What is my IP address? Most people think it’s a strange question, but it’s one of the ten most-asked questions on Google. You’ve heard it before: someone in your town has been getting many annoying messages from someone they don’t know. Even if that person’s profile doesn’t have any information that could be used to find them, they can still be found with an IP address. IP addresses can be used to trace illegal downloads, pornographic content, and online sales of illicit goods. Here’s how a string of numbers can stop someone from doing something suspicious on the internet.
There are billions of computers worldwide that can connect to the internet. For a device to talk to another, it needs an address, just like our homes do. Usually, our home address looks like this: “number, street, city, postcode, country.” Our whole mail delivery system is based on this system as well. In the same way, our digital world has a system of addresses that lets network traffic move around the internet. So, an IP (internet protocol) address, which also has its hidden structure, is just a number that tells the internet where a certain point is.
IP was made with simplicity and efficiency in mind from the beginning. In a worldwide infrastructure, each person is given an IP address, which is like a mailing address. Every internet-connected device has an IP address. The recipient could be a single device like a laptop, phone, tablet, or even the controller for your air conditioner. It could also be a network entry point to a large organization. Because of this, it had always handled internet traffic well, even when there were only four nodes on a network in the late 1960s and billions of devices today.
An IP address is a number that is written in binary. This means it comprises 32 digits or bits that are 1s or 0s. Usually, the address is made up of four 8-bit numbers, meaning each number has eight digits that can be either 1 or 0. But we typically look at IP addresses in decimal format, where the value between 00000000 and 11111111 becomes a number between 0 and 255. All IP addresses in the ranges 10.10.0–10.15.55, 192.00–192.00, and 172.00–172.31.255 are reserved for private networks, such as those in your home. The IANA manages IP addresses. It provides IP addresses to Africa, America, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Europe-West/Central Asia.
IPv4 (version 4) is the version of IP that most people use now. It was made in the 1980s and can hold more than four billion unique addresses, which was enough then. But this space is running out because of wasteful use (like when organizations are given more IP address space than they need) and the exponential growth of users. IPv4 is still around for now. But its end has been known for a long time, and it will no longer be useful at some point. But there are technical ways to solve the problem.
Network Address Translation and IP version 6 are the two that are the most helpful. IPv6 is more recent than IPv4 but isn’t “new.” It was first thought of about 25 years ago. The switch to IPv6 has many benefits, even though most aren’t noticeable to consumers. With IPv6, the size of IP addresses goes from 32 bits to 128 bits. This is the most important change. Version 6 has 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 unique IP addresses. This pool of addresses should last even as the number of devices grows.
As I’ve already said, private addresses can be used for each device in a company (or home). But private IP addresses can’t be used on the internet, so these devices “hide” behind one public/external IP address.
“Nesting” networks are routing many devices through a single IP address. This public address can help a large organization connect hundreds of thousands of devices. But to connect the network to the internet, you need a router. The router turns the public IP address into the many internal private addresses hidden behind it (or several of them). When data is sent to a private organization or home network, the router sends it to a specific computer inside the network by using the private IP address of that computer.
Network Address Translation is the name of the method it uses (NAT). Most likely, you won’t use IP addresses in your everyday life. But our computers need to “look up” the IP address for a site before we can use it. Once our computer has the website’s IP address, our browser will connect to it, ask the server for the data, and view the page. This lets the servers that deliver the content split the work between four. Some websites go further and use networks to provide content (CDNs). CDNs store copies of websites on servers all over the world. This means that the requested content can be sent from a location closer to the user trying to access it. This makes it take less time for the page to load.
ISP networks and large businesses may slowly move to IPv6, but home users and smaller businesses will still use IPv4 for the foreseeable future. Our home routers will be put to the test as more and more devices connect to the internet. By 2025, 25 billion devices will be online. Even with this expansion, IPv4 at home will be OK. If you want your IP address, type “what is my IP address” into Google or another search engine.
The best way to hide your IP address and keep your identity safe is to use a VPN (a virtual private network). A VPN protects your data on the internet by encrypting it. Install a VPN on all your devices to ensure no one uses your IP address to find your personal information. You connect to a server not in your present location when you use a VPN. This hides your IP address from view by others. But remember that your IP address stays the same even if you use a VPN. Furthermore, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will always know your IP address whether or not you use a VPN. They need to know it to provide you with internet access.
