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What does an IP address tell you and how it can put you at risk

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Vehicles are identified through VINs, while humans have Aadhaar Card numbers.  imilarly, our devices that are connected to the internet have unique identifiers, too —  Internet Protocol addresses, commonly known as IP addresses.

Like those other identifiers in our lives, an IP address reveals a little bit about you, namely your geolocation. This information, however, helps make your internet surfing a little better too. How? By recommending you the online content trending in your location.

IP addresses are one of the most vital parts of making the internet accessible to you. But, it can also put you at risk if you don’t remain careful enough.

Below, we’ll further discuss the meaning, purpose, and inner workings of an IP address to explain just what does an IP address tell you — and others.

What is an IP address?

Much like an address of a house, an IP address is a string of numbers assigned to an internet-connected device that governs the exchanged data through a local network or the internet. It provides a way to transform communication between websites, routers,  and computers.

Basically, your computer network uses IP addresses to recognize and communicate with other computers, websites, and all parts of cyberspace. Your internet service provider (ISP) assigns IP addresses to your internet-connected devices, and every IP address is unique. Billions of IP addresses exist, considering every single internet-connected device has an IP address.

You can think of an IP address like a membership card that verifies your identity to enter the World Wide Web. Every device — computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, routers, etc. — that can connect to the internet is a member of the World Wide Web, and all have an IP address. Every websites and computer networks require IP addresses as a form of identification for you to interact with them.

Besides understanding an IP address and how it works, it’s also essential to learn about the purpose of IP addresses.

What is the purpose of an IP address?

An IP address is a digital address for your online accessing devices that reveals your geolocation to help the internet deliver content relevant to you. It is an identifier that  allows data to be communicated between computers and other devices on the  internet or any local network.

For example, Google uses IP addresses to enable their engineers to create services like  Maps, Search, and make Youtube videos accessible to your devices. It’s because of your IP address that you see local restaurants pop up when you search “sushi restaurants.”

How to find your IP address

Simply searching “What's my IP” on Google will show your IP address on the top of the page. It’s as simple as that: The internet provides your IP address back to you. The  internet knows your IP address because it’s assigned to your device, and it is required to browse the internet.

Worth mentioning is that your IP address changes when you connect to a different Wi-Fi network or router. Online users won’t even know the difference and, generally, they don’t need to — much like how they don’t necessarily need to know how to read an IP address.

However, online users need to be aware of what information their IP address reveals.

What information does my IP address reveal?

IP addresses do not reveal your precise location like a home address and never your name, phone number, or other detailed personally identifiable information. Instead, IP  addresses might show your city, ZIP code, or area code of where you are connecting to  the internet at that moment — this is why IP addresses change every time you  connect from a new location or using a new router.

Generally, your router's IP address is revealed instead of your internet-connected  devices such as a computer, tablet, or mobile phone that communicate with a router to connect to the internet. Sure, these internet-connected devices share their IP address  with your router, but your router uses its own IP address to grant your device access to the World Wide Web.

This is why your IP address almost always reveals the geolocation and the name of  your ISP’s nearest servers, not your physical location.

Finally, to put your mind at ease, the following are the answers to a few common IP address FAQs regarding what information an IP address reveals about you:

  • What does an IP address tell you? Mostly, an IP address tells you the city, ZIP code, or area code of your ISP, as well as your ISP’s name.
  • What can an IP address tell you? To some degree, your physical location and also a bit about your internet service provider, like which server you are using to connect to the internet.
  • Can IP addresses reveal your identity? No, not entirely. However, using your IP address, a hacker might be able to follow your online activity and piece together bits of your identity.

How others can find your IP address — and why they want to

It is not as easy as searching “What is [insert name]’s IP address” for others to find your IP address. It takes a bit more legwork. But it’s also not as difficult as some might think, considering with every click, we leave our digital footprints behind online and, in turn, IP addresses too.

Remember, IP addresses are the essential requirement to be able to surf the internet, which includes scrolling through social media sites, filling up internet forums, going into chatrooms, and commenting on blogs. All of these platforms can view your IP address. This means every time you click something online, it’s like signing a guestbook, and your IP address is the signature you leave behind.

Cybercriminals can also find your IP address by hacking into your home network or placing a bug in email HTML.

For a more straightforward approach to find your IP address, a crook might simply  urrow your device and Google “what is my IP address” or inspect the header of an email address. Another way users can see your IP address is by using IP lookup  services. Users can simply copy and paste an IP address into a search bar and discover  a person’s geolocation through services like these.

Authorities, including law enforcement or fraud investigators, can also use subpoenas  to contact your ISP and get your IP address.

But, the question is, would it be extremely risky if someone gets your IP address? Why  would other people want to know your IP address, and what would they do with it?

Is it dangerous for people to know your IP address?

An IP address doesn’t outrightly reveal your personal information or confidential data, which means it’s generally not dangerous for people to know your IP address — but it all depends on who’s getting a hold of it. 

Consider the following parties who might be interested in your IP address and why:

  • Authorities to piece together illegal activities
  • Employers to understand where you’re spending time online at work
    Advertisers to target you with relevant products and services
  • Blacklist databases to block access from spammers  
  • Retailers to cross-check your geolocation with your payment method’s mailing address
  • Chatrooms to block inappropriate users
  • Subscription services to block users from accessing content unavailable in their area or region 
  • Hackers to install malware on your devices1
  • Cybercriminals to put you at risk of Denial of Service attacks 
  • Criminals who, if they already know your personal information, might call your ISP and commit a vishing attack
  • You might even want to use an IP address to confirm whether an online friend or virtual love interest resides where they say they do

As with most things in life, people’s intentions vary. 

Some might be trying to find your IP address with malicious intentions, such as to track you. Others, however, might be watching out for you, such as a well-intentioned bank confirming you are submitting a transfer request.

It’s important to know that just because someone knows your IP address does not necessarily mean they will wind up on your doorstep. Still, you might want to be cautious and follow safety measures to protect your IP address.

How to protect your IP address

The most straightforward way to protect your IP address is to use a virtual private network (VPN), such as Norton VPN. 2 A VPN uses encryption to scramble the online data you deal with and helps keep you anonymous. It changes your IP address completely, placing your geolocation to a different city or country from where you actually are accessing the internet.

Talk about throwing someone off your digital tail.

The bottom line: IP addresses reveal geolocations, and you can prevent this

No, IP addresses are not as sacred as our Credit Card numbers. They don’t give out complete information about you. However, it’s still worth understanding what an IP address reveals and also how to hide your IP address if you want to prevent possible dangers.

After all, being informed is a best practice for protecting our online privacy.

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