How to Hide Your IP, Browse the Web Anonymously and Access Restricted Sites

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Internet censorship is something which almost all of us, no matter where we live, encounter in one form or the other. Social networking or video sharing sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are usually blocked in offices. Some sites, like Pandora, are country specific. And if you are in a place like China, well, you’ve heard the censorship stories, haven’t you?

Even if you can visit the sites mentioned above using certain workarounds or tools, your school/company or ISP may record your recent activities, something you might not want.

There are online web proxies too, but many of them are of unknown origin and hence you cannot ensure complete privacy. So how do we hide IP and securely surf the web anonymously? I’d say VPN is probably the best and ultimate solution to bypassing internet censorship in a secure way.

VPN

(Image Courtesy – Cisco Systems )

According to Wikipedia,

A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization’s network. It aims to avoid an expensive system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one organization. The goal of a VPN is to provide the organization with the same, secure capabilities, but at a much lower cost.

While Wikipedia’s definition highlights VPN’s commercial benefit, for users like us, it means that if we use a VPN service (like one we are going to discuss) whose servers are in a specific country, we will be assigned an IP of that location and would be able to browse sites limited to that country privately and securely.

Thus, if you’re using a VPN service provided by US servers, you can visit sites like Hulu and Pandora even if you are outside US. Same is the case when you are in a limited or censored network and using a VPN to connect to that network.

Now, lets talk about some popular and free VPN services that can help you surf the web as freely as possible without worrying about privacy and censorship issues.

Hotspot Shield

Probably, the most popular one among all free VPN providers. Hotspot Shield is an OpenVPN based privacy and security tool, used to encrypt your web browsing when at public hotspots and to circumvent web filters.

Here are the steps to use it.

Download Hotspot Shield and then install the package. The newer version will first launch a download manager for the installation.

hotspot shield free VPN

After downloading is finished, the installer will launch.

hotspotshield free vpn

The only thing I need to mention is that you may not need the Hotspot Shield IE toolbar, so just uncheck it while installing.

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hotspotshield free vpn IE toolbar

Neither do you want to enable these options, I guess.

ad based options in hotspot shield

Once you are done selecting the options, you can click install to begin. If there are any dialog boxes prompting new driver installation, just click “Install”.

Hotspot Shield

Now you can double click Hotspot Shield shortcut, and wait for the connection. Right click the program icon in system tray to switch the VPN connection on or off. There is no need to register or pay for the service, but you will receive advertisements and forced URL redirect sometimes.

Note: Although HotSpot Shield is pretty effective, you cannot watch Hulu videos using it. It’s just that Hulu is smarter. Most of the other US based sites work fine though.

Free VPN

Another well known VPN provider, Free VPN is also free and doesn’t require registration. It has a forced URL redirect and changes the homepage to display ads, but you can buy a paid account to get rid of them (and also enable torrents downloading).

Download Free VPN and install it. If there are any dialog boxes prompting new driver installation, just click “Install”.

Free VPN

After installation, launch Free VPN and you can choose a “FREE” server to establish VPN connections.

free vpn

If you have a paid account, please switch to “Account” tab first, type your account information in the box, and then you can choose  any “PAID” server to connect in the previous tab.

One More – proXPN

Apart from the popular free VPN services introduced above, here is a new one for our readers: proXPN – secure your internet connection instantly (that’s the tagline). All you need do is to register for a free account, then download, install and launch the client.

proxpn free vpn

Oh, and proXPN is ad-free too! :)

So that was about free VPN services that let you hide your IP address and browse the web anonymously through an encrypted connection. These services can also be used, in fact should be used, when you are using a public Wi-Fi so that your internet usage remains secure and private.

Do you know of other such tools and methods to bypass internet censorship effectively? What VPN tools have you tried? Tell us in the comments.

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  • Ashutosh

    I’m sort of a privacy nerd, so have been using Hotspot Shield for sometime (I used the free beta of Astrill for a couple of months, and it was great). But a huge thumbs-up for mentioning proXPN – it’s awesome and I’ll be using it from now on. :)

  • Gouthaman

    I’ve used ProVPN. It’s definitely the best one around.

  • http://www.sqlsteps.com SQL training

    Wow, thanks a lot. I did not know that there were so many VPN clients which could be used freely to browse the web anonymously

  • Jeff Anderson

    I can’t agree more. proXPN is so freakin easy to use. I saw them on reddit today. Total class act!

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  • jasray

    Free VPN isn’t really free–it’s ad supported. After an hour or so of use, users will find their homepage being hijacked–lots of other weird stuff. Read the fine print. To eliminate all of that, one must pay.

    I sort of wonder what happened to Ultra VPN; numerous users haven’t had consistent connections for weeks.

  • John Mack

    I use web proxies. They not only hide your IP but can eliminate cookies, javascript and flash if you want. Often times after using one for a while you will have to find another because they go offline regularly, but that’s a small hassle compared to their benefits.