Using a VPN to hide your IP address will improve your internet security, prevent hackers from finding your information, and protect your privacy when using public Wi-Fi. Hackers can steal much more critical information than your IP address if you don’t use a VPN. For example, whenever you use public Wi-Fi, anyone connected to the same network has the opportunity to steal credit card information, personal identity information, and bank account information. For these reasons, concealing your IP address should not be your only concern. Protecting your digital privacy is important. IP addresses reveal limited information. A VPN can safeguard you by hiding your IP address.
With a VPN, network snoops can’t see what you’re doing, even if the snooper owns the network. Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi networks are also convenient for attackers. Even if you trust humans (which I don’t), don’t trust your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP can track your online activities in the US. Your ISP can’t track you with a VPN. The VPN server’s IP address hides your actual IP address. Advertisers and others can’t follow your web activity as easily. Your data is mixed with everyone else’s on the same VPN server, making it hard to determine who is who.
VPNs are helpful, but they can’t stop every threat. A VPN won’t assist if you download ransomware or fall victim to scams. I advocate using local antivirus software, two-factor authentication, and a password manager to establish unique, complicated passwords for each site and service.
Advertisers have several ways to track your data and movements.
Trackers and browser fingerprinting are examples. I recommend using your browser’s anti-tracking features and installing Privacy Badger.
Many VPN providers include DNS resolving. DNS is a phone book that converts text-based URLs like “reviewed4me.com” to numeric IP addresses. Snoops can track your internet movements by monitoring DNS requests. DNS poisoning can potentially drive you to phishing pages to steal your info. Using a VPN’s DNS system adds security. VPNs improve privacy beyond secure DNS. Experts argue about VPNs’ effectiveness. Since most sites now offer HTTPS, your online experience is encrypted. Some consider VPNs excessive, but information not protected by HTTPS buffers you from internet infrastructure controllers and makes online tracking more difficult.
VPNs improve privacy, yet some people need them for personal and professional safety. Journalists and activists use VPNs to avoid government restrictions and communicate safely. Check local regulations before using VPNs in China, Russia, Turkey, or other repressive countries. Tor can anonymize your traffic completely. Tor bounces your online traffic among volunteer nodes, making it harder to track than a VPN. Tor can access Dark Web sites that a VPN can’t. NordVPN and ProtonVPN offer Tor access on select servers. Tor is slower than a VPN.
A motivated opponent will usually breach your defenses. A VPN protects you from mass data collection and criminals stealing user data. In recent years, the VPN business has grown, becoming a melee. Many providers are capitalizing on increased concerns about monitoring and cybercrime, making it hard to distinguish when a company offers a valuable service or peddles snake oil. Beware of phony VPNs. Speed is the factor you and the VPN supplier have the least control over. Since most VPN firms offer similar technologies, evaluate value. They’re handy when needed.
Free VPNs are abundant. I recommend starting with a week or month-long subscription to ensure your satisfaction. Signing up for a year may get you a discount, but it’s more money at risk if the service doesn’t suit your demands. Some VPNs are free. All free VPNs I’ve tried have limits.
Some limit account connections or devices. Others restrict data. Others have few servers. Others do everything. Balance these limits to find the best free VPN. TunnelBear limits you to 500MB-1GB per month on any of its servers. Hotspot Shield has no device limits but only US-based servers and 500MB daily. Kaspersky Secure Connection doesn’t limit devices but automatically chooses a VPN server. ProtonVPN gives free users unlimited bandwidth. You can browse forever. Only one device may be used at once, and there are three server locations to choose from; however, there is unlimited data. ProtonVPN, from the same creators as super-secure ProtonMail, cares about security and privacy.
My readers’ spending habits are another matter. Reviewed4me readers expect VPNs to be free, with only 10% expecting to pay $10 or more.
I also offer a list of affordable VPNs for those ready to pay. Some VPN businesses have played dirty because the VPN sector is nascent. You must trust a provider to route your internet traffic through its servers. Trusting older companies is easy because their reputation is known. Trusting others is difficult in this environment. Reviewed4me focuses on VPNs’ privacy practices, not just their technology. During testing, privacy regulations were examined, and a company’s legal structure was determined. Some countries don’t have data-retention rules, making it easier to uphold a commitment. It’s also helpful to know when a VPN will send information to law enforcement and what it must provide.
