A hand holding a round shape with an IP location pin above it

If someone gets their hands on your IP (Internet Protocol) address, they can potentially track your moves online, send targeted ads, issue bans in games and websites, launch DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks, and even commit cybercrimes on your behalf.

Of course, the subject is wider than that. Bad actors may need more than just your IP address to commit some of these activities. Let’s dive into the things that your IP can be used for and how you can protect yourself.

Table of contents

    Understanding IP addresses

    Before we start tackling issues related to IP addresses, we should run through the basics of what an IP is. Most of you will probably know this information already, but it’s essential in order to fully understand the risks associated with IPs, so a quick reminder won’t hurt.

    What’s an IP?

    IP stands for Internet Protocol. It’s a shorthand for Internet Protocol address. It serves as a home address for computers and other devices on the internet. It’s vital for transferring data online — without IPs, your device wouldn’t know how to reach a website or service, and they wouldn’t know how to send traffic back to your device.

    Typically, an IP looks something like this:

    How do I find my IP?

    The easiest way to find your IP address is through online IP-checking tools, which are typically free and easy to use. You can use our What is my IP page to do so!

    What information can someone gain from my IP?

    The easiest data to get from your real IP address is your approximate physical location and your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Unfortunately, IP addresses often fall into the wrong hands. But what exactly can happen if a bad actor gets your IP? Follow along to learn about the main threats associated with IP address leaks.

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    What can someone do with your IP address?

    By having your IP address, third parties can tell your approximate physical location. They may use this information to alter or damage your online experience, especially when they have access to other types of information, such as your SSN (Social Security Number) or ID number.

    Let’s take a closer look at what third parties may do if they get their hands on your IP address.

    Restrict access based on your geographic location

    Many websites or services may be restricted based on your physical location — it’s called geoblocking. Have you ever run into an error saying that a video is unavailable in your area? If so, you know what it means.

    IP addresses give away your location, which is how a website knows when to restrict your access to its content. Unlike IP bans, these restrictions are not personal and are applied to everyone in that physical location.

    Show personalized ads

    Advertisers may track your information by monitoring the articles you’ve opened. And, sure, you might like to see online ads for things that match your interests. Yet, this often makes future searches less organic as your search engine is more focused on selling you things based on your IP and other personally identifiable information.

    Ban you in online games

    When it comes to popular video games or online services, you probably won’t get banned unless there’s a good reason for it. However, if you like to play some small indie games or join independently run servers, their admins may ban you just because they don’t like you. For example, if you beat them at their own game.

    Most such bans work by banning your IP address. So if you want to avoid them, using a VPN to hide your IP is one of the easiest ways to do so.

    Track your online activity

    Let’s say an employer would like to know exactly what you do on your laptop while working. Luckily for them (and less so for you), they can use your IP address to track your every move via the work Wi-Fi network.

    Execute DDoS attacks 

    Distributed denial-of-service attacks are malicious attempts to disrupt the normal traffic of a target by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic.

    Imagine opening so many apps on an old computer that it starts lagging or even freezes because it ran out of resources. A DDoS attack does a similar thing by flooding your network with connections until you can no longer access anything. This can be done by petty gamers or hackers looking to ruin someone’s day.

    Run personalized phishing attacks 

    If a hacker knows your IP, they could easily find your ISP. This information may allow them to pretend to be your ISP and run elaborate phishing attacks in an attempt to steal personal data. If they succeed, they could steal your identity or sell your financial details on the dark web.

    Impersonate you to commit illegal activities 

    If hackers manage to install malware on your operating system, they could route their activity through your IP address instead of their own. This way, they can frame you for any illegal activities they do. 

    That said, this issue is more related to threats of malware, and just knowing your IP address isn’t enough. But it’s worth knowing that your IP could be used as a tool for carrying out such activities.

    Get you in trouble for copyright infringement

    If bad actors get ahold of your IP address, they may spoof their own IP address to look like yours. They can download pirated content or share pirated files online by using your IP address. As a result, you might get into trouble for copyright infringement.

