Every time you go online, you’re assigned an IP address which helps to identify you. It’s like a phone number that shows who you are to the site or location you’re connecting to—sort of. The destination doesn’t know your name and other personal information directly, but it does know your location.
Although your IP address may look random, it really isn’t. It’s assigned to you based on your geographic location, where blocks of numbers are given to specific regions (the first part of your IP address, such as 70.x.y.z). Here’s a sample map of the internet based on IP address allocations in 2006—though it may take a while to understand what you’re looking at. (Hint: 70.x.y.z is in USA.)
Your IP address is like your physical address. Just by knowing it, someone can’t directly attack you, and most won’t even try. But with enough time and effort—and motivation—malicious groups or individuals can try to break in.
That’s why it’s best to always use caution. You wouldn’t go around giving your real address to random people on the street. In the same way, you shouldn’t be giving your IP address to every site you visit. You never know which ones have ulterior motives, or who else is listening.
Use a Proxy
The first, and possibly fastest option, is to use a web proxy. When we normally connect to a site, it’s pretty straightforward. A connects to B, and that’s it. A proxy is like a middleman that connects your A to website B, and you can picture it as A→Proxy→B and back.
There’s only one hop separating you from the site you’re visiting, however, and your information isn’t always secure. Nonetheless, there are countless free and easy web proxy servers that you can find online.
There are also paid services that offer more features online and hopefully better proxy protection. However, you also have the option to set up the proxy yourself.
Out of the three options to hide your IP address, proxies are the least secure and they may not provide adequate stability or reliability for long-term use.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are perhaps the best option to hide your true location online.
In a way, it is like a proxy, only the problem with the proxy is that the information on its way to and from the proxy is still unprotected. Any snooper, hacker or government body can intercept that information through various means and read the contents of your communications.
What a VPN does is it establishes a secure connection to a server in a location of your choice, which then connects to the website you want to visit. All encrypted information is sent through this server and back to you. This one we can think of as: A-?->VPN-?->B and back.
Because of that extra layer of security, your information is protected and anyone snooping will only see an incomprehensible jumble.
Another good option is to use Tor (The Onion Router), which works by sending your communications through a number of nodes throughout the globe, bouncing you around. It’s great because the one node only knows the node that came before it and the one after it, so it’s extremely difficult to trace the original connection to you. Think of this one as A→T→P→X→J→B.
Although it is a great option, it does have its setbacks. It isn’t yet the easiest to set up for the regular user, nor does it provide practically what is offered theoretically, although they are constantly working on fixing and improving their limitations.