What happens if you use an online forum? Can a forum record your IP address? Can someone trace your forum posts back to you via your ISP? If you’re confused about whether you need a VPN for forums, continue reading. I’ll answer all your questions on this topic right now.
What is an IP Address?
Every internet-capable device has an IP address. It’s a unique number that keeps track of data exchanges. For efficiency (and to avoid running out of addresses), networks use internal IP addresses to identify devices and then route them through an ISP-assigned external IP address.
Rather than connecting every device in every home, office, and school directly to the internet routers direct traffic for numerous devices through a single external IP address.
Internal and External IP Addresses
In most environments, your computers and devices will have a unique internal IP address that’s routed to an external IP address.
An internal address usually looks something like, “192.168.0.7.” Within your network, every internal IP address is unique.
At home, your ISP assigns your external IP address to your router. When data leaves your home network, it becomes permanently imprinted with that number.
Web Servers Log IP Addresses
When you visit A web site, you might feel safe, but you’re not safe.
Web servers (and every router through which your data passes) store your IP address in a log. They also store what resources you accessed as well as metadata such as the date and time.
When you visit a forum, the server that runs the forum’s software records your IP address and all the pages that you visit. If you post information to the forum, the server knows that the person with your IP address (you) created that post.
An investigator, snoop, or political activist can find your IP address, connect it to you via your ISP, and dox you, blackmail you, arrest you, etc.
Your IP and Geolocation
Geolocation services can identify the location of your device without the aid of a GPS.
Services such as IP2Location, ipinfo.io, and DB-IP only begin to illustrate the publicly available data about your unique IP address.
Posting photos to a forum can also disclose your location via EXIF data. If you don’t remove EXIF data from your images before uploading them, anyone can view the precise location where the photo was created.
In other words, people who want to identify you can often do so without accessing your ISP’s records.
Does a VPN hide your IP address from forums?
Using a VPN can prevent the association of your online activities with your unique ISP-assigned IP address. Your VPN app creates an encrypted tunnel from your devices, through your ISP, and to your VPN server.
Your VPN service will assign you a new IP address. Assuming that you’ve chosen an anonymous, “no logs” VPN, no one can connect your online activity to you via your IP address.
Yes. A VPN can hide your IP address from online forums.
A VPN Can’t Hide Your Log in Credentials
Most forums require you to log in before posting or downloading content. Therefore, if you created your forum account while using your ISP-assigned IP address, your entire forum account is traceable to you.
Your ISP won’t know that you’re visiting a forum. However, you reveal your true identity by logging into the forum.
How Can I Anonymously Use a Forum?
To anonymously use an online forum, you must connect to a VPN before creating an account. That way, your forum’s server will log your VPN’s IP address, not your IP address.
After creating a forum account while using an anonymous IP address, never connect to that forum with your real, ISP-assigned IP address.
If you don’t use a VPN, your forum’s operator, hackers, government agents, and police can track your account or forum post to your house, via your ISP (e.g., Comcast, or Verizon).
My Forum Blocked My IP Address. Can a VPN Help?
Yes. Simply disconnect from your VPN and reconnect, preferably to a different server. You’ll have a new IP address and you can view your forum’s content.
REMINDER: A VPN can’t help you if your forum has blocked or canceled your user account.