(Guest writer: Mykola Srebniuk)
Our digital profile consists of more than just the pics we share and posts we like. Some things on the Intenet can reveal more details about you and your life than your social media accounts.
Your IP is one of them.
In this (hopefully enjoyable and educative) piece of writing, we’ll cover the basic stuff about IP addresses. What they are, the kinds of IPs that exist, how you can check your IP address, and what information it reveals to the Intenet.
What’s an IP Address?
Some compare IPs to Social Security Numbers (SSN). But your IP, unlike SSN, changes with time and can be different depending on where you are. We’d compare an IP to a person’s home address, but on the Intenet. As people move throughout their lives, their addresses change. So do their IPs, although, much, much more often.
Technologically speaking, an IP address is a number that uniquely identifies a device in a particular network. This network can be Wi-Fi, cellular, or even a local offline network.
Anatomy of An IP Address
Disclaimer: This article will cover IPv4 addresses — the most common IPs used today.
A typical IPv4 address looks something like this —
188.8.131.52. It’s divided into 4 blocks called octets, where the first three parts show the network address.
They point to where the network is located and identify its class. The last decimal part is known as the host part. It identifies the device within the local network.
Here’s how to make it clear. Let’s say you have a Wi-Fi router at home. Your laptop, your smartphone, and possibly even your smart fridge are all connected to this Wi-Fi. All of them will have unique IP addresses with the same first three blocks of numbers.
The last parts will be different as they identify each particular device.
Types of IP Addresses
IP addresses can be private or public.
A private IP address is assigned to each device in a local (read — offline) computer network. Private IPs are not connected to the Intenet, and you won’t be able to connect to a device with its private IP address unless you’re on the same local network. An example of a private IP address is an IP of a printer.
Public IPs are the ones that make the world so cyberpunk-ish, as they identify all devices connected to the web. If a public IP address of a device on the same network doesn’t change with time, it’s called static. If it does, it’s called dynamic.
Easy, isn’t it?
Where to Check Your IP Address?
Various services allow you to check your IP address. For example, you can do it on this website.
How Can Someone Find Out Your IP Address?
Now to the serious part. All websites and apps you use can see your IP address. As the IP is a person’s primary identifier, it, in the wrong hands, can lead to a loss of identity, data, and hacking attacks.
Your IP Is A Part of your Digital Footprint
Your digital footprint consists of all the data you leave on the Intenet, both knowingly and unknowingly. It also includes clicks, purchases, searches, and your IP address. Companies often use your IP “connect the dots” between your actions on the web.
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Why should you care about the IP address being a part of your digital footprint? Each time you do something on the web, your IP gets logged in an endless web of data-collecting servers as well as the information about what you do online.
Even if you believe you have nothing to hide, you do. Think of your medical information, which can be gathered by tracking your searches with your IP.
Which Platforms Can See Your IP Address?
Long story short, all of them. All websites and online services you visit can see (and possibly track) your IP address. It’s not always bad — many of them do it to find out where you live to know what language you use, or to help you find local content.
All social networks see your IP address too. In anonymous image boards and forums like 4chan, an IP address is the only thing they know about their users.
How Other People (Not Websites) Can Figure Out Your IP?
For other people finding out your IP address is a little bit more complicated.
One of the approaches for doing it is to use a link shortener with an IP logger. Once a person who received the link clicks on it, the page they were looking for will open up.
They won’t suspect anything, but their IP will be logged by someone else. It’s not hard to do — you can try this out yourself on iplogger.org, for example. That’s why it’s crucial to be careful with links you get in your private messages from unknown people.
Which Information an IP Reveals?
By this time, you might be wondering:
“What’s all this buzz around my IP address? OK, it’s a number that kinda identifies my device and can be tracked by websites, but what does it tell about me?“
Here (finally) comes the part where we’ll show you what your IP can reveal about you.
Information Your IP Potentially Holds
Knowing your IP address makes it possible to find out these things:
- Your location and postal code. Depending on various factors, the detectable area from your IP may include your country, region, city, and ZIP code.
- Your Intenet Provider. Your IP shows who owns and operates your Intenet network.
If we google an IP address, it’s possible to find out about:
- Your contributions to online forums. As some of them don’t have a registration system, they log your IP address.
- Contributions to Wikipedia. Wikipedia logs your IP address if you make anonymous contributions and some glimpses of these edits can be found with googling.
