If you are concerned about being visible on the Internet while surfing the web or commenting on various forums and alike, you are not alone. What we mean by being visible is that every visit and comment you post on any website can be easily traced back to your PC and present location simply because of your IP address.
Every PC that uses the Internet has a unique IP address provided by the user's ISP. Every website you visit notes down the IP address of your PC with a date and time stamp in its records. The reasons could be for simple logging and unique hit counts for the web page, but more importantly, if you try to hack in or place an offensive comment, the website’s administrator can track the origin of the page visit or comment. This reveals the IP address of the visitor (that’s you) and with a few phone calls and emails to your ISP, you can be tracked down to your location with pin-point accuracy.
An IP address cannot be changed as easily as you might think. Your ISP provides you with a unique IP address every time you connect to the Internet via their servers. This is provided using two different ways—using a DHCP IP address or a static IP address. Even though the DHCP or dynamic IP address changes every time you reconnect your Internet connection, these addresses are still logged in their records. Changing a static IP address is not at all easy as it involves contacting the ISP, and the change can take days too. if you are behind a proxy server (for instance, in an office, using a local cable Internet, or even a router at home), the main IP address of your Internet connection is still logged and can be traced to your location. There is no way to escape this, but there are a few ways by which you can stay anonymous on the web.
To stay anonymous on the Internet, you need to change the original IP address of your PC. As you cannot change the actual IP address of your PC, you can mask it by having another IP address as a layer over your IP address, known as a virtual IP address. In this manner, you can avoid being tracked down. Below are a few methods, using which you can hide your IP address from websites that you visit and safely be invisible on the Internet.
Using proxy websites
An online proxy, as the name suggests, is basically a web-based proxy service that allows you to surf through various other websites by using the Internet connection at the proxy server’s end. What it actually does is tunnel your connection through another PC somewhere in the world, which holds the proxy service, and then allows access to regular websites for browsing or downloading files. The browsing or downloading speed totally depends on their (the service’s) Internet connection speeds and the number of people accessing the same service at that time. The speed of your Internet connection does not matter in this case. Proxy servers are hosted by unknown people who have a (possibly high-speed) open Internet connection in their home or office. They simply install a web server on their PC and allow other Internet users around the world over to surf through their proxy websites and gain anonymous access to all websites. If you go through a proxy service onto other websites, the IP address of the proxy server is logged as your IP address. For example, if the proxy service is in Uganda and you are in India and using it to access a website in Australia, the Australian website thinks that you have logged in from Uganda. Your Indian IP address is nowhere in the picture. Below are a few examples of proxy websites for your disposal. Do note that while most are functioning, some might have shut down, changed their names or could be blocked by your ISP.
Proxy-based websites for browsing safely
Using browser add-ons or plug-ins
Using a proxy add-on or a plug-in for your browser is nothing new. These are being used for a while now and those who are Firefox patrons might already know about it and do probably use them regularly. The implementation is pretty simple and can be set up in a jiffy. All one needs to do is simply search for a proxy add-on from the Firefox browser, download and install any one and restart the Firefox browser. After restarting, just Google search for recently updated proxy server IP addresses with the port numbers, feed it into the add-on’s preferences and switch to a proxy server while browsing. That’s all—you will be surfing through websites via the proxy server located elsewhere in the world—without a trace of your route. There are a few proxy modules available for Opera, Chrome and Internet Explorer too, but Firefox is a tested and working example.
Firefox Add-on to hide your IP address
Using a tunneling service
Using a third-party tunneling utility such as TOR is a safer getaway. Using it is very simple, but it will make your Internet speed sluggish at most times because it uses the Internet connection of another computer somewhere around the world. Unlike a proxy service, TOR is hosted by a group of people favouring anonymity on the Internet. TOR, short for The Onion Router, is intended to enable online anonymity. Using a TOR client is as simple as downloading the file and executing it. It is designed to direct the Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers to conceal the users location from anyone who is out there conducting an online surveillance. It securely creates a type of an Internet tunnel which passes through a few more servers (PCs), countries and Internet service providers before picking up the desired website and bringing it back to your PC. It keeps hopping and randomly changing the routes to help create a highly secure and virtually untraceable path. To use TOR, simply download the utility from www.torproject.org and run the executable file. The downloaded file does not need installation; it extracts a few required portable executable files to a folder on your desktop. Once done, simply open the folder and execute the file ‘Start Tor Browser.exe' and it will bring up a control panel called Vidalia; connect anonymously to the respective servers and automatically start a secure Firefox (portable) session to access your desired websites. Using TOR makes it more difficult to trace your location and activity, including visits to websites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms. It is intended to protect users' personal freedom, privacy and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their Internet activities from being monitored. TOR is presently one of the safest means of being anonymous on the Internet.
Using VPN services such as HotSpot Shield
Using VPN (Virtual Private Network) services
VPN has been popular for years and is yet another secure way of accessing the Internet. The system works by setting up a connection that is channeled through your ISP, through to a VPN service or a computer that has open Internet access. Using this technique, you should be able to access the web freely with no restrictions on sites, keywords, services etc. Unfortunately, VPNs are a bit more complicated to set up. Usually, free VPN services such as Hotspot Shield are known to be the best and easiest option around. There are very few free VPN services. Hotspot Shield installs a routing driver automatically on your PC during installation, creates the necessary routing methods and gives you access to the open Internet service from various open VPN services around the world. Once enabled and running, you will be able to access any website out there, but unfortunately, you will see continuous ads littering your screen.
TOR utilities that are presently one of the most secure methods.
Disclaimer: Though there are different proxy and VPN services available online, usually these are tracked and hunted by various secure website administrators and are blocked accordingly. While most of these proxy websites get blocked because they are well-known, others that do not publicise as much and manage to stay undercover are preferable. However, it is very simple for them to get themselves unblocked by registering a different website name. Though they offer these services for free, they earn by hosting advertisements, links from porn and pirated websites, hackers and virus developers. Hence, using these free services could put your PC in harm's way and leak data to hackers, unless the proxy service provider is a genuine supporter of anonymity. Please use these services responsibly and at your own peril.