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, and even launch DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks. Of course, the subject is wider than that. I’m here to explain more about what your IP can reveal and how to avoid it.
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What can someone do with your IP address?
There are quite a few things someone can do with your IP address. Before diving deeper into all those details, here’s a quick refresh of what an IP address is and where you can find it.
What’s an IP?
IP, standing for Internet Protocol, is 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 those wouldn’t know how to find your device.
Typically, an IP looks something like this: 220.127.116.11
How do I find my IP?
The easiest way to find your IP address is through an online service — they’re always free. 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 have ways of falling into the wrong hands. What are the risks if someone gains access to your IP? Here’s what they could do:
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 their 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 the things you search for. 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 from online games
If you upset the server admin in a multiplayer game you’re playing, they may add your IP to the blocklist. When that happens, it’s curtains to you playing on that server — and, if the admin feels like going any further, possibly the entire game.
Track your online activity
Let’s say an employer would like to know what exactly you do on your laptop while working. Luckily for them (and less fortunate 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.
Find and use your personal information
If a hacker knows your IP, they could easily find your ISP. Then, they could use phishing attacks to impersonate government officials and demand your personal information. With this data, they could steal your identity or sell your financial details on the dark web.
Impersonate you to commit illegal activities
Once 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. You might even get sued by copyright trolls if your device is used as a proxy for illegal file sharing.
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.
Anyone from data brokers to hackers and scammers would be interested in it. And what can hackers do with your IP? You’ve read the article this far, so you may have some idea.
How do people find your IP address? 9 likely methods
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 as well 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 — it doesn’t take much time with a loaned laptop to figure out its IP address;
- By using social engineering attacks — hackers can gain your IP by impersonating someone and then 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 malicious purposes. What kind of malicious purposes? I would direct your attention to the “What can someone do with your IP address?” section in this article.
8 tips to protect your IP
You’ve learned the risks and how someone can access your IP. Now, let me tell you how you can protect yourself.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use a proxy — if a VPN is outside of your reach, a trusted (read: not free) proxy can replace your IP while you use it.
- 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, you better look somewhere else.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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? Very many, actually:
- Securing your data — all data between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. 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 – those are but a few of the internet service providers that may not allow you to visit any website you want. Luckily for you, a VPN avoids basically any block they can come up with;
- Increasing access — is your country blocking your access to some foreign sites? Just switch to the VPN server in the right location and read whatever you want;
- Obscuring your location — your IP can tell people your approximate location. This is undesirable in various situations, including web forums, online stores, and for privacy reasons. 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 most productive thing you can 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.
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.
The only illegal thing is to use your IP for criminal purposes. Which is hardly surprising as crimes are, by definition, illegal.
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?
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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.
What’s the difference between a private IP and public IP?
The difference is that nobody can see your private IP, 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 computer across the world 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 a different IP.
How do I know if my IP is leaking?
If you want to know if your VPN is leaking your IP address, you can always run a VPN test. However, if you’re accessing the internet without a VPN or anything similar, your IP will always show up everywhere – it’s not leaking, it’s just how it works.