I use the Internet; you use the Internet; we all use the Internet. Indeed, it seems that a good chunk of our day is spent on the Web, whether we’re surfing our favorite websites, looking for the best deals, or searching for answers to everyday problems. But with all this increased web use comes increased security issues: the fact that more people are online means that more black hats (malicious hackers) are online as well.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself against black hats (and against companies that want to steal your information and pass it around like candy) by engaging in online safety. So, if you’re ready to protect your online identity, here are a few ways to hide your IP address and remain safe when on the Internet.
#1. Don’t sneak onto any suspicious websites
You can avoid a lot of problems if you don’t go onto strange websites in the first place. One tip is that your browser will warn you if you’re about to do something unsafe; this is a big clue that you should turn back and quit while you’re ahead. However, not all browsers offer this option, so sometimes you’ll have to evaluate websites yourself. Consider criteria like these: have you heard of the website? Is it on the first page of Google search results? Does the URL begin with https (sager than simply http) and feature a padlock icon? What are users on other websites saying about it? You can also look up the URL on web inspectors like Comodo and Zulu.
#2. Watch out for spam and malicious advertisements
Despite the first tip, your browser (and e-mail inbox) won’t protect you from everything: you’ll have to evaluate some risks yourself. If you get a phony spam email in your inbox—in which a friend you haven’t spoken to in years, mailing from some strange e-mail address, asks you for something—then avoid it all costs. That’s not your friend messaging you, but a scammer. If a pop-up appears saying that you won a trip to the Bahamas, ignore it. Basically, use your common sense. If it seems to good to be true—or seems to have no relevance to your real life—it probably is.
#3. Don’t overshare on social networks
In this day and age, doxxing—revealing the private info, such as phone number and address—is easier than ever before. Sometimes, all a person needs is a name and a location, and they can almost instantly find out everything about you, including your Social Security Number. For this reason, when you’re on social networks and forum boards—whether Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, or anything in between—don’t give up too much info about yourself. None of your online acquaintances need to know that you’re going on vacation until after the fact, and the people of Reddit sure as heck don’t need to know your last name.
Also be sure to keep your privacy settings on, so that unauthorized people won’t have access to your account. Not only is this safer for you and your privacy, but it will also protect your privacy and prevent others from judging your life choices. After all, you don’t want all your professional acquaintances to see pictures of you out on the town with your friends, do you?
#4. Don’t give away your password to anyone
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, we’ve all heard of that scam where “Microsoft” calls you up and tells you that there’s a problem with your account so the rep will need you to log in for them. By all means, don’t. If Microsoft really had something to tell you (and don’t count on it), they would never have you reveal their password to them. In general, companies never need your passwords to access your accounts; they already have access to them, by virtue of their jobs. So if you find yourself receiving a call from a suspicious number, let it go to voicemail. If it was a real, legit issue, then the caller would definitely leave a message.
By the same token, don’t run around telling your friends your passwords, and log yourself out of Facebook when you borrow their phone. You never know who will betray you, when given the opportunity; people—even your closest friends and family members—can be surprisingly shady.
#5. Use passwords for your computers and phone
This will prevent others from logging in via the easiest route: i.e., in which you’re already logged in. Simply make sure that the lock screen, complete with required password, goes up whenever you’re not using your device so that only you have access to it. You can also use touch recognition on many devices, including recent iPhones and iPads; however, note that these are often inaccurate, and may grant easy access to your accounts to someone with a similar fingerprint.
#6. Install software updates whenever they appear
I know that, right now, you’re thinking how much of a hassle this is (especially if you’re using a Windows system), but it’s ultimately vital in the long run. This is because black hats are constantly developing new ways to steal your information and infect your system. As a result, OS developers create new tools to fight against this with every successive update, thereby ensuring that you’ll have fewer open vulnerabilities for malicious users to exploit. If you don’t update your system as often as you should, these users will be able to use these gaping holes to their advantage when carrying out their nefarious purposes. Instead, new software updates will provide you with a few ways to hide your IP address.
#7. Download some good antivirus software
Antivirus software will prevent you from developing viruses on your computer, and it can eliminate those which have already infected your system. It’s an invaluable investment, because—even if you do everything by the book—sometimes viruses can just sneak in there and start damaging your whole system. Good examples of this type of software include Avast (free and paid versions), Kaspersky (paid), McAfee (paid), and Panda (free and paid).
#8. Make sure that no one can figure out your password
The old days of making your password your name with a combination of numbers just won’t cut it anymore. And anyway, a lot of sites won’t allow you to: they want letters, numbers, a capital letter or two, and sometimes some symbols, like the dollar sign, in there as well. Circumvent this problem by thinking up a password that you know you can remember—for example, make it the initials to something that is relevant to you—or by using a password generator, which will take the requirements into account and pop out a custom-tailored password.
In both cases, make sure to update your passwords regularly, and never use the same password more than once. You don’t want someone accessing all your accounts simply because they’ve figured out how to access the one. If you’re having trouble remembering them (I do, too), use a password manager like LastPass, Dashlane, Zoho Vault, or LogMeOnce. Some are free Chrome extensions, whereas others are paid software, but they’re all worth it.
#9. Invest in a good firewall
Firewalls are virtual barriers which prevent other users accessing your devices—which includes not only your phones, tablets and computers, but also any smart devices you have that run on IoT (Internet of Things) technology, such as light switches, air conditioners, locking systems, and thermostats—which, it must be said, often don’t feature their own security measures. While usually included with security software like Avast, they can also be installed on their own. A good firewall will ensure that everything on your network is secure. Firewalls are compatible with many types of security software, so they’ll provide you with a few ways to hide your IP address.
#10. Consider using a VPN (virtual private network)
It’s one thing to encrypt your own WiFi so that others can’t access it; but it’s entirely another to encrypt yourself when you’re using public WiFi, such as at the library, the airport, or your favorite local café. You’ll want to do this because such networks are often unsecured, making it easy for just about anyone to log on and steal your data. To solve this problem, download a VPN; this software will allow you to connect safely to the Internet, no matter where you are, via a secure connection.
VPNs will give you a few ways to hide your IP address since they provide you with their a special IP, which others can’t use to access your info. In turn, hiding your IP will allow you to protect your information more effectively. You can even get around content blockers like country-bound restrictions so that you can watch Netflix US from anywhere in the world, and school and workplace website access restrictions.
Internet security: vital for everyone
Because everyone is on the Internet these days, Internet security is vital and is something you simply can’t neglect. Use the tips we mentioned in this article, and you will be able to make your time online safer and more secure. Use a VPN, get a good firewall—all of these options will allow you to hide your IP address and enjoy a safer online experience. Good luck, and happy browsing!