How to change or hide your IP address to avoid hacker, ISP and government snooping

Published by on July 16, 2018 in VPN & Privacy

Every device connected to the internet is assigned a unique IP address. An IP address is a string of numbers and decimals that allows different devices to identify and communicate with each other. While an IP address does not legally constitute a form of identification in the US, it can be used to track someone online and monitor their online activity. Government agencies, corporations, hackers, and copyright trolls can all use IP addresses to trace and target specific people. That’s why, for people who value privacy, hiding your IP address is a vital step in protecting yourself from snoopers and attackers. The most effective way to change your IP address is to connect to a VPN.

IP addresses are broken down into country-specific clusters which are further bifurcated and assigned to ISPs in that country. They can also be broken down into city/town specific location identifiers. That’s how sites and apps are able to determine the source of incoming traffic—when you open Netflix it’ll first scan your IP address to figure out where you’re accessing the web from. If for example, it’s from a location in North America then Netflix will use your IP address to determine which geo-specific library you can access.

Other streaming services like Hulu and BBC iPlayer work in the same way. Hulu is only accessible for those with an American IP address. BBC iPlayer is compatible with IP addresses in the UK.

IP addresses aren’t totally random, either. They’re determined by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Different regions have entire blocks of IP addresses allocated to them which are further divided by local internet service providers operating in that country.

How can I change my IP address?

There’s a bunch of ways to spoof your location but the most convenient and efficient way is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A VPN is designed to encrypt all the web traffic flowing to and from your device and tunnel it through a server of your liking. This makes it seem like you’re accessing the web from a location outside your current city/town. A VPN also makes it pretty difficult for ISPs, hackers, and surveillance agencies to monitor your internet behavior. It’ll unlock a host of geo-restricted content. Later in this article, we’ll discuss reasons why people would want to hide their IP address

Signing up for and using a VPN to hide your IP address is perfectly legal  in almost all countries. Millions of people around the world exercise this right and aren’t breaking any laws by doing so. It’s unlikely that you will attract undue attention unless you use a VPN to commit an illegal act, so don’t worry about the possibility of being fined or having a legal notice sent to your doorstep.

How do I use a VPN to hide my IP address?

In this section, we’ll review some of the best VPNs that will mask your IP address fairly easily. They’re ranked on the following factors:

  1. Speed and stability of service
  2. Large number of server locations across the world
  3. Strong encryption standards
  4. Ability to unblock restricted content
  5. Apps for Android and iOS
  6. Ease of use

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN hide IP

ExpressVPN is an excellent choice because of its customer-first approach, intuitive design, fast speeds, and a large network of servers.

The company operates over 1,500 servers spread across 94 countries with efficient connections to most. There’s a decent offering across the globe so you can choose an IP address from the country that appeals to you.

ExpressVPN does not store any traffic logs. The only minimal information it extracts relates to the date (not time) of connection, choice of server location, and total bandwidth used.

The company is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands – which means it’s not subject to any mandatory data retention laws.

ExpressVPN utilizes 256-bit AES-CBC as its encryption standard as well as both HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy. There’s an internet kill switch included, referred to as a network lock, which means all web traffic will be stopped if the connection drops unexpectedly.

There are apps for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.

Here’s our in-depth review of ExpressVPN.

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2. NordVPN

NordVPN

NordVPN is a relative veteran of the VPN business. The provider has been around for over 10 years and is a popular choice with users thanks to its features, price, performance, and security.

It’s another company that strictly abides by a zero-logs policy – which means there aren’t any internal records of things like user sessions, traffic, or timestamps. The policy has thwarted attempts by government agencies to nab user data. No incriminating data was stored.

NordVPN operates 1,850 servers in 61 countries. There’s massive choice in Europe and North America with a relatively smaller network in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Servers are also listed according to specialty – some are suitable for stricter encryption such as anti-DDoS and double VPN, while others are better equipped for video streaming and services that require a dedicated IP.

Nord is able to unblock Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.

Encryption standards are solid. The 256-bit AES protocol encryption protocol is used by default coupled with 2,048-bit SSL keys. DNS leak protection is enabled.

Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.

