Digital crooks — whom cybersecurity experts and law enforcement officials politely call bad actors — use elements of modern-day cyber communications to track your online activities. These elements are hiding in plain sight, but they are easy to reveal once you know where to find them.
You can toss around false clues to hide your activities or at least leave some misdirections behind to keep potential evildoers off your trail. It is not illegal to mask your online activity if you are not engaging in criminal pursuits.
When you use your computer, mobile phone, or tablet to access the internet, you are readily visible via your assigned Internet Protocol (IP) address from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the Media Access Control (MAC) address that identifies each piece of computing hardware you use. We’ll cover these again in a minute.
The same is true when you use a mobile device with cellular connectivity because it pings nearby cell towers to provide connections wherever you are. So, surfing the web or using email on your cellular phone or tablet furnishes another access channel to your IP address. But your mobile device’s IP address is different, giving those who are determined enough two ways to find and track you.
Keep in mind that your ISPs (both fixed and mobile) have direct access to your location when you go online. They can also monitor your digital activities and be ordered by law enforcement agencies to divulge that information under certain conditions. Even websites you visit can tell it is you and what you do while there. So can others who snoop on you.
Read on to learn how you can deter others from digitally tracking you. Then, apply these strategies to prevent bad actors from using your IP address to load malware onto your devices, serve you with ransomware, hack into your financial accounts, or steal your entire online identity. Read on to learn how you can deter others from digitally tracking you.
The internet consists of separate pathways that are connected together. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique set of numbers that identifies a device connected to this series of networks. When you subscribe to a service provider, you are assigned a unique IP address, which can change as your device connects and disconnects.
A Media Access Control (MAC) address is a 12-digit hexadecimal number displayed with a colon or hyphen separating every two digits. Hardware manufacturers assign MAC addresses to each computer, tablet, and phone that end users cannot change.
Once your IP address is determined, it points to where your connection originated and the sending source of your emails. IP addresses are assigned to companies rather than countries. Just seeing a string of numbers makes it difficult to trace a location. But an IP lookup tool makes extracting information from the IP address much easier to locate you.
Unlike IP addresses, routers typically use dynamic IP addresses, meaning they are not fixed or permanent. So it is easy to interfere with bad actors tracing its location. Every time you turn it off and on, the router grabs a brand-new IP address on the ISP’s network.
Safer, but Not Fully Hidden
Remember that you want to mask your physical location to thwart efforts by others to hack or grab your identity. Our goal is not to conceal illegal activity, and nothing offered here will hide you from your ISP or police.
Network managers can always track your online activity, and they have your address from when you enrolled with them for service. Law enforcement agencies can work with ISPs to see suspicious online activity and discover who and where you are.
Also, consider that some apps query your IP address to know your device location to help serve personalized content. Hackers can create websites or apps containing links that grab IP addresses, which is one way that individuals and companies become victims. Knowing your IP address enables evil doers to hack into your computer, attack a company server, or stalk a person.
How To Cover Your Digital Tracks
Knowing how to avoid exposing your IP address at home or on the go will make it much more difficult for anyone with wrongful intentions to target your location. Protect yourself from the potential trouble of anyone knowing your IP address by using these strategies.
Premium Virtual Private Network Services
A VPN funnels your internet connections through its own servers connected to its own network pathways. This masks your IP address so you can surf the web anonymously.
Someone trying to track you down can only go as far as seeing the VPN you use, not from where you are connecting to that VPN. This includes law enforcement without court intervention or the VPN company’s willingness to help. Be aware that not all VPNs are equal. Free services often sell your data to cover costs, and they might not encrypt your data.
Web Proxy Services
Like VPNs, web proxies carry your connections through their own servers. This filtering conceals your IP address. Proxy servers — unless you pay for a good one — have a few drawbacks. For instance, concealing an IP address is not the same as entirely hiding it. You set up proxy connections in your web browser settings, but this does not prevent ISPs and tech-savvy hackers from seeing your IP address.
Some web proxy services to investigate include Kproxy, Whoer.Net, HMA, Zyte, GeoSurf, Anonymouse, and Proxysite.
Verify Public Wi-Fi Safety
Many legitimate businesses, airports, hotels, restaurants, etc., provide guests with Wi-Fi as a customer courtesy.
Usually, however, public Wi-Fi hotspots are not encrypted and therefore are less safe to use. They also pose security risks as it is easy for bad actors to set up copycat connections to lure users.
Make sure to verify that a legitimate organization truly sponsors any public Wi-Fi you access. Then you can probably connect to it safely without exposing your IP address.
Better yet, use a VPN when accessing public Wi-Fi.
Use Specialty Browsers
Some web browsers provide a free built-in VPN through their own servers. Opera is one of those. Perhaps the most well-known browser for hiding your online activity is the TOR browser. Its name means The Onion Router. TOR is free to download and use as a way to hide your IP address. It connects you to the TOR network and sends your data through random relay servers hosted by worldwide volunteers.
Email Alternative: Go Anonymous
Most people do not realize that the email they send is equivalent to posting their home address online. It is a flashing beacon alerting others to your base location.
To further hide this homing signal, use an anonymous email service. It puts up false clues by masking the email header affixed to the top of your email.
It blocks more than just your IP address. Email headers contain the IP addresses of all the computer systems that have relayed your message between sender and receiver, providing all the handy email metadata. Hackers use these details to trace the source of the email.
To throw them off your trail, consider these two options:
- Send your email through a dedicated anonymous email provider such as ProtonMail, StartMail, Tutanota, Cyber Atlantis, Guerilla Mail, or others. These services conceal your IP address and make it much more difficult for someone to access your true location.
- Use a phony email account. Known as burner, throwaway, temporary, and disposable email addresses, most work the same way. The service generates a random email address and sends responses from its servers back to your designated real email address, which the sender or responder does not know.
This approach lets you sign up or register for various website programs without divulging your true contact information. Some well-known fake email providers are 10MinuteMail, Temp-Mail, Minute Inbox, and EmailOnDeck. They all provide you with a new, unique email address.
Stay Cyber Safe
More than ever, the information superhighway poses on-ramps for digital attacks and traffic detours into dangerous places. You can fight back against cybercriminals with these tactics to mask your online journeys and protect your digital security.