VPNs use several techniques to protect your online privacy, but one of the simplest involves replacing your IP address. Connect to a VPN and you're usually given a different IP every time, each one shared with many other customers.
That's a smart move: when 30 people are using the same IP at the same time, it's much more difficult to trace any action back to you.
Although shared IPs have real anonymity advantages, they're not right for everyone. Sometimes, having a dedicated IP - an address which only you will ever use - can help you solve a stack of VPN issues. Here, we'll discuss the pros, talk about the cons, and help you find out whether a dedicated IP is the right choice for you.
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What's the problem with a shared IP?
Most VPNs have several customers sharing their IPs at any one time. Everyone using the IP takes their own browsing path, creating a cloud of internet activity where it's very difficult to see who did what.
Unfortunately, this level of privacy makes VPNs very appealing to hackers, spammers and other crooks. They often use VPNs to stop the authorities linking them to their dodgy activities. But although they're protected, there's still a price to be paid, often by the other VPN users.
The problem happens as websites begin to see that a VPN's IP addresses are a common source of hacks, spam and assorted other attacks. They begin to restrict those IPs. And so, when you're connected to the VPN, you might find sites asking you to take extra security steps, go through some 'click all the tiles containing a bridge'-type captcha hassles, or sometimes even lock you out of the site entirely.
What are the advantages of a dedicated IP VPN?
Less captcha irritation
Opt for a VPN account with a dedicated IP and the address will be just for you -no more sharing with cybercriminals! Your IP should have a much better reputation, and it's far less likely you'll run into website blocks, captchas and other security checks.
Safer smart home
Set up remote access to your home network, video doorbell, CCTV or other smart devices via a shared IP, and normally you're at risk from hackers. But with a dedicated IP, only you can connect to your hardware.
It may be easier to access business networks and resources, too, for much the same reason. If your IP address is fixed and not shared by others, then your network admin can whitelist the IP to give you access to the system.
The choice is yours
Using a dedicated IP may reduce your anonymity a little, as we explained earlier (your activity is no longer hidden amongst everyone else using the same address). But the good news is you don't have to use a dedicated IP all the time. If you're torrenting with a VPN or doing anything else which needs real privacy, you can still use a shared IP and then switch back to a dedicated address whenever you need it.
How do I get a dedicated IP VPN?
Several VPN providers offer dedicated IPs as a paid extra. Choose one of the regular plans, add the Dedicated IP option to your shopping basket, and you're ready to go (well, almost - some providers can take up to three business days to set up your new IP).
NordVPN provides dedicated IPs in France, Germany, Netherlands, UK and USA. There's no monthly billing, and instead you're charged $70 for a year (equivalent to $5.83 a month). You can sign up for NordVPN here.
CyberGhost has dedicated IPs available in Canada, France, Germany, UK and USA. They're priced at an extra $5 a month, whatever the length of your subscription.
Private Internet Access also asks $5 a month, and has locations in Australia, Canada, Germany, UK and USA.
PureVPN has one of the cheapest dedicated IP deals around. You can choose from addresses in Australia, Canada, Germany, Malta, Singapore, UK and USA for only $1.50 extra a month.
Ivacy is another budget provider, with dedicated IPs in Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK and USA for a monthly $2.
TorGuard offers dedicated residential and streaming IPs. Residential IPs are leased from ISPs, making it almost impossible for websites to see you're using a VPN. They're great for unblocking websites, but they're also more expensive. TorGuard has addresses in France, Germany, Spain, UK and USA, and they're priced at $8 or $14 extra per month, depending on the package.
Should I get a dedicated IP VPN?
If you can access most of the websites you need while connected to your VPN, a dedicated IP probably isn't worth the extra cost.
It's a different story if you can't safely access your smart home devices, your business network, or anything else where you'll benefit from IP whitelisting. And if you're regularly hassled by captchas, 'we've just sent you a text message with a code'-type security tests, or blocked by some websites entirely, taking the dedicated route could make your web life less irritating.
If you're unsure, just try one, see how it works. Flat-rate monthly billing makes dedicated IPs relatively expensive, but it also means there usually aren't any long-term commitments. Add a dedicated IP to your account for a month, see if it helps with your issues. If it does, great; if it doesn't, cancel the IP and try something else. (If your current provider's IPs are regularly blacklisted, for instance, you might be better off switching to a provider on our best VPN list)
- Check out our list of the best Windows 10 VPNs for PC
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Mike is a lead security reviewer at Future, where he stress-tests VPNs, antivirus and more to find out which services are sure to keep you safe, and which are best avoided. Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. The early PC viruses caught Mike's attention, and he developed an interest in analyzing malware, and learning the low-level technical details of how Windows and network security work under the hood.