This can cause problems. While the internet does indeed need to know where you are, your internet protocol address can provide a wealth of information to hackers (and advertisers). It also provides a path right to your hard drive, for those who know how to find it. Although most internet protocols direct traffic to your router, not your computer, the difference is minimal. This is particularly true for home or small office users where the only devices connecting to the router are one person’s computer and phone.
What your IP address reveals about you
So what, exactly, does your IP address reveal about your computer, and thus you? The largest concern for most is geolocation. Thankfully, because of the way IP addresses are assigned to routers, a casual hacker can only get a general location and not, say, your street address.
The biggest problem is that when you visit websites your IP is recorded by the site. This is helpful to site managers so they can track where their visits and traffic is coming from. In some cases, your IP may be made public by the site. This is the case if, for example, you edit Wikipedia. So, what kind of things can a hacker, or the government, find out about you from your IP?
- They can find out what kind of websites you visit. This is the largest concern. Somebody who knows your IP could, for example, find out that you are visiting a site for LGBT people, and then tell your conservative boss.
- They may be able to track your movements. There was one case where the FBI was able to track down a cyberbully by correlating the locations from where he sent emails to hotel guest lists. No doubt, he thought he was being clever.
- They can identify your ISP, and thus easily report you for bad behavior. If you think you are immune, malicious reporting is definitely a thing.
- They can use geolocation to target advertising. Combined with being able to track your search history, this can result in some very creepy effects.
Another reason to hide your IP is that can help you avoid personalized advertising and keep your search record from being used by sites. If you tend to use your computer a lot in public, it can help make sure that your private browsing habits don’t show up, in the form of ads, when there might be people looking over your shoulder. At the very least, hiding your IP can protect you from some forms of hacking and harassment.
How do you hide your IP?
The first thing to bear in mind is that incognito mode, now standard in all modern browsers, does absolutely nothing to hide your IP. All incognito mode does is prevent your browsing history from being recorded in the browser. There are places for incognito mode, such as not wanting to be inundated with travel ads for a place you looked up for somebody else, or when using somebody else’s computer. It does not, however, hide your IP.
There are 3 ways to hide your IP address when using the internet
Using a web proxy
When you use a proxy, the site sees the IP of the proxy rather than your own router. Web proxies do have their uses, especially if you want to appear to be in a different location so as to access a site. However, you have to be very careful what proxy services you use. Some are notorious for selling your information. Others insert their own ads instead of the ones you would normally receive as a way to make money. Additionally, some sites will detect when you are using a web proxy. Because they are so commonly used by shady operators and hackers, you may find that access is blocked, especially if you are trying to do financial operations. Streaming sites often use proxy detection to keep people from accessing content not released in their region. The WebRTC exploit will let some sites track you through a proxy to your actual location. Although some sites will also detect and block VPN use, proxies cause many more of these problems. Proxies do, however, tend to be cheaper and are more often free. They may also stall some hackers, who see a proxy in use and go for an easier target.
Using a VPN
The best way to hide your IP address is to use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network. When you use a VPN, the internet sees you as being at the network’s location rather than yours. One advantage of a VPN is that they are much easier to configure for multiple devices. They also add encryption, making it much safer to use public or hotel wi-fi. Using a VPN can sometimes impact your connection speed, especially if it is on the other side of the world, but there is a reason more and more companies require their employees to use a VPN when connecting from outside the office.
Hiding your IP may seem to be something for shady operators to do, but the fact is that most of us benefit from doing it at least some of the time. It is particularly important if you are doing online banking or online shopping, or if you have things that would jeopardize your livelihood if your employer discovered them. By far the best way to do so is to sign up for access to a VPN. These days, they are easy to configure and work on all your devices. They are also surprisingly inexpensive.