What is an IP Address?
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique number given to your internet connection by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Everything you do online is linked to one, so your ISP is able to see all of the different websites you visit, as well as your complete browsing history.
IP addresses aren’t device-specific, but rather they depend on where you’re connecting to the internet – for example, your IP address at home is different from the one you use at work. If you reset your router, it will likely change, but every device connected to that router will have the same IP address.
Reasons for Changing Your IP Address
There are many different reasons people may want to hide their real IP address, but the majority tend to fall into two camps – those looking to protect their online identity, and those who simply need to access content that wouldn’t otherwise be available in their location.
Protecting Your Privacy
Perhaps the most common reason for wanting to change your IP address is simply to protect your privacy while you’re connected to the internet. If you don’t want your ISP or any other third parties to be able to see everything you’re doing online, the easiest way to shield yourself is to mask your true IP address so your online activity can’t be linked back to you.
This will also prevent your ISP from selling your personal information to advertisers as a way of making some extra money. Not only does this mean you’ll no longer receive those creepy, personalized ads, it also prevents your confidential data from being stored on company databases around the world for an undisclosed period of time.
Accessing Censored Content
Accessing blocked content is generally more of a concern for those living in countries with high levels of internet censorship such as China. Countries such as these can often block access to a ton of different websites for various reasons, and those commonly affected include so many we take for granted on a daily basis, including Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia.
The only way of unblocking these sites is to appear to be connecting out from a different location – specifically one where there’s little or no online censorship. This will then allow you to browse the internet as if you were located in that country, bypassing all blocks that may be in place in your current location.
How to Change Your IP Address
You’ve got a few different options when it comes to changing your IP address. Some are easier than others but they all offer varying degrees of privacy. The one you choose will most likely depend on the reason you need to mask your true location.
Use a VPN Service
Using a VPN service is probably the most common method people use to change their IP address. They’re incredibly popular as not only do they spoof your location, they also encrypt all of your web traffic, allowing you to browse privately and securely.
Some VPNs are also specifically designed to provide unrestricted internet access to those in high-censorship countries, which is ideal for those looking to unblock blacklisted content. Most of these are premium services though, and will therefore require you to pay a (usually very reasonable) monthly subscription fee.
We’ve put together this handy list of the Best VPNs to Hide Your IP Address if you want to take a closer look.
Use the Tor Browser
The Tor Browser is a much slower, free alternative to a VPN for those needing the highest possible levels of privacy. It’s an open-source software that incorporates several layers of heavy-duty encryption, ensuring your true identity is masked every time you go online.
Every time you connect you’ll be randomly assigned a new IP address, but unless you fancy a bit of manual configuration, it’s not always possible to choose which country you connect to.
This level of security also comes at a massive performance cost – it’s incredibly slow and websites can often take ten times longer to load than they usually would. It’s not really a practical everyday solution, but if you’re in a pinch and have no other options it’ll do the job.
Check out our guide to the differences between VPN and Tor for more information.
Configure Your Devices
Manually configuring the settings on your devices is a little more complex than the two options above but provides a long-term solution with no monthly fee.
You can change your IP address on individual devices such as your laptop or phone, or you can cut out the middleman and do it directly on your router. It’s fairly easy to find step-by-step instructions for each of these processes online, such as this helpful guide.
If you decide to choose this option, you can opt to either connect using an automatically generated IP address or alternatively, you can enter the network details manually. This is particularly useful for those who want to appear to be connecting out from a specific IP address, whether that be for privacy purposes or to access something in particular online.
Connect to a Proxy Server
It may not be as secure as using a VPN or the Tor browser, but connecting to a proxy server is an excellent way of spoofing your IP address. These mainly come in the form of free browser extensions, so all you have to do is download one from the relevant store, add it to your browser and make sure to connect before you start browsing.
The main problem with using one of these is that you can’t really be sure of the level of security on offer. If all you’re concerned about is masking your true location, a proxy will probably do the job, but we’d advise anyone concerned about online privacy to steer clear.
Take a look at our guide explaining the difference between VPNs and proxies if this is something you’d like to learn more about.
Use Public WiFi
Sometimes the simplest solution is the most obvious. Connecting to a different network will automatically change your IP address – this means that if you were to connect to the internet in a coffee shop or restaurant, for example, your IP address would be different to the one you usually have at home.
We’d only really advise using this method if absolutely necessary though, as public WiFi networks are notoriously insecure. If you find yourself having to connect to one, we’d strongly suggest using a VPN to protect your privacy while you browse.