In today’s world, it’s hard to function without some form of identification. Whether you’re looking to rent a vehicle, enroll in school, or apply for a job, you’ll need to provide some documentation to identify, validate and catalogue the transaction. This paradigm holds true even when hopping onto the internet to perform a Google search, check your Facebook, or stream shows and movies on Netflix. In these cases, your computer’s IP address functions online in much the same way as driver’s license or passport does in the physical world.
But what if you could change the information on your ID card at will? With a VPN, you can essentially do exactly this, albeit with your IP address rather than any physical documents. In doing so, you can pass yourself off as being from somewhere else in the world than where you actually are–thereby fooling websites into treating you differently than they normally would. Instead of reading your real IP, you hand them a virtual IP address, which contains fake information–forged to your specifications.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of how IPs are used in directing the flow of information on the Internet. Next, we’ll delve deeper into the concept of virtual IP addresses, then show you how to get one using a VPN. Finally, we’ll recommend the best VPN providers on the market.
- 1 Why are IP addresses so important?
- 2 What is a virtual IP address?
- 3 Best VPNs for getting a virtual IP address
- 4 Conclusion
Why are IP addresses so important?
Imagine placing an order with a company to ship a product to your home: you’d need to provide them with a shipping address in order to actually receive your package. The same is true with information on the web. Whenever you type “www.google.com” into your browser, for example, your computer transmits a request to receive the data it needs to draw a visual representation of Google’s homepage on your screen. Google is always happy to oblige–so long as it has a return address where it can send the requested data.
Your IP address acts as a shipping label accompanying the data you transmit, letting the receiver know who sent it, and where in the wide internet you are located. Using this information, a given website can accurately serve up a page, image, video, download file or whatever else to precisely where it needs to go–and no where else.
Geographical content restrictions
Now, recall that your IP address also contains information tied to your physical location. Depending on where you are in the world, you may experience restrictions on what data can be delivered to your device. (Imagine if your local post office banned all incoming packages from other countries.) In other words: your ability to view content online is almost always directly influenced by the location tied to your IP.
For example, if your IP address is from the United States, you’ll be able to watch the vast American Netflix library with no problem. If your IP is in Spain, Netflix will serve you a different content catalogue, and bar you from viewing the U.S. site. This limitation is in place by design, as it aids enforcement of international copyright law.
There are some other issues to consider. Because your IP address is completely unique and dependent on your exact geological location, it is easy for your identity and location to be tracked by malicious third parties, including government agencies, hackers, and even your ISP itself.
IP addresses themselves are not dangerous, but when you combine them with unencrypted internet browsing, you have a real privacy issue. Hackers, for example can steal your bank information, your identity, and browse your internet history. Copyright holders may also point the finger at you (often wrongly) for streaming their content in a way they don’t like.
By masking your IP address with a false one, then wrapping up your data stream beneath a layer of encryption, your doings online will become completely inscrutable.
What is a virtual IP address?
You already know, now, that your IP address is tied to your physical location. But why? Your ISP maintains a vast network of servers, which act as liaisons between its customers and the rest of the internet. This network is divided up into nodes, which have physical proximity to the areas they serve. It is these nodes that assign you an IP address, which in turn carries location information on the server itself, as well as your connection to it.
A virtual IP address (VIP) is something of a misnomer, as it is every bit as “real” as a standard IP given to you by your ISP. The difference is, VIPs do not necessarily correspond to a physical network interface. In plain English, when using a virtual IP, you are connecting to the internet through (and thus being served content from) a node located somewhere else in the world.
The precise method by which this is accomplished is highly technical, but a virtual private network (VPN) enables you to do it with ease.
So, how does a VPN work exactly?
VPN providers maintain their own network of proxy servers, which effectively take over the job normally done by your ISP, transmitting data between your device and the rest of the internet. Of course, you can’t completely avoid going through your ISP, but you can fool it into thinking you’re invisible. Here’s how:
In order to interface with the VPN network, you need to download and install your provider’s software onto your device. Once you activate it, the software communicates with one of the nodes in the VPN proxy network, and establishes an encrypted link between you and it. Think of it as an underground tunnel that uses the same ground as the ISP “above”, but passes through that territory completely undetected. The tunnel is secured by a layer of cryptography known as encryption, which encodes your data stream to look like random nonsense to ISPs, hackers, governments, and anyone else.