DISCOUNTED DEAL: You can save 66% on NordVPN’s two-year subscription which works out to be $3.99/month.

Here’s our full review of NordVPN.

3. IPVanish

IPVanish discounted plans

IPVanish is a worthy choice if you’re looking to mask your IP address in order to stream video and other media content. The company is headquartered in the US but it has a no-logs policy which means your personal data is not at risk.

Servers are optimized for speed, stability, and privacy. There are over 850 of them spread across 60 countries so you can find an IP address from anywhere in the world, really.

Encryption standards are solid. It uses 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default, SHA512 authentication, and a DHE-RSA 2,048-bit key exchange with perfect forward secrecy. This means that even if your account is compromised, it’ll be impossible for hackers to decrypt past session data.

IPVanish doesn’t work with Netflix or Hulu, but is a robust choice for BBC iPlayer.

Apps for both iOS and Android are available as well as desktop clients for Windows and MacOS.

EXCLUSIVE FOR COMPARITECH READERS: Save up to 60% on IPVanish plans.

Read our full review of IPVanish.

4. Cyberghost

cyberghost banner

Romania-headquartered Cyberghost Pro explicitly states that it doesn’t log user behavior and browsing habits. Its location in Bucharest also means there’s no mandatory data retention laws to comply with. That should ease concerns on privacy.

At the moment there are over 1,100 servers in 47 countries. We expect the number of servers to keep increasing, so that’s a positive sign.

Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.

The VPN service doesn’t work with Netflix but is able to unblock BBC iPlayer.

Encryption standards are solid – Cyberghost Pro uses 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default along with 2,048-bit RSA keys and MD5 HMAC authentication. There’s also an internet kill switch included, which means web traffic will be halted if the connection drops unexpectedly.

READER DEAL: Save over 70% on Cyberghost’s 2-year deal.

Read our full review of Cyberghost Pro.

5. VyprVPN

vyprvpn website

VyprVPN does retain some data – specifically “the user’s source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time, and total number of bytes used.”

But the company insists that it stores said information only for 30 days and uses it to improve the product. There’s no way of determining exact details of web traffic or content of communications. We haven’t noticed any complaints from users who feel that their privacy has been violated so it should be a safe choice.

VyprVPN is a popular choice in China because it’s able to expunge the Great Firewall. All connections are encrypted by the OpenVPN protocol, 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys without perfect forward secrecy, and SHA256 authentication.

A premium version of the package allows access to the Chameleon ™ protocol, which scrambles OpenVPN metadata so deep packet inspection cannot recognize it.

VyprVPN can unlock content on Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.

There are over 700 servers spread across the globe.

Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.

TRY IT: You can try VyprVPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee here.

Read our full review of VyprVPN.

Should I use a free VPN to mask my IP address?

Free VPNs seem like an attractive option because they usually don’t require a credit card to sign up.

But such services incorporate poor encryption parameters which leave you at the risk of a hack. If streaming video is what you’re after, then you should be aware of the fact that free VPNs usually just offer a choice of one or two servers you can connect to. They also routinely engage in bandwidth throttling and impose data caps.

Our recommendation is to avoid free VPNs. If you’re strapped for cash, check out our list of the best VPNs with a free trial. Free VPNs are registered businesses too and they’re known to monetize by inserting tracking cookies and selling the mined data to third-party advertisers.

That’s a situation you’d much rather stay clear of.

I’ve signed up for a VPN. What do I do next?

Follow the steps highlighted in this section to mask your IP address without any hiccups:

  1. Browse through our recommended list of VPN services and decide on a plan that works for you (select either a monthly or annual subscription)
  2. Register and pay for the service. Most will accept credit card and PayPal and a smaller number take Bitcoin. It’s best to check directly with the provider first
  3. Once that’s done, download the companion apps (for your phone) or software (for PC or MacOS)
  4. Clear your cookies and cache in all web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, UC Web, Opera) to remove old location identifiers
  5. Restart your device
  6. Open the VPN companion software and log in
  7. Select a server from the country you’re trying to obtain an IP address – Allow a few seconds for the connection to be established.
  8. Once that’s done there should be a green notification icon in the taskbar
  9. Browse the web like you normally would. You’ll notice that host websites will assume your location is in the country you’re currently connected to

How do VPNs handle IP addresses?

