Digital crooks—politely referred to as bad actors by cybersecurity experts and law enforcement officials—use elements of modern cybercommunications to track your online activity. These elements hide in plain sight, but they’re easy to reveal once you know where to find them.
You can throw false leads to hide your activities, or at least leave some misdirections to throw potential bad guys off your trail. It is not illegal to disguise your online activity if you are not engaging in criminal activity.
When you access the Internet with your computer, mobile phone or tablet, you are easily visible via the Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned by your Internet service provider (ISP) and the Media Access Control (MAC) address that identifies each piece the computer hardware you use. We’ll cover these again in a moment.
The same is true if you’re using a mobile device with cellular connectivity, as it pings nearby cell towers to provide connections wherever you are. So surfing the web or using email on your mobile phone or tablet provides another channel of access to your IP address. However, your mobile device’s IP address is different, giving those determined enough two ways to find and track you.
Remember that your ISPs (both fixed and mobile) have direct access to your location when you go online. They may also monitor your digital activity and be directed by law enforcement to share that information under certain conditions. Even websites you visit can recognize that it’s you and what you’re doing there. So can others who spy on you.
Read on to learn how to stop others from tracking you digitally. Then use these strategies to prevent attackers from using your IP address to download malware onto your devices, deliver ransomware to you, hack into your financial accounts, or steal your entire online identity. Read on to learn how to stop others from tracking you digitally.
The Internet consists of separate paths that are connected to each other. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique set of numbers that identifies a device connected to that set of networks. When you sign up with a service provider, you are assigned a unique IP address that can change as your device connects and disconnects.
A MAC (Media Access Control) address is a 12-digit hexadecimal number separated by a colon or hyphen every two digits. Hardware manufacturers assign MAC addresses to every computer, tablet, and phone that end users cannot change.
Once your IP address has been determined, it indicates the origin of your connection and the sender source of your emails. IP addresses are assigned to companies, not countries. Just seeing a series of numbers makes it difficult to track a location. But an IP lookup tool makes extracting information from the IP address much easier to find you.
Unlike IP addresses, routers typically use dynamic IP addresses, meaning they are not fixed or permanent. So it is easy to disturb bad actors tracking their location. Every time you turn it off and on again, the router accesses a brand new IP address on the ISP’s network.
More secure but not completely hidden
Remember that you want to mask your physical location to thwart attempts by others to hack or steal your identity. Our goal is not to hide any illegal activity and nothing offered here will hide you from your ISP or the police.
Network managers can track your online activities at any time, and they know your address since you signed up with them for the service. Law enforcement agencies can work with ISPs to detect suspicious online activity and find out who and where you are.
Also note that some apps request your IP address to know the location of your device in order to provide personalized content. Hackers can create websites or apps that contain links that fetch IP addresses, which can victimize individuals and businesses. Knowing your IP address allows bad guys to hack into your computer, attack a company server, or track someone.
How to cover your digital footprints
Knowing how to avoid exposing your IP address at home or on the go will make it much more difficult for anyone with illegitimate intentions to attack your location. Use these strategies to protect yourself from potential problems if someone knows your IP address.
Premium virtual private network services
A VPN routes your internet connections through its own servers connected to its own network paths. This will mask your IP address so you can surf the web anonymously.
Someone trying to track you down can only go so far as to see the VPN you’re using, not where you’re connecting to that VPN from. This includes law enforcement without court intervention or the helpfulness of the VPN company. Note that not all VPNs are created equal. Free services often sell your data to cover costs, and they may not encrypt your data.
Web Proxy Services
Like VPNs, web proxies transmit your connections through their own servers. This filtering masks your IP address. Unless you’re paying for a good one, proxy servers have a few downsides. For example, hiding an IP address is not the same as hiding it completely. You set up proxy connections in your web browser settings, but this doesn’t prevent ISPs and tech-savvy hackers from seeing your IP address.
Web proxy services to examine include Kproxy, Whoer.Net, HMA, Zyte, GeoSurf, Anonymouse, and Proxysite.
Check the security of public WLANs
Many reputable companies, airports, hotels, restaurants, etc. provide Wi-Fi to their guests as a courtesy.
Normally, however, public WiFi hotspots are not encrypted and therefore less secure to use. They also pose security risks as it is easy for attackers to set up mimic connections to lure users.
Make sure that any public WiFi you access is actually sponsored by a reputable organization. Then you can probably connect securely without revealing your IP address.
Better yet, use a VPN when accessing public WiFi.
Use special browsers
Some web browsers offer a free built-in VPN through their own servers. The opera is one of them. Perhaps the most well-known browser for hiding your online activities is the TOR browser. Its name means The Onion Router. TOR is free to download and use to hide your IP address. It connects you to the TOR network and sends your data through random relay servers hosted by volunteers worldwide.
Email alternative: Go anonymous
Most people don’t realize that the email they send is tantamount to posting their home address online. It’s a flashing beacon that alerts others to your base location.
Use an anonymous email service to further hide this homing signal. It provides false clues by masking the email header attached at 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 routed your message between the sender and recipient and provide all the useful email metadata. Hackers use these details to determine the source of the email.
To throw them off your trail, consider these two options:
- Send your email through a dedicated anonymous email provider like ProtonMail, StartMail, Tutanota, Cyber Atlantis, Guerrilla Mail or others. These services disguise your IP address and make it much more difficult for someone to access your true location.
- Use a fake email account. Known as burner, disposable, temporary, and disposable email addresses, most work the same way. The service generates a random email address and sends replies from its servers back to your specified real email address, which the sender or responder does not know.
This approach allows you to sign up or register for various website programs without revealing 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 secure
More than ever, the information superhighway offers ramps for digital attacks and traffic diversions at dangerous points. Defend yourself against cybercriminals with these tactics to obfuscate your online journeys and protect your digital security.