Many Internet users fail to realize the importance of hiding their IP address to maintain Internet privacy. Web surfers may know to maintain anonymity with a proxy server, but it is important for everyone to know the many reasons why an IP address should be masked and hidden while surfing. An Internet Protocol address is a numerical identification number given to devices in a computer network. Each device must know its own IP address and the IP address of the device with which it needs to communicate. Every person, company, device, or server that is online at has an IP address, which is similar to person’s home address. Someone must have your home address to send you a letter; much like a device must have your IP address to relay a packet of information. IP addresses hold a vast amount of information and knowing how to control the amount of information a website or company can gain on each user is up to the user.
An IP address maintains a record of geographic information based on where the user is surfing from. Many websites are readily available that allows a user to find his or her own IP address. Not only will these websites easily show a user’s IP address, but also what city, state, and country they are surfing from and the ISP they are using. A website will not be able to track a user down to their home address based on their IP, but in most cases it can get within a few miles with great accuracy, depending on the closest network hub. A subpoenaed ISP or a company checking their web logs on the other hand can easily locate the user’s home or cubicle. Some of the better websites will also give the user’s area code, geographic longitude and latitude, whether a proxy is being used, and the type of Internet connection (cable, dsl, etc.) a user has.
Users surfing from work can benefit from masking their IP address. When connecting from work, the IP address is generated from the company’s Internet server, which gives all the same information previously stated. This information is not directly tracked to a specific user, but to the company itself. If an employee is researching the competition, the competitor will see the IP address of the company and could send them to a “dummy” site with false information. Another reason an employee may want to hide their IP at work is to avoid breaking company guidelines by surfing for personal reasons. If an employee masks his or her IP while surfing it will not be tracked back to the company. A good proxy server will also hide the origin site (the site the user just came from) with a fake domain so that the company web logs will not show the real sites the employee was surfing.
Aside from work purposes, web surfers have many personal reasons to hide their IP. Search engines, marketing companies, and even their own Internet Service Provider track and record their data. Masking the IP address with an anonymous proxy is a great way to avoid being monitored by these companies. They associate the stored data with the “fake” IP address, leaving the user’s real IP address free from having been recorded or spammed. Users may also find that their IP address is blocked from accessing certain content or websites. This can be due to guideline violations, bandwidth limits, or the website blocking IPs/only allowing IPs from certain places. Surfing with an anonymous proxy will allow surfers to use a fresh IP address whenever they encounter one of these restrictions, or to avoid having their surfing habits tracked and recorded.
Users should always hide their IP address, mostly out of principle. It is difficult to imagine just how much information is floating around the web, but ultimately a web surfer is able to protect their information. Every Internet user can be traced, one way or another, but using some form of IP masking will help prevent this and make It that much more difficult to track and record users, build profiles of their surfing habits, or restrict their access when using an anonymous proxy to mask their IP address. IP addresses hold a great deal of personal information, which can be disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands. Ultimately, there is no way around it; an IP address is required to surf the Internet, it just does not have to be the user’s real one.