How to Hide your Presence in Real Life – from ISPs, Big Brother or Just the TV Company
There’s no doubt that if you want some level of privacy online then you’ll need something to hide your location. This is generally achieved by using something called a proxy or VPN which can keep your identity secret. However there’s lots of different types and it’s actually becoming a little confusing !
What is a Proxy Server ?
A proxy server is a computer system that sits between two other systems and acts as a go-between for data security. It allows users to browse the Internet anonymously by routing their traffic through the proxy server on its way to the destination address.
Proxy servers can vary in functionality, depending on your use case or company policy, but they provide varying levels of privacy and security based on how you configure them.
The key point for anyone online is that they hide your computer and location from any website you visit. So you can use a proxy to completely protect your privacy and anonymity. It prevents tracking, logging and websites from installing all sorts of cookies and tracking files on your computer too.
Proxy Has Its Own IP Address
This is actually crucial – a proxy server is basically a computer with its own IP address. It might sound obvious but it’s actually an incredibly useful asset. For example a proxy server can be used to bypass all sorts of geo-targeting blocks.
Many of the world’s biggest websites restrict or customize what you can see depending on your physical location. They work this out largely by looking up where your IP address is registered to. However if you connect via a proxy server then they will only see the location and address of the proxy.
Bypass Geo-Target Blocks
Which means if you want to access a site which is restricted to a specific location a proxy can help. Just connect to a proxy located and that country and you’ll be able to use the site without restrictions. So a surfer based in South Africa could access US only sites simply by bouncing their connection through a US server.
This is incredibly useful to all sorts of people, from people just wanting to watch a TV station online (most of which are restricted based on location) to companies and businesses who want to market their goods in another country.
The large proxy and VPN providers like NordVPN have added thousand of servers to maximise this benefit. Meaning you can switch to virtually any country in the world just by selecting a proxy in the country you need.
So Many Proxy types – Which Do I Need ?
You’ll find lots of different types of proxies and VPNs online. The ones you need are largely dependent on what you want to achieve. Most websites and services don’t really like the use of proxies simply because they lose the control and ability to monitor their visitors.
Therefore they will attempt to identify proxy use and limit it whenever possible. The proxy you need will largely be dependant on how hard they try to block these connections. On the extremes you’ll find things like e-commerce servers selling limited edition tickets or sportswear. Sneakerheads always need the highest category proxies to access their goals !
VPNs are OK for Most Entertainment Sites
If your goal is to access an entertainment site like the BBC iPlayer or Hulu then currently a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service is normally enough. It’s important to note that a VPN in itself is no less secure or anonymous than a proxy in fact quite the opposite. A VPN server is similar to a proxy but with an added layer of encryption.
It’s simply the fact that VPNs are normally marketed as a low cost privacy solution and their servers and IP addresses are generally shared among thousands of users. This makes VPN services like NordVPN much cheaper and perfect for many purposes. Generally most of the entertainment sites will work fine with VPNs although you should check for really popular ones like Netflix and BBC iPlayer who have started blocking VPNs too. For most sites though streaming through a VPN is the best option.
So Many Different Types of Proxies!
It can get bewildering when you see all these different types of proxies to find the ones you actually need. What makes it worse is often people call these proxies by different names, using the same terms for completely different types.
We’ve got many different explanations on these pages for rotating proxies, datacenter, forward, anonymous proxies which you can explore here. However there’s only really two important factors that differentiate all these types which you should definitely understand –
Where the Proxy is Hosted
Where that proxy is hosted is vitally important for a variety of reasons. However the two crucial factors are security and performance. Anyone can host an online proxy and sell access to it online. There’s plenty of scripts and instructions to install basic proxy servers. Many home broadband connections can support a proxy or VPN server. In fact many of the best modem/routers have VPN client functionality built in.
Also many types of proxies are actually relayed through ordinary users computers.
However this is not great for either security or performance. The best place for a proxy server to be hosted is in specially designed datacenters with fast connections, unlimited bandwidth and experienced support staff.
What IP Addresses are Assigned to the Proxy
This is arguably the most important factor, what IP address is assigned to the proxy when it makes your outbound connection. The reason it’s so vital is that this IP address represents you –
- if the IP address is Spanish – the website will assume you’re from Spain.
- if the IP address has been blacklist for sending Spam – you’ll be blocked too.
- if the IP address is registered to a University – you’ll be assumed to be from there.
These are just a couple of examples there’s literally thousands of possibilities. The important thing to remember is that while you’re connected using a particular IP address, you’ll assume the identity of that address too.
So if you accessed your multi-million pound Instagram account using an IP address used by cybercriminals – you’re asking for trouble. Some IP addresses are much more trusted than others and the higher the level of trust generally the more secure and safer the proxy is.
It’s also why you’ll find huge variations in the costs of proxies. Often it’s simply to do with the IP addresses they use and how they manage them. Cheap and nasty IP addresses used by hackers and spammers are obviously going to be cheaper than high quality addresses.
What is a Residential IP Proxy?
First of all we need to define the IP address part because it’s the most important component of these proxies.
What’s a Residential IP Address
All IP addresses are technically the same, they are unique network numbers which every device needs in order to access the internet. However just like a normal postal address, they are not entirely equal. Every IP address is registered to an owner and classified for a specific type of use. We have educational IP addresses, commercial IP addresses and residential IP address.
A residential IP address is usually registered to an Internet Service Provider for allocation to it’s customers. When you connect via an ISP connection these are the IP addresses which you end up using.
Commercial IP Addresses = Proxies
Most traditional proxies use commercially registered IP addresses. These work perfectly for connecting to websites and resources on the web however there is a problem. Any website can look up and check where an IP address is registered to.
