What is a fake IP address?
A fake IP address is an IP address shown to websites, services, or other internet users that is different from the one you’ve been assigned by your internet service provider (ISP). With a fake IP address, you’re hiding your actual virtual location from the party at the other end of the line.
Despite the name, a fake IP address is not “fake” at all — it’s a real IP address belonging to a VPN server, web proxy, or some other IP changing tool. After all, you can’t establish a connection without a valid IP address on both ends. But a fake IP address gives others misleading information about you, making it harder to pinpoint or profile you.
A word of caution — don’t confuse “using a fake IP address” with IP spoofing. The first is a legitimate practice used by millions around the world, while the latter is a dangerous cyberattack that attempts to bypass network security by changing the IP address of data packets.
What are the benefits of using a fake IP address?
You don’t normally use the word “fake” to describe anything good, but the benefits of using a fake IP address are very real. Hiding your IP address can make your digital life better in many ways, like:
- Improving online privacy. Your IP address can reveal a lot of sensitive information about you — including where you are in real life. On unsecured websites, this means that your personal opinions in heated discussions come with a return address. In addition, online businesses use your IP address to profile you and target you with ads.
- Improving online security. IP addresses from wealthy areas or famous organizations make tempting targets for hackers. The latter may orchestrate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against known IP addresses to knock victims offline and infiltrate their networks. A fake IP address makes it harder for criminals to scope you out and target you directly.
- Avoiding IP blocklists. IP blocklists are databases of undesirable IP addresses kept by web entities — if a service sees your IP on the list, it simply won’t let you connect. IP blocking is a common way of banning players from private video game servers, as the owners of these servers often lack the means to outright ban your account. Hiding behind a fake IP address lets you bypass these blocklists.
- Accessing local shops and services. Websites, online shops, and app stores may display different content to local residents and foreign visitors. Local versions often offer more services, better prices, and faster updates. With a fake IP address, these sites recognize you as a local and give you more options.
- Watching home content abroad. Many streaming services can only be accessed from IP addresses tied to a particular geolocation. If you are traveling abroad, you can miss out on your favorite shows — even if you have a valid subscription at home. Getting a fake IP in your home country helps you access content you’ve legally paid for while on vacation.
Are there any downsides to using a fake IP address?
The biggest benefit of using a fake IP address is also its greatest weakness — you change your virtual location, which means websites and services from home no longer recognize you as one of their own. This can lead to frustrating games of peek-a-boo with your fake IP address whenever you switch between content abroad and content from your home country.
There are online tools to help alleviate this pain, however. For example, a top-tier virtual private network (VPN) like NordVPN may feature split tunneling, letting you specify which apps use a fake IP address. Thanks to split tunneling, you can safely access content from different regions at the same time while traveling.
The other danger of fake IP addresses is tied to their accessibility — if you can safely set up a fake IP address, anyone can. It can be difficult to verify whether someone is really based where they claim they are. That’s not a knock against using a fake IP address, however — if anything, hiding your own IP helps protect you against potential scammers and hackers.
How to safely fake an IP address
There are multiple tools for faking your IP address, some safer than others. Let’s have a look at the most popular ones and see what they have to offer.
- Reputable VPN provider. Hiding your IP address using a VPN is as simple as connecting to a secure VPN server. Once you connect, any online service you use will only see that VPN server’s IP address. VPNs like NordVPN are by far the safest option to fake an IP address because they provide additional security benefits, such as encrypting your online traffic and warding against common online threats.
- Dedicated IP. When you get a dedicated IP address, you permanently ground your virtual location to where you want. How safe you are using a dedicated IP address depends largely on your service provider — dedicated IPs offered by ISPs typically lack any additional protection, whereas a dedicated IP address from a VPN provider comes with the benefit of VPN encryption.
- Proxy servers. Like a VPN, a proxy server acts as an intermediary between you and the internet, letting you access web content with a fake IP address. Unlike VPNs, proxies won’t protect your connection with encryption, making them much less safe overall. There are many options when it comes to proxies, including setting up a SOCKS5 proxy or using a browser extension (such as NordVPN’s lightweight proxy extensions).
- Tor browser. The onion router (abbreviated as “Tor”) is a network that routes your data through multiple nodes before forwarding it to its destination, making it impossible to determine your real IP address. The downside is that you don’t get to choose your exit node — and thus can’t easily control your fake IP address. In addition, many websites block access from the Tor network, often defeating the purpose of getting a fake IP in the first place.
- Traffic routing. Traffic routing works just like connecting to a proxy server — you’re using another device as an intermediary between you and the internet. However, traffic routing is not limited to dedicated proxy servers — with proper configuration, any device (like your home laptop) can act as an exit node. Traffic routing tools like Meshnet let you access your home IP address from anywhere in the world.
Should I use a free fake IP address generator?
No — with the exception of Tor, using free fake IP address generators is very risky. Despite their name, “free” fake IP address generators (such as free VPNs) can be very costly to run 24/7. Their administrators may restrict bandwidth, forego updates, or limit maintenance to cut down costs — or even sell the data of their users to third parties for profit.
Even the Tor network isn’t completely safe. Tor nodes are run by unvetted volunteers, which means snoops and criminals can set up their own nodes to capture data as it exits the network. Make sure to keep these dangers and the aforementioned fake IP limitations in mind when deciding between using Tor or a VPN.
Can I manually create a fake IP?
No, you cannot manually create a fake IP address — in fact, you cannot create an IP address, period, without assistance from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The IANA uses a complex algorithm to produce valid IP addresses and allocates them to ISPs and other local internet registries.
You might have come across something called a random IP address generator (sometimes called just a random IP generator) while searching the web. Don’t get too excited — these are simply tools that generate random IP addresses for testing purposes. These random IPs are just strings of data that don’t lead anywhere.
Remember — when we talk about fake IP addresses, we’re actually talking about the practice of hiding one valid IP address behind another. You can control the location of your fake IP address (for example, by choosing a VPN server in that country), but you can’t generate one out of thin air.