This seemingly scrambled data passes through your ISP without incident, and goes onto your VPN’s network. The proxy server receives this data, unscrambles it, then sends it onto its original destination (like Netflix). Because the proxy server is sending your request off, rather than your ISP, your IP address and location data change to match your VPN connection. This new address is the so-called virtual IP address that is the focus of this article.
What do you use a virtual IP address for?
The cute answer is: “anything you want!” However, there is real utility to “spoofing” your IP.
VPNs typically maintain networks of servers all over the world, so you can connect in London, but be routed through New York City. Netflix will see your request coming from NYC, and serve you content as though you were American. This is great for media-hungry users, who want to catch their favorite shows without being bothered by geographical content restrictions.
However, VIPs are useful for much more than entertainment. Because you are sharing proxy nodes with some of your VPN provider’s other clients, you all share an IP. None of the traffic flowing through that server can be linked back to any individual thanks to the encryption behind it, giving you true anonymity.
This can be useful when trying to make your voice heard through heavy censorship, for example. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, it’s also useful to have a false IP and encryption on your side to hide from any hackers or bots that may be lurking in wait to prey upon unprotected data streams.
Best VPNs for getting a virtual IP address
So, we’ve gone over what a virtual IP is, how to get one, and how to make good use of it. Now, you need a VPN! The market is flooded with options–some good, some bad. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best VPNs to get a virtual IP address:
ExpressVPN promises fast speeds and the highest security. Your information and data are completely secure with its 256-bit AES encryption accompanied by a zero-logging policy on all traffic. This VPN also comes with unlimited bandwidth, no speed caps or throttling, no restrictions on P2P networks or torrents, and is great for Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming sites.
Additionally, ExpressVPN deploys 2,000 servers in 94 countries, making it a breeze to spoof your IP. Each connection boasts some of the best speeds in the industry, yielding buffer-free streams and rapid downloads. If your proxy server has too many people on it and is laggy, fire up the built-in speed test to check out your other options for faster connections.
ExpressVPN also features browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari. No matter how you choose to connect, ExpressVPN promises a fast, secure, and flexible service overall.
Check out our full ExpressVPN review to learn more.
Above all else, NordVPN is known for its absurdly large server network. At the time of writing, it spans over 5,100 nodes in 62 countries worldwide, but it is expanding all the time. This provides unprecedented choice for users looking for a virtual IP address.
But there’s more to it than sheer numbers; NordVPN also offers a variety of specialty servers, which are tailored to different use-cases. For example, streaming sites like Netflix often blacklist the shared IP addresses typically used by VPNs, thereby blocking access to its various content catalogues. NordVPN, however, gives the option for a dedicated IP, which can still be spoofed into another country, but without getting hit by the blacklist.
256-bit AES encryption along with a comprehensive no-logging policy veil your identity and cover your tracks online, so no one will ever know who you are or what you’re doing. Overall, NordVPN offers astounding choice in achieving total anonymity.
Learn more in our full NordVPN review.
CyberGhost manages to achieve an incredible balance of utility and usability. Your subscription enables access to a massive network of over 2,700 servers in 60+ countries worldwide, which might seem overwhelming to a newbie. CyberGhost makes it easy, with one of the most streamlined software interfaces we’ve ever seen. Simply fire up the app on your device, and pick from one of six preset configuration profiles (each tailored to what you want to do online, like torrenting, unblocking websites, or spoofing your IP), and let the VPN do the rest.
This simplicity belies an incredible sophistication in terms of security. Unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption locks your data stream down, which one of the industry’s best no-logging policies acts as your unassailable alibi. Connections are speedy and smooth, and perfectly suited to virtually any task you’d want to take on. A kill switch and DNS leak protection round-out this already-attractive cybersecurity package.
Learn more in our full CyberGhost review.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, but hopefully you have a much deeper understanding of what virtual IP addresses are, and how spoofing works. Additionally, you should have a grasp on the importance of using a VPN as a cybersecurity tool. We’ve presented some of our favorite providers, along with some special discounts to get you started.
What will you use your VIP for? Do you have any questions we didn’t address in the article? Leave us a comment below!