Anonymous Proxy Servers

Every time you type a URL into your Web browser and click Enter, your computer sends a request to a Web server, which then delivers the Web page back to you. To do this, the Web server needs to know your IP address. So much for surfing anonymously, right?

Not necessarily: One way to avoid revealing your IP address to every Web server you contact is to use a proxy server. A proxy server is a machine that sits between you and the rest of the Internet. Every page request you make goes through the proxy server first.

An anonymous proxy server is a special kind of proxy loaded with software that erases your IP address from any page requests and substitutes its own. When the page is sent back by the Web server, the proxy server then forwards it along to you free of any additional software scripts that might compromise your identity.

The most popular kind of anonymous proxy servers are Web-based proxies. All you have to do is go to the Web site of the proxy service, enter the desired URL in a special address box and the service will relay the request to the Web server anonymously.

There are some downsides to anonymous proxy servers. Because each incoming and outgoing page needs to be processed by the proxy server, this can often result in slow page loading times. And since the proxy server attempts to delete or bypass any suspicious elements on the returning Web page, a lot of pages will load with errors.

Make sure that you use a recognized Web proxy with a clear privacy policy. There have been cases of malicious hackers who have set up phony anonymous Web proxies to collect information from unwitting clients. When you use a proxy server, the information often travels unencrypted, allowing hackers to see things like usernames, passwords and other sensitive information [source: WhatIsMyIPAddress.com].

You should also avoid so-called "open proxies." These are proxy servers that claim to have been abandoned and accidentally left "open" for one reason or another. Many of these proxies are booby traps set up by malicious hackers who want to steal personally identifiable information. Some open proxies are actually living on the computers of unwitting users who have been infected by a computer virus.

Now that you know how to hide your IP address online, it's time to check your Web browser settings.