What is a VPN and Can it Hide My IP Address?

Tips & Advice

There’s a lot of misinformation about Virtual Private Networks, what they do, and the security benefits they offer. For this article, I’d like to do some myth-busting about how a VPN actually works and why you should use one. 

What is a VPN and how does it protect me? 

VPN is an app that you install on your device to help keep your personal data safe as you browse the internet  

You may have heard that VPN apps live on your device and allow you to connect to the internet securely. What that means is, when you turn your VPN app on, your device makes a secure connection to a specialized computer that routes internet traffic, called a VPN server. You also may have heard that your connection is “wrapped in an encrypted tunnel” which means your device and the server share a secure connection so only you can see what you’re doing on the internet. 

Does a VPN change my IP address? 

Every internet connection (like your cable modem) is assigned a unique set of numbers called an IP address, which is tied to information such as geographic location, ISP, etc. A VPN replaces your actual IP address to make it look like you’ve connected to the internet from a different location: the physical location of the VPN server, rather than your real location. This is just one reason why so many people use VPNs. This can be handy when you want to hide from advertising trackers or protect your search history.  

How to use a VPN to change my IP address 

To change your IP address, you simply open your VPN app, select the server location you’d like to connect to, and you’re done. You’re now browsing with a new IP address. If you’d like to make sure your IP has changed, open up a browser and search for “What’s my IP address” and click on one of the results. 

When should I use a VPN? 

When to use a VPN really depends on what you want it for. For example, 39% of users understand public Wi-Fi is unsafe but still do sensitive things, like banking or shopping on public WiFi, so using a VPN when you’re at the airport, or a café is a great use case. 

As I mentioned before, a lot of people use a VPN for privacy reasons, like stopping advertisers from tracking them. Searches you perform, or websites you visit won’t be trackable, which means you’ll be able to surprise your spouse with a vacation you researched and planned on a computer you both use. Targeted ads could spoil things if your spouse is bombarded with ads for plane tickets and hotels while they browse. 

Can a VPN protect my search history? 

A VPN protects your search history through the secure connection you share. When you search for a website, or type a URL into your navigation bar, your device sends something called a DNS request, which translates the website into the IP address of the web server; this is how your browser can find the website and serve its content to you. By encrypting your DNS requests, a VPN can hide your search habits and history from those that might use that info as part of building a profile of you. This type of info could be used in a wide variety of ways, from legitimately serving targeted ads to nefarious social engineering.  

Can a VPN protect my identity? 

A VPN can protect your identity by blocking online trackers from following you around the internet. With your VPN on, trackers will think all of your browsing is coming from a different device in a different location. This throws off the profile advertisers try to build because they think you’re someone else. 

Another way a VPN can protect your identity is by preventing some types of hacking. Stopping attacks on public WiFi where a bad actor tries to get between you and the website you’re visiting, is just one way VPNs can help. It’s called a Man-in-the-Middle attack, but that’s a subject for another article. 

Does a VPN make me anonymous? 

No, a VPN cannot make you anonymous. They help secure what you’re doing, but your ISP still knows when you’re using the internet. They just can’t see what you’re doing, what sites you visit, or how long you’ve been on a site. 

Do I need a VPN if I use Incognito mode? 

Private browsing modes can help protect your privacy, but they’re useful if you share a device with other people and you don’t want them to see your search history. You can read all about the differences in the article I wrote a little while ago. 

What is Apple Private Relay? 

Apple’s Private Relay is currently in Beta and will be available with an iCloud+ subscription for Safari users on iOS and macOS soon. Private Relay is similar to a VPN in that it changes your IP address so websites you visit can’t tell exactly where you are.  

What does Apple Private Relay do? 

When you turn Private Relay on, your device connects to a server that sends your browsing data to a second server, before it travels through the internet. The reason for the double hop is that first server gives you a new IP address, to make you harder to track, while the second server hides that information from the website you’re browsing. The first server only knows your original IP address, while the second server only knows what you’re browsing, but not your IP. 

How to turn on Apple Private Relay on iPhone 

  1. Tap the iCloud tab in Settings 
  2. Tap Private Relay to turn it On 
  3. Scroll down and tap on Turn On for Safari 
  4. Tap IP Address Location to change Approximate or Broader Location 

How to turn on Apple Private Relay on Mac 

  1. Click on iCloud in the System Preferences menu 
  2. Click on the Private Relay box 
  3. Click on the Options button 
  4. Click on Private Relay for Safari 
  5. Choose your IP Address Location to change Approximate or Broader Location 

Do I need a VPN if I have Apple Private Relay? 

Private Relay only works with Safari on iOS and macOS. Even if you are using an Apple device, a VPN is still a good idea because it will protect the information that your device sends outside of Safari. 

How to get your own VPN 

If you’re already a McAfee Total Protection subscriber, you have access to unlimited VPN usage. Protect your personal information, like your banking information and credit cards, from prying eyes with McAfee Total Protection’s Secure VPN. If you haven’t already signed up, now’s the perfect time. McAfee Total Protection provides security for all your devices, giving you peace of mind while you shop, bank, and browse online. 

What is a VPN

What is a VPN

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