We are all human beings, with names, personalities, family, and friends, but we are also several rows of numbers. From the time we are born, we are given a number and that continues as you get older with your driver’s license, health card, passport, etc. The same thing happens when you get online. Whether you are on your personal device at home, at work, in the library, or at school. There is a number affiliated with your online movements. You get an IP address. Without this IP address, you wouldn’t be able to get online. It is like your golden ticket to get into the chocolate factory. Most of us try to keep these numbers private for security reasons, but our IP address is very public information. There are many ways you can hide your IP address, such as a VPN, and you don’t have to be Mr. Robot to code this one out.
What’s An IP Address?
In the simplest way possible, your IP address is the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network. Similar to your home address. It contains location data and makes your devices accessible for communication.
These are not a random string of numbers auto-generated and assigned to you to access the internet. It is much more calculated than that. These numbers are mathematically produced by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). A division of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Okay, so the numbers are specifically calculated, so they just throw them around to your devices and network at will? Not quite. IANA doesn’t directly assign your IP address to you, but instead, they allocate blocks of numbers to regions. For example, the United States has reported over 1,500,000,000 IP addresses, and no, that is not a typo. This is approximately 36% of all IP addresses that are available (IPv4, that is, there is now IPv6, we will get into that later). This is more than you need to know about IP addresses, but here is some further information if you were curious.
IPv4 vs. IPv6
Now for many (or most) of you, this section may be more information than you need. This will be of interest to those of you who want a deeper dive into the types of IP addresses.
IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) was developed in the early 1980s. An IPv4 address is a set of numbers that range from 0 to 255, separated by periods. IPv4 has a limit of 4.3 billion addresses, and in the 1980s, that was more than enough. But, as time went on, the internet grew, the number of devices individuals had that accessed the internet grew, and the number of people who had access to the internet grew. Soon we were close to running out of IP addresses. We have been running out of IPv4 addresses since the 1990s.
As innovative engineers were able to manage this issue, a more permanent solution was needed. Enter IPv6. This solution was created to handle the new load on the internet that IPv4 simply can not. Currently, IPv4 and IPv6 addresses coexist. But as time goes on, IPv6 is becoming the standard as older IPv4 hardware is retired (rest well, old friend, you did well).
IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) was first introduced in the 1990s as a replacement for IPv4. This uses a 128-bit IP address, where IPv4 uses a 32 bit IP address. This gives the theoretical total of 340 undecillion (340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456) addresses. IPv6 addresses are represented as eight groups of four hexadecimal digits, with the groups being separated by colons (2002:0de6:0001:0042:0100:8c2e:0370:7234).
IPv4 vs. IPv6
With the addition of IPv6, it allowed for much more functionality than just an addition of more IP addresses. For example, IPv6 allows for multicast addressing. This means it allows for bandwidth-intensive packet flow to be sent to multiple destinations simultaneously. In simpler terms, this means you can send multimedia streams to multiple destinations simultaneously.
IPv6 also offers autoconfiguration, which allows a device to generate an IPv6 address as soon as you power the device on and puts itself on a network. The device then looks for an IPv6 router; it will generate its own local address and a globally routable address if one is available. In the case of IPv4 addresses, this process needs to be done manually.
IPv6 also allows devices to stay connected to several networks at once. This is due to the more extensive configuration capabilities that allow hardware to assign multiple IP addresses to the same device automatically.
Can You Keep A Secret?
Because there are only a finite number of available IP addresses and only a specific number of them by location. We generally don’t have to worry about our IP addresses. Our internet service provider (ISP) assigns them to us (and sometimes revokes them to recycle them). Our routers use them to access the internet, and we are none the wiser.
There is a small population of us that are in charge of our IP addresses. And there are some ways to change your IP address. If you search the internet, there will be pages upon pages of suggestions and tips on how to change your IP address. You can also disconnect your modem for a period of time. Then see if your ISP assigns a new one to you when you power the device back on. Further, you can call your ISP and ask for a new one, but this might spring up some questioning.
As you can see, changing your IP address can take some effort; it’s a bit easier to hide it.
Hide Your IP Address
When you point your browser to a website, what is really happening is that you are requesting information from the server where that site lives. Then the request returns to your computer with the information you requested. Along the way, location and identifying information are exchanged and sometimes it is intercepted by attackers, snoopers, advertisers, etc.
With a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can add a layer of protection. Instead of you contacting the website’s server directly, the VPN you are using creates an encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN’s server. This then allows you to connect to the public internet and retrieve information as normal. The information received then passes back through this tunnel, ensuring no one can intercept your web traffic. If an observer was to look at your traffic on the web, it would return as the VPN’s address and not yours.
Using a VPN adds an extra step to your web traffic to achieve that level of protection, but it does come with a trade-off. Typically, this means a slower connection due to that added step to access the internet. As long as you have a fairly quick internet connection and use one of the more popular VPN services, you should be only marginally affected. This is where spending the extra little bit on a VPN service comes into play. That and they often add other features such as ad-blocking, malware protection, and more.
Why All The Secrets?
There are many reasons to hide your actions online and to keep your IP address secret. Your IP address can be used to determine your physical location and, at times, can do so with very high accuracy. These addresses also act as a personal identifier, similar to a phone number and caller ID. This allows advertisers to track you online and launch ad campaigns targeted at you.
There are also many other reasons one may use a VPN to change their IP address. As we all know, specific locations have access to different content. Some may use a VPN to gain access to that content or watch sporting events. I am not necessarily endorsing this action, but it has become one of (if not the most) popular reasons to use a VPN.
Even with a VPN, your data moves in a straight enough line between your computer and the data on the internet. There are ways you can hide your IP address but also make your movements online much harder to follow. This is done by use of a Tor (The Onion Router), it uses a series of computers distributed across the globe to hide your IP address. You are also making your journey to point A to B much more difficult to trace.
In this scenario, the request starts at point A (your device) to point B (the website’s server) and back again as normal. But now your computer sends out layered requests, and each one is encrypted individually. This relays you from Tor node to Tor node (A to D to W to M and finally to B) before exiting the network and reaching the destination. Even if someone was to intercept your traffic. The layers of encryption ensure they can only understand the previous and next jump but would not know where the chain starts or ends.
As I am sure you are thinking, “If a VPN slows your browning speed this much, bring it to a halt”. If you were thinking this, then you would be on the right path. By leapfrogging from computer to computer in order to hide your journey, it is a much longer process to get the information you sought out for.
The Wrap Up
There are many reasons to hide your IP address, and fortunately for you and me, there are many easy ways to do this. Your reasoning could be that you just don’t want to be tracked and targeted, and there would be a large population that feels just like you. This is why there is no shortage of ways you can hide your IP address. While some of the ways you can hide your IP address may seem intimidating and possibly scary. Some ways are as simple as using any other app. Most offer free trials or even a form of free service, and you can decide for yourself if this is for you or not.