    Hack your device

    Just having your IP is nowhere near enough information for a bad actor to hack your device. But knowing your IP and port number might be enough for hackers to try to compromise your home network. If they manage to do so, they might be able to spread malware to your device and take it over.

    Once again, it’s highly unlikely that just having your IP will lead to a hacked device, but the chance is always there.

    Sell your data on the dark web

    In isolation, your IP address may not be worth much. But when bundled with other data, it can become very lucrative.

    Some of that data might be information that helps identify you — name, location, anything gleaned from social media. Or it may be packed with other IP addresses and profiles to create a bigger package and sold to anyone from data brokers to hackers and scammers.

    How do people find your IP address? 9 likely methods

    Looking glass reveals the last number of a mysterious IP address.

    You might think that keeping your IP to yourself is enough to protect it. However, it’s actually pretty easy for someone to access your IP address. Here’s how: 

    • By connecting to your network — anyone connected to your network can easily find out your IP address because a network provides the same IP to all connected devices; 
    • By running the websites you visit — every time you open a website (this includes social media sites and any forms you’re asked to fill), that website logs your IP;
    • By running ads — ads, both legitimate and phishing, may record your information if you click on them
    • By reading your emails — some email clients (like Yahoo) will display your IP in the heading;
    • By moderating forum threads — if you participate in online discussions, the admins of forum threads can see your IP every time you post;
    • By taking part in P2P file sharing — file sharing technologies, such as torrents, reveal the IP of anyone who’s uploading or downloading files; 
    • By setting up fake Wi-Fi hotspots — the hotspot administrator can see the IP of anyone who connects to the spot; 
    • By physically accessing your device — if someone manages to physically access your device without you noticing, they can get your IP in a matter of seconds; 
    • By using social engineering attacks — hackers can gain your IP by impersonating someone you trust and getting you to reveal the address yourself. 

    How do I know if my IP address has been hacked?

    In a very literal sense, an IP address can’t be hacked. It’s not a system that can be broken into. 

    The closest thing to your IP address being “hacked” is hackers figuring out your IP address and using it for the malicious purposes discussed above.

    8 tips to protect your IP

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    You’ve learned the risks and how someone can access your IP. Now, let me tell you how you can protect it.

    1. Update your firewall — firewalls are there to protect you, but you need to keep them updated. If you don’t, you may miss out on security patches and updates made to ensure the best performance. 
    2. Use secure passwords — make sure to use secure passwords on all your devices and accounts and update them regularly. Doing so will help prevent anyone from using brute force attacks (scripts run by hackers that allow a computer to keep guessing your password until it gets it right) on your systems.
    3. Use a VPN — a virtual private network routes your internet activity through one or more servers, which gives you a new IP address and hides your personal IP. No hacker will be able to trace the new IP address to you.
      If you don’t want to use a VPN because certain IPs get banned by services, no worries; Dedicated IP counters that by giving you a personal, unique IP.
    4. Use a proxyif a VPN is outside of your reach, a trusted proxy server can replace your IP while you use it. Much like free VPNs, using free proxies can be risky, so make sure to pick a proxy you can trust.
    5. Use Tor Tor is an acceptable way to keep your IP address private during simple browsing. But if you need more speed, for example, to stream content or play online games, you need to look for other solutions. 
    6. Update your privacy settings — if you’re using a service that collects your private information (such as Microsoft Outlook), make sure you check your privacy settings. Many of them will let you either opt out or limit where your real IP address is shared.
    7. Ask your ISP for a dynamic IP — your ISP may be able to provide you with a dynamic IP address. This means you would get a new IP address every few hours or so rather than using a static IP address that always stays the same.
    8. Use mobile data — when your smartphone uses mobile data, the ISP always assigns it a dynamic IP address, which means that it changes with time. 

    What other benefits does a VPN offer?

