IP addresses are an essential part of how we browse the internet, but they can also hold us back or leave us vulnerable. How do they work, how can we hide them, and why would we want to?
Like mailing addresses, IP addresses can tell servers where you are and where you’re headed online. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to communicate with other websites (nor they with you). But there’s a problem: IP addresses are closely linked to your location (within a certain region) and what you’re actually looking at (in fact, you can see what your IP reveals about you by visiting nordvpn.com/what-is-my-ip/). If you want to hide your identity and your traffic for security and/or privacy reasons, you have to start by hiding your IP address.
It turns out that there are plenty of reasons to hide your IP address with a VPN:
Real private browsing
Your browser’s private mode primarily hides your history from yourself (and your browser). An encrypted VPN will hide your traffic from your ISP, from the government, and from any cybercriminals who try to attack your device’s connection to the internet. It will also completely hide your IP from the sites you visit when it routes you through a proxy server, getting you much closer to the private browsing you thought your browser could give you.
Access content anywhere
Geo-restricted content can be a huge headache, especially when you’re travelling. Thought you’d get back to the hotel and relax with a stream of your favorite weekly show? If your streaming provider geo-restricts their content (and most do), then tough luck! They’ll be able to identify your location using your IP address and block the content until you come home. Fortunately, you can use a VPN not just to hide your IP, but to replace it with one from almost any country in the world (or any country where your VPN provider has a server). That also means you can access geo-restricted content elsewhere while browsing from home!
Fight ISP throttling
Your IP isn’t the only one worth hiding. When you encrypt your traffic using a VPN, it will also hide the content you browse (and its IP) from your Internet Service Provider. That’s already a significant privacy win, since your ISP can sell your browsing data to third parties. However, there’s an additional benefit. To apply throttled speeds for certain websites, an ISP has to know when you visit them. If it doesn’t have that information, it can’t throttle your speed!
How does a VPN work?
Most security and privacy VPNs start by encrypting your traffic using encryption standards that even the government and your ISP can’t crack. If any hackers try to intercept your traffic, they won’t be able to see any of your data or insert any malicious code.
Your encrypted traffic then gets sent to the VPN provider’s proxy servers, which are located in different countries around the world. Leading VPN providers won’t just offer different countries, they’ll offer specialized servers optimized for different online activities. Before your traffic continues onwards, your IP gets changed to that of the server in question.
In addition to security and privacy, leading VPNs will provide plenty of other useful services, like malware protection, multi-device support, and Tor browser integration.
All in all, if you value your online privacy and security, it’s definitely worth using a secure VPN. There’s only one caveat – you’ll have to learn to browse safely and securely as well. Even the most powerful VPN and antivirus are no match for a user who falls for social engineering and scams online. Be careful out there!