Everything you do online is based on one important piece of information, your IP address.  This is your number on the internet and at any one point in time is unique to you and you alone.  The full name is Internet Protocol address and you’ve probably seen this series of numbers like  In fact every single device, every laptop, phone or tablet has an IP address when it’s connected to the internet.

The address is used by lots of people online in a variety of ways.  In places like China and Iran, your IP address might lead to a knock on the door by the police if you post the wrong thing online.  In any country, what do you online can be traced back to your computer using this address.  Logs are stored all across the internet in the memory of routers, at your ISP or the logs of the web sites you visit – all of them contain your unique IP address.

Of course unless you live in a place like Iran and are not some sort of cyber criminal – then perhaps this is not a concern for you.   Many people of course are concerned by this lack of privacy and even people in democratic nations are concerned about the lack of privacy there is online.  These people and of course those with something to hide will generally use proxy servers to hide behind a fake ip and keep in the shadows.

Other people will use these servers to hide their IP address for other reasons.  Sometimes web sites block access to people outside a specific country.  Take for example popular media site like Hulu, will only allow access to their site if you have an American IP address.  Many videos uploaded on YouTube are only accessible from specific locations again based on the IP address you are using.  Another popular example is the BBC who have one of the best media and TV sites in the world, again restricted by location.  Although millions do use a VPN to watch the BBC despite their efforts to block access.

In reality a whole host of people are learning about and using VPNs and proxy servers for a wide variety of reasons.  It’s not just hackers and dissident protesting against despotic regimes.  It’s also worth investigating this area if you’re running any sort of online business as multiple IP addresses may be useful for market research and promoting your web sites.

Although people have been using these methods for many years to watch things like UK TV, I personally have been doing this for about 14 years now.  You would have expected some pushback from all the companies who instigated these restrictions in the same place.  They’re do this for a variety of reasons but mostly it’s two – copyright restrictions or profit maximization, sometimes a mixture of both.  Many firms now implement anti-proxy or VPN blocking technology but nobody has figured out a way to block them completely.  The Chinese Government invest a fortune trying to restrict all VPNs and haven’t yet succeeded completely either.

The next generation of proxies and VPNs are set to be even more sophisticated at hiding their tracks.  The weak point of any of these proxies is the IP address, so newer proxies usually operate by loading addresses from a vast central pool.  This means that they can switch between different IPs and classifications as required.