If a website is classified as commercial then it almost certainly doesn’t belong to an ordinary home user. In fact many websites will automatically detect and flag such IP addresses as suspicious or proxy connections.
Obviously being flagged as a potential proxy as soon as you connect isn’t ideal for anonymity. Worst still many websites and applications will either limit or restrict access if you use these IP addresses. Indeed for many purposes especially those which involve financial transactions these commercially registered IP addresses on most proxies are becoming next to useless.
Residential IP Proxy = Trust
There’s absolutely no point using a proxy if you can’t access the websites or resources you need. It’s become increasingly true that a proxy is only as useful as the IP addresses it uses. If you’re using a proxy to hide your location and identity then you need to use one with IP addresses that match ordinary users.
The newest generation of proxies, the ones that websites can’t detect use these residential IP addresses or mobile IP addresses (assigned to mobile phone gateways). The older ones use standard commercial IPs and are normally referred to as datacenter proxies. Most tasks requiring a decent level of anonymity need these residential IP proxies to work.
Obtaining Residential IPs
These residential proxies have been around a few years now. However they have been relatively scarce and quite expensive for one reason – it’s hard to get hold of residential IP addresses. These addresses are only released to large telecom companies or Internet service providers for use with home users.
The only reliable way to get any volume of residential IPs has been to deal with the home users directly. Companies like Bright Data/Luminati have developed huge networks of residential IP addresses by a simple model. They allow users access to free software and applications in exchange for ‘lending’ the network their IP address when connected.
Users of their proxy network can then relay their connections through ‘genuine’ residential IPs of the home users.
The Problems with Residential Loaned IP Addresses
This sounds good for anonymity, after all what could be safer than routing directly through random home user’s internet connections. However there are many problems with this model which are mainly around reliability and connectivity.
Availability of Addresses
The first major issue is that you have no direct control over how long the residential IP address is available to you. Generally this is determined by how long the user is utilising your application. As soon as they finish or just log off, then that IP address is not longer available to your network. Which means if any proxy is using that IP address it will have to be switched straight away to another.
This can cause huge issues especially in sensitive e-commerce environments. On many websites it doesn’t really cause an issue but constantly rotating IP addresses can be flagged as suspicious on many sites. Also if the replacement IP address is in another location that’s going to look suspicious too. If you’ve paid for a US residential IP proxy then having your address switch from New York to Los Angeles could be a huge red flag.
Static Residential IP Proxy
It’s important to remember that if you use one of the earlier residential proxies then you’re unlikely to get a static IP address. If this is important to you, and in many situations it’s essential – then you need to make sure you get a proxy which supports static residential IPs. There have been some of these around for many years in very small numbers, companies like Storm Proxies have obtained limited numbers of residential IPs by using ordinary, dedicated residential connections, However this is difficult and expensive to scale up to any significant numbers.
Most ordinary residential proxies don’t supply static IPs at all. You should certainly check this if it’s important to you.
Geo-Targeting e.g. UK Residential IP Proxy
Many of us need residential IP addresses in very specific locations to bypass increasingly advanced geo-targeting from websites. A US IP address is of little use to access many UK based resources for example and of course vice versa. As mentioned it’s also often important that these IP addresses don’t change even with similar geographical locations. Without a consistent and stable supply of these addresses it’s extremely difficult for any company to support exact geo-targeting needs. There are a couple of the larger companies who can like Smart Proxies and Bright Data simply because they have such large networks. Most providers won’t be able to support these requirements though for residential IP addresses.
ISP Proxies – The Solution
The only real solution to most of these issues is to be able to obtain genuine residential IP address ranges from the ISPs directly. However the problem is that this has never really been possible even with the best proxy providers. The Internet Service Providers would only use these addresses for residential home customers. This is of course the reason that they’re so valuable, the very fact that it was the only way you could obtain a real residential IP address directly.
It seems that something’s changed, for now a couple of the larger more professional and corporate focussed proxy providers now have access to their own residential IPs. These have been leased directly from ISPs and Telecoms companies for use on their proxy network. Instead of messing around with borrowed IPs routed through other people’s hardware this means that the proxies can be run directly from datacenters.
Best Residential IP Proxy
There’s no doubt that this offers the ultimate in speed, performance and anonymity. Basically a residential IP proxy service with all the benefits of a data center proxy combined with static residential IP addresses too. You can keep the same IP address for as long as you like and even maintain exclusive access to it to. These residential proxies are known as static residential proxies or more commonly ISP proxies. In 2024 some firms like IPBurger are even allowing you to use these addresses through a VPN client too – yep you can get a dedicated UK residential VPN, which adds that extra layer of protection. Remember though the encryption layer can also set off flags for many security systems even though they won’t be able to read the data.
There’s not a lot of providers offering these ISP proxies currently and this is unlikely to change much in the future. There’s going to be a limit to how many companies are able to obtain residential IP address ranges from the major ISP companies. They certainly will not be dealing with the majority of small, private proxy providers which make up a large section of the market.
How to Hide your Presence in Real life Online
It sounds kind of creepy, but in essence finding a residential proxy is for doing just that. Anyone can use a simple proxy or a standard VPN and it will hide their data and protect their location but it doesn’t really hide your presence completely. Indeed any standard VPN is fairly easy to spot, the IP addresses are registered to commercial organisations and that encryption isn’t hard to spot either – although deciphering it is much, much harder.
Most commercial tasks online require you hide your location and the fact that you’re using an anonymizing service like a VPN or proxy. Which is why a residential or mobile IP is pretty much essential – without it you’ll be flagged simply by your IP address. If you need multiple identities like this then a rotating residential IP address is by far your most economical option.