Hiding your IP address
Whenever you access something on the internet, the site/service you’re accessing will receive your IP address. An IP address is a location identifier, think of it as the digital version of longitude & latitude coordinates on a map.
If you consider yourself as a bit of a technophobe, let’s think of it in old money… Imagine you phone up a company and ask them to send you some goods – they need your address so they know where to send it. Computers, phones or any other device accessing the internet work in exactly the same way – you make a request and whoever you’re sending the request to needs your address so they know where to send the information.
There’s a very good chance a lot of the websites you visit are storing details of your IP address on their server. If it’s a website which requires login, then not only will they have your IP address but they’ll also store that against your login credentials and possibly personal details too.
Now, imagine you’re using your WiFi at home… Every time your device accesses the internet, it’s sending details of your home address to the server it’s accessing. Ok it’s actually sending an IP Address, but that can be traced to your physical home address. This doesn’t just happen when you’re using a web browser such as Chrome or Safari, this happens every time you use the internet so that includes all the apps on your phone too.
Big Brother is watching you…
That’s quite a scary thought isn’t it? Think of all the sites you’ve visited over the years, there’s a good chance records exist in their database which link your visit to their site along with timestamps and possibly even the specific content you’ve accessed. It’s worth noting, it’s not uncommon for websites to get hacked so that information could be in the hands of the highest bidder on the black market. It’s also worth noting, the authorities can request access to that data for certain criminal investigations.
What steps can I take to stay anonymous?
There are a couple of fairly simple changes you can make, you can either use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or TOR (The Onion Router). You may have heard the mainstream media refer to these in a less than positive manner, often linking them to criminal activity. Well don’t worry about their scare tactics, not only are these totally legal but they’re also very simple to use. You don’t need to know the boring technical details, all you need to know is roughly what they do and how they work.
Both of these have their pros and cons, there’s a basic side-by-side comparison below but we suggest you read both articles linked below.
|Cost:||FREE||Free options are available but they usually offer a limited experience. A paid subscription can be less than $2 per month.|
|Ease of use:||Simple to use, you just use like any other web browser. However, some websites block traffic coming from Tor Browser.||Install the VPN app from whichever provider you choose to go with. Once installed, it's just a case of choosing which country you want to connect to, once connected you can use your apps/browsers with complete anonymity. Occasionally some websites may block access with certain VPN connections, not so often as happens with Tor browser though.|
|Speed:||It's slow, websites will take longer to load. Downloading and watching of videos via TOR is not recommended as it's just too slow.||Can vary but as a rule of thumb... Free ones will slow down your internet speed. Paid ones, you generally won't notice much of a difference from normal day-to-day browsing speeds. A VPN certainly won't improve your speeds but it's unlikely to be noticeable differences in speed (on paid subscriptions) if you're just browsing or using apps.|
|Security:||Hides your IP address but also adds extra layers of encryption to your web requests.||Hides your IP address but TOR can offer even further security.|
|Unlocked Content:||Ability to access websites not available in standard web browsers (dark web)||Allows you to connect to various countries, this can open up geo-restricted content. As an example, if you're outside of the UK but connect to a UK VPN, you could then access BBC iPlayer. Similarly, you could connect to USA (for example) and unlock different content in your Netflix account.|
|Apps it supports:||Tor is literally just a web browser, this means it will only make you anonymous while browsing the web.||A VPN changes your physical location (IP address) on your device. This means any apps you run while connected to VPN will be supported, you'll remain anonymous no matter what apps you use.|