Anonymity on the internet is simple to achieve, provided you know which tools to use. You might want to access sites that are blocked in your region or negate an IP ban or like to stay anonymous just for the fun of it. Before we dive too deep into the mechanics, however, let’s take a moment to understand what an internet protocol (IP) address is.

The internet is a vast and complicated collection of smaller networks that are interconnected. That is where the name “internet” comes from. For communication to be established between these numerous networks, some kind of system needs to be in place.  For this, there is an IP, that is the main technology that makes the connections between these networks possible. It is the system that is tasked with defining information packets, structuring them and delivering them from one point in the network to another.

IP addresses are nothing more than a special system of identification. Like any other kind of technology, the internet comes in numbered versions, and the fourth version of the IP (IPv4) makes IP addresses 32-bit numbers. Each digit in that number is a number between 0 and 255.

Every Internet-connected Device has an IP Address
Every system that is connected to the internet has its own IP address, and these addresses work like house addresses or license plates for vehicles. Every system needs to have a unique identifier or IP and that IP address is used to identify a single machine and a single machine only. That means that your printer, desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone all have valid IP addresses. In fact, a device cannot access the internet without a valid IP address.

IP addresses help people to find the exact location of the system where an IP address is linked. This isn’t something you can go around since the physical location of a machine that an IP address is linked to is necessary for the internet protocol to determine how to establish a connection to the internet in the most efficient way.

Hiding your IP address is just one of several ways to boost your internet security, but how do you go about it? Each one comes with benefits and drawbacks.

VPN Software
Virtual private network (VPN) software offers the most convenient way to hide your IP address. A VPN does many things for you. It hides your IP address, encrypts all internet traffic coming from your device, enables you to download and upload torrents safely and allows you to gain access to sites that are blocked for your region or to get past IP bans.

The benefits of using the services of a VPN are about the same as the benefits of flat-out changing your IP address. VPNs assign new IP addresses to all the devices that are connected to them. The same happens to you, with the new address you have been assigned being used to spoof your real IP address.

The process of setting up a VPN is quick. You install the client, connect to your VPN service provider and click a button to change your IP address.

So how does a VPN change your IP address? When you connect to the VPN, the provider assigns you a virtual IP address. Your real IP address is still be used to connect to the VPN service. However, all traffic to and from your computer is tunneled through the VPN and only connects to your virtual IP address.

Proxy Servers
Proxy servers are another way to build a bridge between your network and the internet, thereby acting as some kind of gate for the traffic coming from the internet into your device. Proxy servers act as the middle ground and connect packets of information from you to their destination while changing how those packets look as they pass through the proxy.

The proxy server catches your traffic before it gets to the internet and controls your internet connection. Everything you do is mirrored and repeated by the proxy. The servers at the destination, such as websites you are trying to visit, see packets of information coming from your proxy server and think that traffic is coming from your device.

This system is ideal because it allows you to connect to nearly any proxy in the network. If you want to gain access to BBC in the United Kingdom, then you might find that much of their content is blocked for anyone living outside of the U.K. The proxy server can help you here. You can connect to a proxy server in the U.K. and, from there, connect to the BBC.

There is a lot of efficiency in proxy servers, and they are suitable for tasks that require you to maintain a low profile.

Proxies, however, cannot compete with the many layers of security offered by VPN services. Proxy servers spoof your IP address, but they don’t encrypt your data or remove any markers from it that may identify it. It does not shield you from the snooping of your internet service provider (ISP), the government, or anyone else that might want to snoop in on you.

There is another significant difference between the two. Proxies do not spoof everything. They work on an application to application basis. VPNs, on the other hand, spoofs and encrypts all information going in and out of your device. You can’t watch Netflix and torrent at the same time with a proxy server.

TOR System
The TOR project began as “The Onion Router” project and is a free client that connects you to a network of volunteer-operated servers anonymously. This gives you the opportunity to be assigned a new IP address, just like with a VPN.

TOR is also known as the deep web or dark web because it gives you the ability to access websites that would otherwise be inaccessible with a regular browser. These websites are also known as onion websites, and they have very different domain names as the names are typically randomly generated.

TOR is widely accessible, free and anonymous. Unfortunately, this setup means the TOR browser has become a favorite for criminals. A huge chunk of the people who use the TOR network uses it to carry out various illegal transactions, including drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and false identities. If the government realizes that you are gaining access to the TOR network, you just may be put on a monitoring list, bringing unwanted scrutiny your way.

Mobile Networks
Another quick way to change your IP address is to use the mobile data on your cell phone, especially if you think your IP address may have been compromised. Because your mobile phone is a different system altogether, it has a different IP address. Of course, it isn’t a substitute for your desktop computer or your laptop. While it might be a boon in certain situations, it isn’t an effective as a long-term solution.

Connect to a Public Wi-Fi Network
Your IP address does not travel with you, which means that using your laptop to connect to a public Wi-Fi network can be one way to change your IP address. This works on the same principle as mobile data. Just like mobile data, however, it isn’t sustainable if you’re looking for an effective, long-term way to surf the internet anonymously. Also, it comes with its risks and could open up your computer to hackers who use the public networks to prey on unsuspecting victims.

Contact your ISP
The unfortunate truth is that we generally have very little control of the IP addresses that are assigned to our devices and systems. Sometimes, the best that we can do is to call our ISP and ask them to change our IP addresses.

Your ISP assigns you two different types of IP addresses. The first is the static IP and the second is the dynamic IP. It’s difficult to change your static IP address, and the process is laborious. However, most ISPs do not have a problem changing dynamic IP addresses.

Most of the time, all you have to do is contact your ISP and request them to change your IP address. You may have to answer some questions during the process, however, because they’ll want to know what your motivations are behind the desire to have your IP address changed. One reasonable response to use is that you’re learning the basics of networking for a class at school or your job, and this is one of the requirements.