Despite efforts by data companies to safeguard their data, breaches still happen. Just recently, in September 2022, Uber suffered a computer system breach. Although the hacker did not leak important consumer data, this attack is only an outlier. Consumer data such as passwords, usernames, full names, and IP addresses leak via data breaches. This, coupled with the fact that marketing companies often use IP addresses as a basis to display ads, points to the need to hide the IP address as one protective measure. This article is for you if you are a business owner or an individual searching for how to hide an IP address.
How to Hide IP Address
An IP address is a unique identifier that helps web servers to identify your computer or internet connection. IP addresses facilitated communication with the internet. In addition, they contain information such as your location, your ISP, the services running on the IP address, and the hostname. When in the wrong hands, your IP address and, by extension, this information can expose you to unwanted targeted ads.
In extreme cases, leaked location information associated with the identifier can compromise your security. This is particularly so when the information lands in the hands of people specifically out to harm you.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself by hiding your IP address. There are several ways you can achieve this, including:
- Proxy servers
- Virtual private networks (VPNs)
- Using public Wi-Fi
- Using a mobile connection
- Tor browser
This article will focus on proxy servers and virtual private networks.
What is a Proxy?
A proxy or proxy server is a third-party computer or software through which all incoming and outgoing internet traffic passes on its way to a web server or your computer. By routing outgoing traffic through itself, the proxy assigns them a new IP address, hiding their real IP address.
It is worth pointing out that there are different types of proxies, each of which either assigns a different type of IP address or assigns the identifier in a distinct manner. For instance, residential and datacenter proxies assign residential and datacenter IPs, respectively. On the other hand, a static proxy maintains the same assigned IP address throughout the browsing session. In contrast, a rotating proxy periodically changes the assigned proxy during browsing.
A proxy server is used in the following instances:
- Masking IP address
- Bypassing geo-blocks
- Web scraping
- Blocking access to specific websites (transparent proxies)
- Ad verification
- Providing an extra layer of security by filtering incoming responses (client-side HTTP proxy) or incoming requests (server-side HTTP proxies and reverse proxies)
- Load balancing and saving bandwidth (server-side HTTP proxies and reverse proxies)
- Facilitating peer-2-peer connections
What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
As the name indicates, a VPN creates a virtual private network, which is essentially a secure tunnel situated virtually between a user’s computer and an exit node (the service provider’s server). The tunnel serves as a path along which data packets that are encrypted upon entry pass through on their way to the exit node. At this exit node, the outgoing traffic acquires the server’s IP address and location. This means that the requests appear to originate from the exit node rather than the user’s computer.
A VPN is commonly used in the following instances:
- Bypassing geo-restrictions
- Hide online activity by masking IP address
- Providing security when using public Wi-Fi
- Promoting data privacy from governments and ISPs
Proxy vs. VPN
Proxies are as similar as they are different. Against that backdrop, deciding whether to go with a proxy or VPN may be difficult. This is why we have sought to outline the similarities and differences, with the latter pointing to their individual strengths.
Similarities between Proxies and VPNs
The similarities between proxies and VPNs include the following:
- They help mask IP addresses,
- They hide users’ online activity and promote secure browsing
- They are used to bypass geo-restrictions
- They route traffic through an external server
Differences between Proxies and VPNs
The differences between proxies and VPNs, which are summarized in the table below, highlight the superiority of proxies:
|They do not encrypt data||They encrypt data|
|Proxies are fast because they do not encrypt data||VPNs are slow because of the data encryption|
|Proxies can be used in a myriad of applications, including web scraping, balancing the load on servers, filtering incoming responses, blocking access to certain websites, and more||VPNs are primarily used to mask IP addresses|
|Data leaks are not common||VPN leaks that expose IP addresses are common|
Generally, proxies are better than VPNs. This is because they can be used in multiple other use cases besides hiding the IP address. They are faster. Additionally, they are safer compared to VPNs. In this case, safety has nothing to do with encryption. Instead, it revolves around the possibility of data leaks when service providers or VPNs are compromised. VPN leaks are more common, meaning your data may not be safe after all.
Check out Oxylabs’ blog post to learn more ways you can hide an IP address.