    Sure, a VPN is the easiest way to change your IP on the fly. But what are the benefits of a VPN that extend beyond obscuring your real IP? There are quite a few, actually:

    • Securing your data a VPN encrypts all data coming from your device. This means that anything transferred via your internet connection is unreadable to your ISP, the administrators of local firewalls, or hackers that compromised a public Wi-Fi hotspot; 
    • Avoiding blocks workplaces, universities, intercity buses, and other network owners may not allow you to visit any website you want when you’re connected to their network. Luckily for you, a VPN avoids basically any block they can come up with;
    • Increasing accesssome countries have oppressive internet censorship that restricts people from accessing certain websites. Social media and news platforms seem to have the most restrictions. Thankfully, you can connect to a VPN server outside of your country and access the internet freely; 
    • Obscuring your location your IP can tell people your approximate location. Solve this issue by using a VPN to change your IP, effectively hiding both your actual IP and your real location.

    What should you do if someone has your IP address?

    First off, don’t panic! All hope isn’t lost. The first thing you should do is change your IP address. This usually involves changing your network: you can contact your ISP and ask for a new plan with a different IP or change ISPs altogether. As long as your network changes, you should get a new IP.

    Once you have a new IP address, you should take measures to ensure it doesn’t get leaked again. Using a premium VPN service like Surfshark is the best way to do so. Simply connecting to a VPN server is enough to hide your IP from any third parties. Just make sure not to use free VPNs, as they might not be able to protect you online.

    Is IP tracking illegal?

    As far as we know, there are no legal boundaries for tracking someone’s IP. Websites would have to go out of their way not to register your visits on their logs, as would online services. An IP is like a footprint you leave, so ensuring that online spaces don’t track you would be a real legal mess.

    So while tracking someone’s IP address might not be illegal, using it to commit crimes definitely is. This includes everything from identity theft and DDOS attacks to breaking data protection laws to show targeted ads.

    In conclusion: hide your IP from peeping eyes

    As scary as it may be, now you know the truth — your IP can be used to restrict your access to various websites, track your information, and even impersonate you. Knowing what might happen if someone has your IP address, I’m guessing you’re ready to start hiding that IP address with a VPN?

    Interested in learning more about cybersecurity? Find the best tips and tricks in short, bite-sized videos on our TikTok @ Surfshark. All that’s left is pressing that follow button.

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    Should I be worried if someone has my IP?

    Yes, you should be a little worried. Having your IP allows them to do quite a few things — ban you on games and websites, launch DDoS attacks, and find out your personal data. So if you have a hunch about someone having your IP, it’s best to change it and use a VPN to protect it.

    What’s the difference between a private IP and public IP?

    The difference between a private and a public IP is that nobody can see your private IP address, but a public IP is recorded every time you do anything online. To go into more detail:

    • Private IP address these IPs are used internally for devices communicating to your router but not to the internet. None of your devices will share the same private IP, but a different computer could have the same IP as your router; 
    • Public IP address — these are unique IPs used to communicate to the internet. Functionally, whenever people talk about finding your IP and other IP-based shenanigans, they have the public IP in mind.

    Can you change your IP address?

    There are two ways to change your IP address:

    • To change your IP permanently, you can file a request with your internet service provider; 
    • To change your IP temporarily, use a VPN. As soon as you connect to a VPN server, the IP address changes to that of the server. As long as you’re using a VPN, you’ll have an IP that’s different from your actual IP address. 

    How do I know if my IP is leaking?

    If you want to know if your VPN is leaking your IP address, you can run an IP address checker. However, if you’re accessing the internet without a VPN or other IP-changing methods, your IP will always show up everywhere — it’s not leaking. It’s just how it works.

    What does an IP grabber do?

    An IP grabber is a piece of software that collects the IP addresses of users who click a specific link. A person who wants to collect IP addresses may send that link via DMs, emails, or even place it on ads to get you to click on it.

    What can an IP address tell you?

    An IP address can show your approximate physical location, ZIP code, and the name of your ISP. It also identifies you on the internet, so with some extra effort, someone can track your online activity just by having your IP address.