with online privacy and security starts with masking your IP address: hiding from the ISP, watching Netflix, downloading torrents, unlocking content that’s restricted to certain countries, getting access to exclusive online deals, and so on. Although there are other ways to hide your IP address, like using a proxy server or connecting to the Tor network, we still think that using a VPN application is the best course of action. Nevertheless, we would like to hear what you have to say in this matter, so please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment in the section below.