The best VPN services have a privacy statement that describes what they do, what data they collect, and how they protect it. Some companies collect data but don’t say how they’ll utilize it. Others are clearer. NordVPN, TorGuard, and VikingVPN servers were compromised in 2018. In the attacks, no user data was compromised. NordVPN’s TLS keys were leaked, but TorGuard’s weren’t. This event affected only one of NordVPN’s servers but shook up the industry and customers. Since then, NordVPN and the VPN industry have improved privacy procedures and hardened infrastructure.
Web and internet-connected devices aren’t meant for VPNs, sometimes causing problems. Banks may be confused by your VPN. Your bank may be suspicious if you log in from another US state or country. When your VPN is activated, expect captchas and multi-factor requests. Netflix and other streaming services aggressively ban VPN access to region-locked material. Today’s service may be disabled tomorrow, and vice versa. While most readers use VPNs to protect themselves, over a quarter use VPNs primarily for streaming.
In general, VPNs increased access to far-flung streaming content. In the past, VPNs that could view Netflix outside the US were rare. Accessing region-locked streaming video can violate terms of service; Reviwed4me cannot provide legal advice. Local devices connected to the same network are frequently unreachable due to a VPN’s encryption of your data during transmission. Example: Chromecast. Chromecast won’t work with a VPN. You might as well switch Wi-Fi networks. You can designate programs and sites with some VPNs to travel outside the VPN. Others include a LAN-visibility setting.
Consider the number of simultaneous connections, servers, and locations when purchasing a VPN. Most VPNs enable five devices per account. You’ll need to connect every device to the VPN service, so two or three licenses won’t be adequate for one person. However, this may change. Many services offer more than five connections. Some have eliminated the limit. Avira Phantom VPN, Encrypt.me VPN, Ghostery Midnight, IPVanish VPN, Surfshark VPN, and Windscribe VPN allow multiple connections.
Home technology goes beyond phones and PCs. Game systems, iPads, and smart home equipment like light bulbs and fridges need internet.
These devices can’t run VPN software alone. Some VPN firms provide instructions on configuring a VPN router and protecting all network devices. Whether this will cause greater issues is debatable. This solution is only for skilled, patient tinkerers. VPN server dispersion is essential. More server locations mean more ways to spoof your location. Multiple servers in different locations can always find a nearby VPN server. Closer VPN servers offer faster and more reliable connections. You don’t need a far-away VPN server for security. Depending on where you live, a local server is as safe as one overseas.
I also count VPNs’ virtual servers and locales. A virtual server is a software-defined server running on hardware with several virtual servers. A server that has been set up to appear somewhere else is a virtual location. While neither is intrinsically harmful, it’s worrying about choosing one location and being connected elsewhere. Some VPN businesses employ virtual servers in areas where it’s too unsafe to house a server. I prefer transparent VPNs that use these technologies. When a VPN is enabled, web traffic takes a roundabout route, resulting in slower download and upload rates and greater latency. Using a VPN won’t be like dial-up, thankfully. Most services have enough internet speed to stream HD video. 4K video and data-intensive tasks like gaming via VPN are different. We’re in the digital age. Latency, download, and upload speeds are measured. I tend to see download speed as the most essential of these measurements.
A VPN can circumvent internet restrictions and safeguard your online privacy. First, I test VPNs without the VPN. I compare that statistic to VPN speed tests and find a percent change. My speed tests can be compared and copied, but your results may differ. You may live on a VPN server or have a high-bandwidth connection. None of these services is ideal, and there are situations when a VPN isn’t necessary. But it’s a great security tool. Feel free to comment on the reviews of the best VPN services below.
Best for Privacy Wonks: ProtonVPN
Best Premium VPN: NordVPN
Best for Protecting Many Devices: Surfshark VPN
Best for First-Time VPN Users: TunnelBear VPN
Best for Frequent Travelers: CyberGhost VPN
Best for World Travelers: ExpressVPN
Best for Power Users: Private Internet Access VPN