We explain why you might want to hide your IP address and how to do it safely.
IP addresses tell websites and other services who you are and where you can be found on the internet. They exist so when you request information, the server you’re requesting the information from knows where to send the response back to.
However, this information can tell others a great deal about you, including actors that could be waiting to intercept or track your activity.
Why you might consider hiding your IP address
Although hiding an IP address can be viewed as something a little suspect, there are plenty of reasons why business users may consider hiding their IP addresses from the wider world.
If you’re sending confidential company information virtually, you want that information to stay secure, wherever you’re using the internet. If you hide your IP address, your connection is much more secure, meaning hackers are unable to trace where the information or user originated from.
If you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, your IP address, as well as other information on your computer could be left open to interceptors. Using an IP address to hide this information from unprotected networks where hackers could be waiting to steal data.
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Another reason you may consider hiding your IP address would be to use services not available in your country. For example, if you want to stream content from the US version of Netflix, you need to have a US-based IP address to use it. By hiding your IP address, you are able to access such service, even if you’re not currently in the country the service originates.
If your workplace blocks certain websites it deems unsuitable, masking your IP address means you should be able to access them. Of course, this may be against your company’s IT policies, so if it’s a website you need to access as part of your job role, you may want to check in with your IT department to make sure they’re happy for you to access the blocked website.
Finally, hiding your identity online also means you can hide from surveillance and tracking programmes, including those used by search engines, governments and your ISP.
How to hide your IP address
There are really only two reliable ways to hide a computer's IP address - either by using a virtual private network (VPN) or a proxy server. It's possible to mask your identity by using the Tor browser, which is designed to hide your IP address, or by using a third-party network provided by a coffee shop or hotel, but these come with their own security risks.
By far the safest method is to use a VPN, software that's typically installed on your system and reroutes web traffic through an address in a different location. Most VPNs allow you to choose which country you would like to appear to be working from, which is useful for getting around regional restrictions to certain websites. Once connected, anyone trying to trace your location would be directed to the country of your choosing, with your true IP address remaining hidden.
VPNs allow you to access websites and content that would normally be restricted to, say, only those residing in a particular country. For example, it was possible to bypass Netflix region locks by directing traffic through a US-based VPN, allowing you to watch US shows - at least until Netflix blocked access to those using such methods.
There's a host of VPN services available at varying prices, so it's important you choose the right one for your needs. If you need some pointers, try our guide to the best VPN services in 2018.
The second method is to use a proxy server, a service that allows you to redirect network requests through a third-party server, acting as a middleman between you and the end server. The server essentially acts on your behalf (a proxy) to access information from a site, meaning that only the server's IP address is revealed, and not your own.
There are lots of different types of proxy servers. Some allow your IP address to be seen, others assign a 'fake' IP address, while a third type completely hides it. It's important to choose the right one for your business, so check out the options before committing.