Every machine on a network has a unique identifier. Just as you would address a letter to send in the mail, computers use a unique identifier to send data to specific computers back and forth on networks. Most networks today, including all computers on the Internet, use the TCP/IP protocol as the standard wat to communicate. In the TCP/IP protocol, the unique identifier for a computer is called its IP address.
Dynamic IP addresses
If everyone had their own IP address, things wouldn’t work; we would have run out of IP addresses a long time ago. Internet providers now assign IP addresses dynamically, meaning that they are used in rotation. Not all IP addresses are always in use; basically speaking, a free IP address is assigned to you once you’re online instead of you always getting the same one all of the time. This means that when an IP address is not used by one person, it can be used by another.
A subnet means sub-network or a network within a network. Basically, a subnet splits up connections so that the IP addresses can be reused.
For example, in a house with five computers, instead of five IP addresses individually assigned to each machine, there will just be one IP address that will be provided by the Internet provider. This main IP address is assigned to the router in the house; in turn, this router creates a little network and gives IP addresses to the connecting devices.
Despite dynamic IP addresses and subnets, we’re still running out of addresses. Mobile phones, consoles, handhelds, TVs, computers, watches, GPS… any device that connects to the Internet needs an IP address to do so. We needed a new standard, and this is where IPv6 came in.
IPv6 uses a different system that allows for a lot more combinations. IPv6 uses a hexadecimal system instead of binary. Binary has two states—the values one or zero. On the other hand, hexadecimal has 16 values which are 0123456789ABCDEF.
An IPv6 address is made of eight groups of four values in hex. Take this combination: 1234:abcd:5678:efab:9012:cdef:3456:abcd as an example of an IPv6 address.
The hexadecimal system allows way more combinations. To be exact, IPv6 allows the existence of 340 undecillion IP addresses. We probably won’t need that many, so the IP address allocation problem is now solved! There is still more to learn about IPv6 than just additional addresses, as this video shows.
The things you should know about your IP address
You have multiple IP addresses
When people hear of the term “IP address,” they sometimes think of it as a single identifier assigned to their computer. In truth, you actually use multiple IP addresses whenever you go online. These IP addresses are divided into two types: public and private.
Public IP addresses are used to identify your network connection to the Internet. They are the ones most people are familiar with when they hear the “IP address” term, and they are what our tool displays above. Contrary to popular belief, your computer’s IP address is not permanent and is changed whenever you reconnect to a network.
A private IP address is the other type. It is assigned to an individual machine that’s connected to a private network or subnet. Private IP addresses are pre-programmed into your network router and are not visible online.
What’s my IP address revealing about me?
Another common misconception about IP addresses is that they will outright reveal your personal information. In reality, people will see the technical details of your public network connection when they look up your IP address, like:
- The city and country you are in and a radius within a block
- Your Internet service provider (ISP)
- Your Internet connection type
- Your computer’s operating system
- What browser you are using
By themselves, these details reveal little information about you to outsiders. The only one who would know the real name and address associated with a given IP address is the ISP themselves since they use that information to do business with you. Still, ISPs follow strict privacy policies and will not readily reveal your personal details to other parties, unless they’re mandated to do so by authorities.
People can still determine where you are, using your IP address
While your public IP address doesn’t show any information, others can still use it to track you. There are plenty of geolocation tools available online that will show your general location. While these tools are only intended for research purposes, they can be used by anyone, including those who might want to follow you.
You might be thinking, “I don’t give away my IP address, so it’s unlikely that they can use that to locate me.” Yes, you don’t, but there are a surprising number of ways people can determine your IP address, such as:
- Examining your email headers
- Borrowing your computer
- Connecting to your wireless network
- Reading your forum comments
Through these seemingly innocuous actions, tech-savvy people can even find out other information about you aside from your IP address. For example, this video demonstrates a method of obtaining IP addresses from emails and using them to trace the sender.
People and groups who run their own email servers are especially vulnerable to such an exploit.
What’s my IP address going to reveal about me?
