Between the recent scandals involving Cambridge Analytica and the innumerable data breaches that hit the news every few weeks, it’s become obvious enough that Internet security and personal privacy online are issues that critically deserve our attention. Staying safe online in 2018 is very different from what we may have concerned ourselves with back in 1998 or even 2008. Times have changed.
I mean, I get it. When the news first broke about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I met the report almost with a snide indifference. People were getting upset that their personal information was being sold, when they openly volunteered that personal information in the first place. If you really want to know which Game of Thrones character you are, that’s kind of the price you pay for participating in those silly quizzes and openly accepting that these websites will gain full access to your Facebook account.
But no one ever reads the fine print. They just want to know how much of a foodie they really are, so that they can share their 95% test score with the rest of their Facebook friends. That’s just the way things are. But what about all the data that you’re not openly and explicitly agreeing to share with third parties? You’re constantly sharing personal data with websites and online services.
And one big component of that is your IP address.
Perhaps one of the best ways to understand what is an IP address in the first place is to equate it to your home mailing address. If you give out your home address, someone can look it up on a map and figure out where you live. That address may not necessarily indicate things down to an individual level; the mailing address alone won’t determine whether it’s you, your spouse, or your tap-happy toddler, but they’ll know it’s that house.
An IP address works in much the same way. It can trace things back to a particular point of contact, namely your modem/router as it connects to your Internet service provider (ISP). It may not necessarily be able to zero in on your work desktop compared to your wife’s gaming laptop, but it’ll know it comes from this particular place. And every website or web service you use has access to your IP address. And in many cases, it keeps logs of it.
But did you know that you can change your IP address? Hopping over to another physical location, like a nearby coffee shop, is one way to do it, but that’s hardly practical for everyday use. Instead, you might use a combination of other strategies to change your IP address every so often. That way, the bread crumbs you leave on the web won’t leave as obvious a trail back to your home.
Proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) are one path that you can take. In effect, your Internet traffic gets routed through these other servers so that it appears you are going online through them rather than through your modem on your ISP. You can also hop into your Windows settings to release the IP address too, though this may only affect the internal IP on your network and not the public IP address shared with the world.
Maybe that’s all you need. Maybe your concern isn’t so much about Internet security and privacy, and instead you’re just wondering why your device is failing to get online for some Fortnite action. Priorities and such, after all.