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Do VPNs change or hide your IP address?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the various features of Virtual Private Networks. Whether your favorite podcaster advertised a free trial to you or you read about them while researching the latest security technology, it’s clear that these online security services are here to stay.

So how exactly do VPNs work? What information do VPNs hide to keep internet users safe? These are just some of the many questions you might have about VPNs, and luckily, this article will answer them for you. Read on to learn how VPNs can protect your online privacy.

Why VPNs Protect Your IP Address

An IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is a unique number assigned to every internet connection. When any device connects to the internet, it is assigned this numerical label. It is both an identifier for the device and a virtual address that enables the device to send and receive data over the connected network.

SEE: Are VPNs really worth it in 2024? (TechRepublic)

When you connect to the internet, no matter what device or digital asset you use, you need an IP address to operate online. Unfortunately, an IP address can reveal information about your internet presence that can be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Tracking your online activity, determining your approximate physical location, limiting your access to online services, sending targeted ads, and committing cybercrime in your name are just some of the dangers that can happen if someone gets hold of your IP address.

While tracking someone’s IP address may seem like an invasion of privacy, there are currently no laws against doing so. This means your online activity and personal data could be at risk of being accessed by malicious third parties.

How a VPN Protects Your IP Address

IP addresses can be easily traced, especially when using the internet over an unsecured public Wi-Fi connection. Fortunately, a VPN generates a private connection, encrypting your internet activity so that it cannot be read. Of course, a VPN also affects your IP address, providing additional security for your online connection.

SEE: 4 different types of VPNs and when to use them (TechRepublic)

Let’s consider some common questions about how a VPN can change your IP address to enhance your online security.

Do VPNs hide your IP address?

A VPN disguises your IP address and assigns you an IP address from the VPN server’s location in its place. By replacing your IP address, a VPN can make it appear as if you are connecting to the internet from somewhere other than your real location.

By default, most VPNs provide an IP address that reflects the IP address of the VPN server. As a result, your online traffic appears to originate from the VPN server’s location rather than your actual physical location.

Can a VPN make you anonymous?

A VPN will not make you completely anonymous online, as no tool can. However, a VPN will encrypt your data and hide your IP address, giving you additional protection from trackers.

SEE: Brute force and dictionary attacks: An IT leader’s guide (TechRepublic Premium)

A VPN adds an extra layer of security to your online presence by routing encrypted internet data through a VPN server that disguises your IP address. Once you are connected to a VPN, it masks your IP address with a decoy IP address. While this doesn’t make you completely anonymous online, it does make it harder for third parties to track your IP location and online activity.

Does a VPN always use the same IP address?

Most VPN services provide users with dynamic IP addresses by default. A dynamic IP changes every time your device connects to the internet and may rotate mid-connection, depending on the VPN service you choose. In the case of a dynamic IP address, your VPN provider may let you share your IP address with other users connected to the same server. This protects your privacy, as online activity is more difficult to trace back to a single user.

On the other hand, some VPNs offer users the option of using static (or dedicated) IP addresses, which remain the same unless changed manually. Keeping a static IP address every time you go online allows you to maintain a stable online presence on every app and gadget you use. This can be beneficial in certain situations, such as when using apps that use geolocation.

There are two flavors of static IP addresses. A shared static IP address is fixed and used by you and other users on the server. Alternatively, a dedicated static IP remains the same but is assigned only to you.

Different VPN service providers may have different methods of assigning IP addresses, so whether your VPN always assigns you the same IP address may depend on the VPN you choose. Companies that offer static IP addresses include NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost, PureVPN, Ivacy VPN, and Private Internet Access.

For example, NordVPN allocates a certain number of VPN addresses to each server, but allows users to choose to keep the same IP address every time they connect. For more information, check out our full NordVPN review here.

Do VPNs allow you to choose your IP address?

Many VPNs allow users to choose an alternate IP address and location. This allows you to access region-restricted websites and geo-blocked online services. For example, changing your IP address and location when using a streaming service can allow you to access videos that are only available to users in a specific country.

Does a VPN change your public IP or just your private IP?

A VPN service hides your public IP address by disguising it as another IP address. Your public IP address is the external IP address you use to connect to the internet, so it can be seen by other online devices.

Private IP addresses do not have this problem because they do not route or exchange online traffic. Instead, they are only used to direct traffic on a specific local network. Since private IP addresses remain only on the local network and cannot be used to connect to the internet, they do not require additional security measures such as VPNs.

What can’t a VPN hide?

A VPN can hide your IP address, making it harder for third parties to see your virtual location, streaming activity, browsing history, and downloads. But isn’t that enough?

A VPN cannot hide your online activities on digital platforms from the platform providers if you are logged into your online accounts. For example, if you use an online search engine while logged into your account, the search engine provider will still be able to access your search history even if you use a VPN. This also applies to social media, as all activities performed on social media while logged in will be accessible on the social media platform.

VPNs are also limited in their ability to protect you from tracking cookies. Cookies are used and stored by your web browser. Since VPNs only protect your internet activity through your online network, they cannot protect you from cookies that your web browser has already stored.

Finally, VPNs are not a complete defense against online threats. While they can provide more online protection, threats like viruses, hackers, and cyberattacks still pose a significant risk. A VPN should not be used in place of malware protection or antivirus software. To learn about some effective software options to bolster your antivirus security, check out TechRepublic’s list of the top advanced threat protection tools.

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