    • Ashutosh

      Proxies don’t encrypt your browsing data – it’ll keep freely floating around for snooping people (read ISP) to pick it up. VPNs encrypt anything that passes through them, so while the data can still be collected, it can’t be read unless decrypted.

  • Matthias

    Just for your information none of the above VPN clients install without Administrator rights. Most corporate users don’t have these rights. This leaves a Portable browser with custom Proxy settings the only option for these users, right?

    • crazybios

      Is there any way to install any of those vpn without admin right?

  • Shivam

    VPN data can also be intercepted and run through much like the proxie’s one. The VPN provider can monitor the data travelling through the tunnel as an when it wishes.

  • naz0980

    i’ve used tor recently about 1 or 2 moths ago to browse for free and anonymously through my internet provider (MTN Nigeria). but recently, it has been blocked. i want to find out if there is any other software that has the ability to provide free internet access through a specific network like MTN-Nigeria? Their internet is so expensive nd limits data to 3G, thats awful. Please help with any advice you may offer about free and anonymous browsing. thnx

  • jim

    These tools are great. However they will not block your mac address and so your business IT Department will be able to track you at least to the web page of the tools when they run there reports if they are looking, most are. Most IT Dept. will also be able to see what applications are running on your computer. If you do not own the machine you have no privacy, get used to it.

  • Seth

    Go to Ixquick Browser. Click on “My Settings” at the bottom of the page. Click “Secure Socket Layer.” All your searches will now be encrypted. When You find your site, click “proxy,” at the bottom instead of clicking the site link. Your site session will also be encrypted. It works well but links don’t work on some sites.

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  • srikrishnak

    ProXPN looks cool. Problem with HotSpot Shield is the ads. Also the connectivity seems not very stable though the network connection is fine.

  • http://hidemobile.com shme kerosu

    Super artcile, thanks for links. I use just HIDEMOBILE.COM services but I will try also VPN solution. Online proxy are dead and next solution is VPN. Keep up. Cheers!

  • Bill D

    I use ProXPN and every time I activate it I get a “Local Area Connection 2 Speed 10 mbps” notice. My local tech support desk doesn’t know why I have this second connection. Any ideas? I’m not even sure what it means. I also find osme website refuse access saying the particular website has been “abused” by this ip address and I have to disconnect form the VPN in order to see the website.”

  • Mike

    ProXPN, “was” a great service,but sadly I closed my account due to recieveing two notices from them in the space of two months saying that I had made two illigal dowloads of movies. I sent them detailed replies that I had not made these downloads, and that I wanted a complete explanation as to why I was accused of this. In both of their replies I only got the following: “Thank you for your reply, we have now re-activated your account”, no reasons from them as to why I was accused in the first place. I figure that no matter how good a service is, if the provider cannot protect it’s users from outside ellements and worse still, makes the mistake of accusing it’s clients of something they never did, then I did not want to be a client of theirs anymore and I closed my account.

  • mark herr

    The only VPN I could find that allows P2P on certain servers was vpn4all.com
    So far, Im using this service cause it lets me do as much file sharing as I want but only on specific servers. That way I dont get any notices or terminations. Worth a try.

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  • Mephager

    Thanks for the post! Even though I got to it only a year or so after it was written, it’s still very helpfull. I’m using a program that is not based on VPN. What is the difference? Less security? The name of the program is “Free Hide IP”. How would you rate it? It does slow my connection and Google makes troubles not allowing me to surf properly. Do you know why this happens? Will it be the same with a VPN based services? Thanks!

    • http://www.guidingtech.com Abhijeet Mukherjee

      Not sure about Free Hide IP. Never used it. But if you use any such free service, the connection is bound to slow down a bit unless you go for a pro connection where you pay a few dollars monthly. My recommendation is ProXPN, which we mention in the article too. You may either use it as free or if you want good speed and unlimited bandwidth with the service, subscribe to their pro plan.

      • Mephager

        Ok. and what about difference in security? Does it matter if it’s a regular program or VPN? Or let’s say, are there any risks in using a non vpn program?

        • http://www.guidingtech.com Abhijeet Mukherjee

          VPN is more secure because it encrypts the entire connection apart from hiding the IP. So even if anyone hacks into your wireless connection, he won’t be able to see or understand what you are doing.

          • Mephager

            Cool. Thanks allot!

  • Sy

    I couldn’t connect in VPN in my phone. Every time it comes ‘You were disconnected by the communication device. Try reconnecting. If the problem continues, verify your setting.’ Please advice me what to do.

  • Aaron

    A really helpful article. But VPN severs are operated by third-party companies, the question is do you trust them? So I use tools based on famous Tor network, e.g., proxy chain service at http://www.iProxyEver.com

  • Остапенко Константин

    The article is useful indeed, although I believe that for anonymous surfing and bypassing the sites blocking you’d better be using paid vpn servoces. You’ll have more options (your entire web activities will be protected) and it is much more reliable. I’ve tried the following VPN servers: http://anonymous-proxy-server.net/ and http://www.anonymize.net/. If all you need is secure emailing, you may stop at mutemail.com. If you have tried and can recommend other VPN services, please share the information.