An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique identifier for your online devices that enables you to connect to the internet. Everyone uses an IP address, but there are some potential risks if your IP address falls into the wrong hands.
It’s important to understand how to protect your IP address to keep you safe online and reduce the risk of fraud, identity theft, hacks, and other criminal activity.
What is an IP Address?
An IP address is a unique string of numbers (and sometimes letters) that identifies your online devices, from your home computer to your mobile devices and network router. IP addresses are necessary for your network to identify the devices connected to it, and for you to transmit and receive information online. Without IP addresses, you would be unable to access the internet.
Public vs. Private IP Addresses
Private IP addresses are specific to each device you use to get online, from your computer to your smartphone and tablet. This allows your router to identify and differentiate every device on your network. Private IP addresses aren’t visible to outside third parties when you connect to a private network like your home Wi-Fi.
Public IP addresses are outward-facing IP addresses that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns to the router you use. Every device outside your network will see this IP address. For example, when you connect to a website using your home network, the website will see your public IP address making the request.
The main difference between public and private IP addresses is their visibility. Your private IP addresses enable you to connect your devices to a network and are not visible to others. Your public IP address connects you to the internet and is visible to many third parties.
How Can I Find Out My IP Address?
Finding your IP address is straightforward. You should be able to locate your IP address within the network settings on your home computer or device. Or you can just search “What is my IP address?” online and use a public website that tells you your IP address as you connect to the site.
Is Tracing an IP Address Legal?
Your IP address is public information and tracing it is completely legal as long as it isn’t used for illegal purposes. For example, the websites you visit, the apps you use, and your ISP all collect your IP address. Individual users may also have methods of collecting your IP address.
How Can Someone Find Your IP Address?
There are many ways that someone can find your IP address:
- When you click a link, visit a website, or request to access other types of online content, your IP address is provided to the server on the other end and the owner can view your IP address.
- Your IP address is provided to the service provider when you click an online ad.
- When you share files on a P2P file-sharing network, other users may see your IP address.
- Your email client may reveal your IP address in your outgoing messages (some email providers mask IP addresses for their users).
- Social media platforms store user data, including IP addresses.
- Someone who borrows your device or uses your computer can look up your IP address.
- Criminals may use phishing attacks or malicious links to gain access to your IP address.
- Fake Wi-Fi hotspots that you connect to can attempt to collect your data, including your IP address.
How Can Your IP Address Be Used Against You?
There are many ways that criminals can use your IP address against you:
Track Down Your Identity and Location
Your IP address doesn’t give away your physical address or exact location, but it can provide the approximate area you’re in. If criminals have your IP address and some other data – like your name or username on social media networks – they may be able to piece together your exact location.
Steal Your PII
Your IP address is not linked to other personally identifiable information (PII) like your name, address, or Social Security number (SSN). But using your IP address as a form of identity verification, criminals could attempt to trick your ISP into revealing information about you that could be used for identity theft.
Disable Your Device with a DDoS Attack
When a hacker has your IP address, they could coordinate a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack by bombarding your device or network with traffic, overloading your system, and shutting down your devices.
Impersonate You for Illegal Activities
Criminals may use hacked IP addresses for illegal purposes online and the activity traces back to your IP address.
Track Your Online Activity
If you use the internet at work, your employer can likely use your IP address to track what you do online. The same goes for your home network — if someone has access to it, they may be able to track your online activity (but they can’t do so simply by knowing your IP address).
Hack Your Device
If you don’t have proper security protections, a hacker armed with your IP address could potentially gain unauthorized access to your network using malware or phishing scams. But simply knowing your IP address won’t allow anyone to hack into your device.
Sell it On the Dark Web
Your IP address is public information and isn’t worth much on its own. But criminals who get ahold of your IP address and other PII may be able to sell it online using the dark web.
How Can You Protect Your IP Address?
Here are the best ways to help protect your IP address from criminals and snoops:
Use a VPN Service
Virtual private networks (VPNs) keep you safe and anonymous online by creating a private tunnel that connects you to the internet. Your web traffic is encrypted and routed through a remote server that belongs to the VPN provider. The IP address will appear to come from the VPN provider and not your own network, effectively masking your IP address.
Connect to a Proxy Server
Like VPNs, proxy servers can hide your IP address when you’re online. But unlike VPNs, proxy servers don’t encrypt your online activity to keep it safe from private eyes.
Password Protect Your Devices
If someone manages to gain access to your home computer or mobile device, they can use it to look up your IP address and other sensitive information. Make sure your devices are secure and password protected with unique passwords for each device. Be careful about who you give access to your devices.
Update Your Router
Change the default password for your router to prevent criminals from hacking it and intercepting your web traffic. Make sure to install updates whenever they are rolled out.
Ask for a Dynamic IP Address
Most ISPs use dynamic IP addresses because they are more cost-effective. Dynamic IP addresses are pulled from a large set of IP addresses, and they are updated periodically so you can never have the same IP address for very long. Check if your ISP uses dynamic or static IP addresses and request a dynamic IP address if you don’t have one.
In addition to keeping your IP address safe, you should consider signing up for an identity protection plan that watches out for warning signs of identity theft and offers security tools that keep you safe online. With IdentityIQ services, you gain access to the following benefits:
- Copies of your credit reports and credit scores
- Continuous credit monitoring and identity protection
- Premium VPN and anti-virus software
- $1 million in identity theft insurance underwritten by AIG
- Identity restoration experts.
You’ll gain comprehensive protection of your credit, identity,, and internet activity, so you can get online with better peace of mind.