How to hide your IP address with a VPN

hide IP with a VPN

As you go about your day-to-day browsing, there's a good chance that you're being monitored by your internet service provider (ISP), online advertisers, or even the government. Luckily, a VPN can help you reclaim your digital privacy.

How? Well, a VPN conceals your original IP address—a string of numbers assigned to your internet-enabled device. Your IP address can identify your approximate geographical location and reveal details about your browsing activity to anyone who knows it.

Third parties can use your IP address to target you with eerie targeted ads, restrict your access to international content, and even put you under surveillance. Naturally, this is less than ideal, and I'll show you how you can use one of the best VPNs around to mask your IP address.

What is an IP address?

Every device you use to access the Internet has its own unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. They're sort of like house addresses - and the internet uses IP protocols to differentiate between devices and ensure that the right data is routed to the right PC (or laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc).

You can't connect to the internet without an IP address. Search for "cats" on Google (as I do on a daily basis) and your IP address tells the Google server where the request for kitties came from and where it should send the search results.

Let's step back and revisit the home address analogy. You need to share your address to receive post, right? It's the same in the digital world - only instead of a postcode, you're sharing your IP address, and receiving gifs of cats eating kibbles rather than bills.

Your IP address can also be used to physically locate you. When you register with your ISP, it assigns you an IP address, which indicates the physical location from which you accessed the internet. Your IP address can then essentially act as a ‘geolocator’ for anyone who wants to know where you’re browsing from and what you’re browsing.

Why should I hide my IP address?

Just as with your home address, anyone with your IP address can pinpoint your physical location. But unlike your home address, people, companies and governments can also track the things you search for and the sites you visit with your IP address, which can have far-reaching consequences for you.

Companies: Firms cram their websites with cookies that track every time you visit their page and what buttons you click on. This sort of information is useful not just to the company, which wants to tailor and customize your experience on its site, but to third-party advertisers and marketers who want to target ads at you based on your searches. These ads are annoying to say the least, and are only possible because organizations can trace searches to your IP address.

Companies can also block people from accessing content if they see users are based in another country. Geoblocking, as it’s called, is practiced by companies that, for instance, don’t want people outside the US accessing their websites. Watching Netflix and Amazon Prime are the biggest examples of this, with access to specific shows varying widely from country to country.

ISPs: Your IP address is registered with an ISP, which means as a customer, your ISP knows all the personal information you gave them when you registered. As you use an ISP to access the internet, the ISP also sees all of your internet traffic too, which, as of 2017, can be sold to third-party advertisers who will use this information to target ads at you.

ISPs are also obliged to keep logs of this traffic if the country’s government requires them to. Countries like the US, UK, and Australia force ISPs to keep logs of their customers’ browsing activity, ready to be handed over without a warrant if needed.

Governments: Aside from requiring ISPs to keep logs of all their customers’ browsing activity, some governments go to great lengths to monitor and censor users inside their country. Nations such as China, which owns all ISPs in the country, can block IP addresses en masse and prevent users from accessing content overseas (the most prominent example of this that springs to mind is the country's ‘Great Firewall’ blocking Google and WhatsApp in China completely - hence the popularity of using VPNS in China).

Government surveillance and censorship is now practiced in dozens of countries to varying extents behind the guise of national security, resulting in the erosion of the digital privacy of their citizens. On top of requiring ISPs to log all traffic on domestic servers, the UK’s GCHQ’s formerly secret TEMPORA program tracks and stores all forms of communication for up to 30 days for analysis, and since 2013, any customer wishing to register with an IP address will automatically be unable to access certain websites.

How do I hide my IP address?

While you must have an IP address to use the internet, there are ways you can mask or hide it. Proxies can be used to divert your online traffic through their own servers before it’s sent to the wider network, hiding your real IP address behind the proxy’s IP address. Your internet activity is not hidden, however, making it possible for anyone to look at what you’re doing online.

A safer and more secure option would be to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The best VPNs act as an encrypted tunnel around all the information that is sent from your device to your ISP’s server, and it hides not only your true IP address, but also all your online activity from ISPs, companies, and governments.

As you are essentially entrusting your traffic to a third-party, it’s crucial that you use a VPN service that will not only encrypt your internet traffic, but will also do so without logging it. A free VPN provider can give you some privacy, but these sort of services are often limited. Furthermore, you put yourself at risk of having your information sold to third-parties so the provider can turn a profit (it must make money somehow).

Your best chance of hiding your IP address is by choosing the overall best VPN that stands by its word of not keeping any logs. With a good service like these, you can browse the internet without worrying about your IP address or your online activity being tracked or monitored by your ISP or government.

Edited by
River Hart Tech Software Editor
Edited by
River Hart

River helps take care of cybersecurity content on TechRadar—ranging from breaking news pieces, reviews, and buying guides.


We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:
1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).
2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.
We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.

With contributions from