Every device that accesses the internet has a unique IP address; the identifier that is needed to transfer data back to the correct user. However, in an age of ever-increasing concern about online security, many advocate the use of a proxy server or a VPN to increase anonymity. But is this wise, and what information can your IP address provide?
What can an IP address reveal about you?
The simple answer is “not much.” The websites that you visit will only see the last IP address they encountered. Unless you are using a VPN or proxy server, this will almost certainly be your internet service provider (ISP), and so it is the location of the ISP servers that is seen, not your computer. While this may provide information of the ISP you use and the city you reside, the IP alone reveals little more than this.
Should you use a proxy?
When you use a proxy server, the information goes from your computer to your ISP, to the proxy, on to the website and back again. As such, the web page sees the proxy IP address, which completely removes any location-based data, so if you require this level of anonymity, then a proxy may be the way to go.
However, using a proxy server is not without its risks. Those who maintain the proxy will still have the information about your ISP; perhaps, more importantly, they will have the ability to alter your incoming traffic from the websites. While uncommon, a hacked or malicious proxy provider can transfer malware to your device. If you are committed to using a proxy, it is advisable to go with a trusted company to reduce this risk.
What about a VPN?
A VPN (virtual private network) has an additional layer of security on top of a proxy server. All the data you send and receive is encrypted as it passes through your ISP to hide your information. However, the VPN needs to decrypt the information, and so you are simply shifting your privacy concerns from your ISP to those providing the VPN. A VPN also has the same potential risks as a proxy server alone, so if you choose to go down this route, a trusted company is a must.
While internet security and anonymity online are important issues, there is a lot of misinformation flying around that can mislead consumers. By considering what information your IP address reveals, it is easier to make an informed decision on whether the additional level of security afforded by a proxy or a VPN is required.
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