Every device that connects to the internet is assigned an IP address. IP stands for internet protocol, and IP addresses are a fundamental component in how the internet works. IP addresses can identify a specific device, point to its location, and determine its internet service provider.
Any website or app you connect to through the internet can see your IP address. Often this is used to improve your experience. A weather website uses and IP address to display your local forecast, for instance.
But other applications for are not so helpful. IP addresses serve as a primary means for targeting individual people. Because an IP addresss is usually unique to a specific device, advertisers can use IP addresses to build profiles and serve targeted ads. Copyright trolls can leverage IP addresses to send settlement letters to torrenters. Streaming video sites like Netflix and Hulu use IP addresses to block users from watching based on where they live.
For privacy reasons and more, it’s often desirable to hide or change your IP address. Changing your IP address requires a proxy. Proxies come in many forms, but they all accomplish the same result. Internet traffic, both incoming and outgoing, is sent through a middleman. This is usually a server in another geographic location. The website or app sees the IP address of the server and not your device’s IP.
Change your IP address with a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is the most secure type of proxy. All of the device’s outgoing internet traffic first encrypted before being sent on to the server. Incoming traffic first goes to the server, is encrypted, and then sent to the device. This creates a tunnel that not only masks your IP address, but also makes your activity impossible to monitor.
Good VPN services like Buffered operate their own DNS servers. DNS serves as a sort of address book for the internet that associates domain names with IP addresses. Whenever you go to a new website, a DNS request is normally sent to a DNS server operated by your internet service provider. This gives away the user’s location if not redirected by the VPN.
VPNs can be set up using built-in support on your device or by installing a third-party app. VPNs can connect using a number of protocols. PPTP and L2TP/IPSec are the most common protocols with built-in support on computers and smartphones, but we recommend against using the former as it has known security vulnerabilities. Third party apps often support OpenVPN, which is widely regarded as the most secure and well-audited protocol.
Using apps is also easier. With Buffered, for instance, just download, install, sign in, choose a server location, and connect. There’s no need to configure connections to individual servers.
Buffered and most other VPN providers use shared IP addresses. This means dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of users are assigned the same IP address, which periodically changes. This adds a significant layer of anonymity, but it can also make it easy for a website or app to spot and block VPN servers. A handful of providers offer private dedicated IPs that don’t change and are unique to each user. These are easier to trace back to an individual, but are useful for IP-sensitive websites (e.g. online banking) and accessing some geographically restricted content.
Mask an IP address with a Smart DNS proxy
Smart DNS, or DNS proxy, is similar to a VPN without the encryption tunnel. This makes uploads and downloads faster, but your traffic can be monitored by intermediaries such as your ISP or the smart DNS provider itself.
Smart DNS requires a manual setup on most devices. An app won’t do it for you, so setting it up takes a bit more effort than VPNs. They are typically cheaper than VPNs, though with Overplay being one of our favorite.
HTTP and SOCKS proxies hide IP addresses
If you just want to change the IP of your web browser and not all the traffic on your computer, an HTTP proxy is another option. These are best suited for basic web browsing and not tasks that require a lot of bandwidth like streaming video.
You can often find free and paid HTTP proxies simply through a Google search. They don’t necessarily require any manual configuration, instead working through the proxy’s web page.
HTTP proxies do not hide your DNS requests, and thus are not as effective at masking your location as VPNs and smart DNS.
SOCKS proxies are similar to HTTP proxies except they work across all ports, not just the HTTP port. Apps are usually configured independently with SOCKS proxies in the app’s settings.
Like HTTP proxies, SOCKS proxies do not mask your DNS requests.
Sealing up IPv6 leaks
IP addresses come in one of two forms: IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 addresses are made up of numbers and decimals. IPv6 is the alphanumeric update to IPv4 that accomplishes all of the same things, but there are exponentially more addresses available. As more devices come online, the number of IPv4 available is quickly shrinking. IPv6 is meant to combat that problem, but the world is still in a transition period so both protocols are currently in use.
While most VPNs and other proxies can effectively hide your IPv4 address, most are not so effective at preventing IPv6 leaks. Hulu, for instance, has used this vulnerability to block viewers outside of the US.
If your proxy does not mask your IPv6 address, then you can opt to disable IPv6 and force all requests onto IPv4. It’s not a pretty solution, but it works.
How to disable IPv6 on a Windows PC:
- Disconnect and close the VPN app
- Tap Windows Key+R to open the Run prompt
- Type ncpa.cpl and hit Enter to open your Network Connections
- Find the connection you are using, right click it, and select Properties
- On the Networking or General tab, uncheck the box that says “Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6)”
- Click OK to save changes and close the Window
- Tap Windows Key+R and select Command Prompt (Admin), then hit Yes when asked if it’s okay for the program to make changes to your computer
- In the command prompt (black window), type ipconfig /flushdns and hit Enter.
How to disable IPv6 on Mac OSX:
- Disconnect and close the VPN app
- Open the Apple menu.
- Choose System Preferences > Network > AirPort > Advanced
- Click TCP/IP.
- Click on the Configure IPv6 pop-up menu and select Off.
- Click OK and Apply (to apply the change).