While your IP address doesn’t reveal anything on its own, it can be used to discover other pieces of information about you. For instance, website owners use it to track the visitors that come to their sites. By following the pages that your IP address connects to and the frequency of visits, website owners can get a rough idea of your personal preferences and build a profile of you. They then use that profile to recommend other pages for you to visit.
This method is, by no means, problematic. Websites though are not the only ones using your IP address to track your online activities and build profiles. Google itself, and other data brokers like them, rely on this method to target online advertisements to you. All these targeted ads can become intrusive at some point.
There are other ways your IP address can be exploited
Getting pieces of information is not the only way that others can use your IP address against you. They can also use it to compromise your computer or network connection in a variety of ways.
One of these ways is port mapping where hackers test your IP address to determine if there are open ports or other vulnerabilities. They then use these exposed ports to infiltrate your computer and do a variety of attacks, like:
- Changing your computer settings
- Viewing your files
- Placing malicious programs
You may not realize this, but sensitive information stored in your computer may have already been stolen through such tactics.
Denial of service (DoS) attacks are another common means of exploiting an unprotected IP address. In this one, the exploiter sends a large number of connection requests to your address, preventing you from connecting to the Internet. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are a more severe version of DoS attacks, which is explained below.
Such attacks are commonly used to disable websites, but they can also be used against individual users to disrupt their connections.
Your exposed IP could also be used for IP spoofing. This is a practice where hackers mimic a legitimate IP address like yours and use it to conduct illicit activities on the Internet, like:
- Launching DoS and DDoS attacks
- Intercepting and stealing information
- Using your IP address to conduct fraudulent transactions
When authorities investigate such activities, the actions are traced back to your IP address and location. You end up having to answer their questions regarding such activities even though you are not involved in them.
You can actually hide your IP address
With all the privacy concerns and issues that can be caused by an exposed IP address, hiding yours is one of the first steps you should do to easily increase your online security. Here are some of the ways you can prevent others from viewing your IP address.
Use proxy servers
Proxies are specialized web servers that mask your IP address with their own. They work by first receiving your request to connect to a website and then sending a copy of that request to that site. Since you don’t connect directly to the site, it never sees your IP address.
However, a major disadvantage of proxies is that they don’t encrypt your traffic. This means that even though your IP address is masked, others can still intercept and read your information. Also, proxies can become slow due to the number of connecting users.
Tor is a free browser designed for anonymous Internet surfing. It connects to a volunteer-operated network that routes your traffic through several servers before accessing a site. This hides your original IP address under several other addresses, making it harder for others to pinpoint you. You can even select a country-specific IP address for certain purposes, as demonstrated here.
Since it is free, Tor is a quick way for hiding your IP address. However, one limitation to consider when using Tor is the slower page loading times due to the multiple servers where your traffic has to go through. You can’t use it to stream videos or torrent, it’s simply too slow! Even Tor themselves recommend you not do it.
Use an alternative search engine
As mentioned earlier, Google and other major search engines track your IP address whenever you use them. To get away from them and the constant stream of targeted ads, consider switching to an alternative search engine like DuckGoGo or StartPage. These search engines do not collect and store your IP address and other information. These search engines work best when paired with other methods of hiding your IP addresses.
What’s my IP address’ best way to be hidden? A
While the other ways of hiding your IP address work fine, you will want something more effective for long-term security. This is where virtual private networks (VPNs) come in. VPNs work in the same principles as proxies or the Tor network; they direct your Internet traffic through dedicated servers to mask your IP address.
The main difference between VPNs and the other methods is that VPNs also encrypt your Internet traffic. Encryption provides another layer of security, keeping people from peering into the information you send. The video below from ExpressVPN explains how encryption works to protect the data you transmit.
- Automatic IP address changing: Certain VPNs automatically switch your visible IP address several times, making it harder for parties to trace you.
- No logs policy: Reputable
VPNservices do not log or store your browsing and user information, keeping you anonymous.
- Multiple servers: VPNs typically offer a wider server selection across the globe for greater flexibility of use.
- Kill switches: This feature automatically cuts off your connection when connection quality drops, protecting you from potential IP address leaks.
These features work together to ensure that your actual IP address is kept secret online. Check our VPN reviews to find out more about these features, and which companies offer the best combination of these features for your needs.