- Your peer-to-peer (P2P) activities. Most torrent clients like μTorrent use your IP address for file sharing. As a result, your IP becomes publicly visible and paired with a file you want to download. You can even check whether your IP was detected torrenting on this website.
These pieces of personal information can be enough to reveal somebody’s political preferences and religious beliefs. Also, as torrenting copyrighted files is punishable in many countries, information received from a person’s IP address may even be used as evidence in court.
Who’s Interested In Knowing Your IP?
Some groups of people are particularly interested in knowing your IP.
- Your employer may want to know your IP address to see what you do on the Intenet during your working hours.
- Advertisers would like your IP to get your approximate location to target you with region-specific offers and track you online.
- Authorities often monitor users’ IPs for detecting suspicious activities and catching cybercriminals.
- Cybercriminals can use your IP to look up information about you, launch DDoS attacks, or install malware on your devices.
- Retailers & e-commerce. Your IP address lets them double-check your location with the mailing address from your payment method.
How to Hide Your IP Address?
It’s not hard to hide your real IP. Here are a few ways to do that.
Connect to a proxy
A proxy changes your IP, but it doesn’t secure your data. Some proxies can even be data brokers that log down every action of their users. Also, website proxies only change the IP of a certain browser tab, while all the other traffic from your device retains the initial IP address.
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Use Tor Browser
Tor is a free and open-source web browser that changes your IP address and encrypts your data. Tor is also the only way to access the .onion sites, known as the dark web. As Tor is a community-powered software, its speeds aren’t the fastest.
It’s quite impossible to download something over Tor or stream a movie.
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Use a VPN
Virtual Private Network routes your Intenet traffic through a VPN server located somewhere else in the world. As a result, your real IP gets masked, and the world sees the VPN server’s IP address, which can’t be traced back to you.
Also, a VPN solution like ClearVPN encrypts your online data. Even if your traffic gets intercepted, nobody will be able to understand what websites you visited due to complex encryption. ClearVPN has industry-grade encryption protocols to help you stay private online.
Here are some benefits of using a VPN for changing your IP.
- Fast speeds. VPNs maintain their own servers. As a result, their connection speeds are vastly superior to those from Tor and proxy servers.
- Full traffic protection. Proxy servers and Tor only protect certain parts of your web traffic. With a VPN, every bit of data that leaves your device gets encrypted.
- Anti-DDoS. VPNs allow online gamers to secure their matches from DDoS attacks by hiding the IP address of the device.
You can control your IP. Most VPNs let you pick a server or a country you want to connect to. This way, you get to choose what your new IP address will look like.
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Use public Wi-Fi
This will change your IP address, but there are multiple drawbacks to this method. The most crucial one is that public Wi-Fi often lacks encryption and has security holes cybercriminals can exploit.
If they succeed in hacking it, they’ll be able to spy on your actions online or even steal your data like passwords and online banking credentials.
Let’s Sum It Up
Your IP is like your home address on the Intenet. It is a part of your digital footprint and can be used to identify you on the Intenet. All websites and services you visit can see your IP address. Other people can figure it out too — by making you click on an IP-tracking link.
Your IP can reveal your location and the information about your Intenet Provider. With a little bit of googling, your IP address can potentially show your contributions to Wikipedia and various online forums. It’s also possible to find out about your torrenting activities, including what kinds of files you download.
Luckily, it’s not hard to hide your real IP address. You can use public Wi-Fi to do it, although it puts your privacy and security of your data at risk, as free Wi-Fi networks can be exploited by cybercriminals. You can connect to a proxy server, but this will protect only some tabs of your browser. Also, most proxies lack encryption.
You can use Tor — an anonymous browser that encrypts your data and routes your traffic through a network of other computers. It’s the best option if you’re after complete privacy, but its speeds are quite slow, and it’s impossible to download files or stream content via Tor.
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The easiest way to change your IP without missing out on speeds and security is to connect to a VPN. It encrypts all the traffic from your device and allows you to have DDoS-free gaming sessions, fast and secure downloads, and HD streaming. Also, with a VPN, you can control how your new IP address will look like.
(This guest post is written by Mykola Srebniuk for Hongkiat.com. Mykola is the Head of Information Security of MacPaw Inc (macpaw.com). He has spent 15 years in computer networking and cybersecurity. Passionate about building and deploying security solutions and processes from scratch, helping to stay companies secure and prone against cyber threats.)