The vast majority of VPN providers assign users IP addresses that are both shared and dynamic.

Most VPNs will assign all users connected to a given server a “shared” IP address. This makes it even more difficult to trace the activity back to a single user as all the people connected to the same VPN server share a single IP address.

Most providers also use “dynamic” IP addresses, meaning the IP address changes at a predetermined interval. Some providers also allow users to determine how often they’d like their IP address to change.

Other types of VPN IP addresses that are less common include:

Dedicated IPs never change and are only used by a single party. This is more common among corporate VPNs Static IPs don’t change but are shared. These can be used in certain scenarios that require it, such as online banking that requires you log in from the same IP across multiple sessions.

How do I protect myself from DNS leaks?

DNS leaks occur when network configuration settings aren’t optimized, forcing some traffic to “leak” out of the secure, encrypted tunnel created by your VPN provider.

VPNs operate by routing your existing web traffic via an alternative, encrypted channel. When settings are incorrect, DNS queries can be routed over an unsecured network rather than the one set up by the VPN (which is designed to be secure and encrypted).

DNS queries are the backbone of your web activity: that’s how computers translate hostnames (gmail.com, for example) to an IP address. They’re essential for internet communication.

When DNS leaks occur and web traffic falls out of the encrypted tunnel, it’s now possible for your ISP to see what sites you visit online. Simply connecting to a VPN isn’t enough.

Some VPNs will have automatic DNS leak protection. It’s a good idea to check with your provider in this case. Use our tool if you suspect that you’re falling prey to DNS leaks and would like a firm answer.

What other ways do I have to protect my identity?

Unfortunately simply masking your IP address isn’t enough to remain completely hidden and anonymous on the web. Most people don’t realize that our digital footprints are massive; browsers store large amounts of temporary and cache files to optimize page loading times, there’s also things like browser fingerprinting, styleometry, and WebRTC queries that can identify and pinpoint users.

If you’d like to completely erase your existing digital footprint, then our guide is a good place to start.

A more advanced technique of identifying users is called browser fingerprinting. Think of it as how law enforcement agencies gather and collect data at the scene of a crime. Whatever data is gleaned is then matched against existing databases to help incriminate the culprit. Read our guide for more details about how to guard against invisible browser fingerprinting.

Other use cases of wanting to completely hide your identity online relate to journalists, whistleblowers, and dissidents. Such individuals are usually in the crosshairs of shadowy state agencies and the last thing they need is for their identity to be traced or a blog post linked back to them.

Our guide to blogging anonymously is a good source to read more about this problem.

Can I hide my IP address without a VPN?

It really depends on your use case. We recommend VPNs for people who are trying to spoof their location to access things like online media, banking, VoIP calls, and other localized services. VPNs are fast and won’t significantly affect your internet speed.

The Tor browser, used to access .onion sites, is another method of masking your IP address. It encrypts users’ traffic in the same mold that a VPN does but there’s no centralized entity or provider that’s helping arrange the flow of traffic. In the Tor network, traffic is routed through several exit points, or ‘nodes’, run by volunteers.

The route changes every time a request for a new site is sent making it almost impossible to trace users. This means it’s great for anonymity. The downside is that traffic via the Tor network is really slow and some may find it really frustrating to use.

If you’re intrigued by the Tor network and would like to read further, here’s our complete guide to using Tor for anonymous browsing and our guide to the best VPNs for Tor.

Why should I opt to change my IP address in the first place?

One of the most popular reasons why people choose to  change their IP addresses in the first place is to unblock streaming services like NetflixESPNHulu, and BBC iPlayer. Others include circumventing workplace or government restrictions around FacebookSnapchat, and Twitter.

As we’ve mentioned before, IP addresses are used as location identifiers. This means it’s possible for governments and internet service providers to determine a user’s approximate location simply by analyzing the IP address assigned to them. This isn’t great news for privacy enthusiasts who want to remain completely hidden on the web.

Masked model” by m01229 licensed under CC BY 2.0

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