Your complete guide to your IP addressand how to protect yourself online
The internet is a part of our daily lives and we often use it without giving a second thought as to what kind of virtual footprints we are leaving and how this information might be used. The truth of the matter is that you are leaving more cookie crumbs than you think, every single time you access the internet. It all starts with your IP address. Let's take an in-depth look at IP addresses, their different kinds, the information they provide, and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is an IP address?
The term IP address stands for Internet Protocol address. An Internet Protocol address is a unique numerical name that every electronic device connected to a computer network has.
You can think of an IP address as being similar to your home address. It is specific to that particular device and serves as a way to identify and locate these devices. There are currently two types of IP addresses used: IPv4 and IPv6.
What is IPv4?
IPv4 is the original design of the internet protocol address. Even though it is still in use today, it isn’t very common because it uses 32 bits and only allows a total of 4 billion addresses. Since 4 billion addresses weren’t enough for the exponential growth of the internet, a phenomenon called “IPv4 exhaustion” took place. “IPv4 address exhaustion” is a severe decrease of unallocated IPv4 addresses available. That’s why the newer version, IPv6, was introduced to accommodate the massive growth.
What is IPv6?
IPv6 is the up-to-date version of the internet protocol. As opposed to the 32-bit addresses used by IPv4, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses. IPv6 is designed so that the internet world does not run out of IP addresses anytime in the near future as it has the capability of infinitely more addresses than IPv4. IPv6 also helps as IP spoofing prevention. IP address spoofing is a cyber-attack where hackers impersonate a user, device, or client on the internet. It’s used to mask the source of attack traffic.
What is your IP address location?
Your IP address location is the portion of your IP address that allows for identification of the geographic location of your computer. If you are using a proxy server or a router, then the location of the server or router is identified. In most instances, the specific street address of your location is not revealed, but instead, the city, state or general area is shown. However, there are exceptions and for those who are talented with computers and the internet, it is possible to discover your exact location. This particular ability is known as geolocation and is very popular in the marketing world.
Apart from the usual IP addresses, there are also virtual ones. A virtual IP address (VIP or VIPA) is an IP that isn’t related to a particular physical location. These public VIPs can be shared by numerous devices connected to the internet and are common in home or office networks.
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How do you change your IP address and hide your location?
Hiding your location is the first step to protecting your online activity and information. It is possible to change your IP address and hide your location. How? You will need a VPN, which stands for virtual private network.
What is a VPN?
A VPN routes you through an encrypted server or proxy that changes your location virtually. Let's say you are in New York, but the server that your computer is routed to is in California. It will appear as if your computer is physically located in California, although you are actually still in New York. Your data is encrypted before it ever reaches your provider. It is so secure that not even your internet service provider will be privy to your online activities.
Benefits of changing your address and hiding your location.
Using a VPN is the key to protecting yourself online. It offers numerous benefits, such as:
- Keeps information protected when using public hotspots
- Prevents predators from following your internet activity and obtaining information to use against you
- Allows you more privacy when surfing the web
- Allows you to access geo-blocked content
- Helps you avoid IP blocking*
*IP blocking is a way to restrict access to a website from or to a particular location.
What is the difference between public and private IP addresses?
What many do not realize is that all IP addresses are not the same. The two different IP addresses are public and private IP addresses and although they have a lot of similarities there are significant differences in the way each work.
How does a private IP address work?
Private IP addresses are often referred to as local IP addresses and are used internally behind a router or server. Private IP addresses are non-routable. While no two private addresses will be the same within a home or office, they may be identical to private addresses within a different home or office. Public and private IP addresses contain specific numbers that identify them as being one or the other. Sometimes, these numbers are very similar: for example, while 192.168.255.255 is a private IP, 126.96.36.199 will be a public one.
How does a public IP address work?
A public IP address is routable and is unique. No two public IP addresses in the world are the same. Your public IP address is obtained from your internet service provider. The main difference between the two is that your public IP address can communicate worldwide, while your private IP address can only communicate with the router or server it is behind which in turn has a public IP address that can communicate with the rest of the world. Public IP addresses are also what is used by businesses who offer public Wi-Fi.
What is a private network, and who uses it?
A private network is a network that uses private IP address space so that devices outside this network cannot access it. These networks are standard in businesses and private organizations because of the demand for better security and the protection of company assets. Private IP address ranges are defined by IPv4 and the IPv6 specifications.
Are private and reserved IP addresses the same?
Private and reserved IP addresses aren’t the same. Reserved IP addresses are the IPs that the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority have saved for special purposes.
What can others find out about you from your IP address?
The truth of the matter is that your IP address is more revealing than you might think. In fact, by itself, it can reveal information such as:
- Zip code
Let's not forget about the information that websites are collecting from you when you visit. Websites collect information from:
- Browser finger-printing
Have you ever been browsing the internet and an ad from a product you looked at two days ago pops up? This is not by accident. This is the product of companies and marketers collecting data from your online activity.
How is this information used?
This information is useful to marketers in order to send you advertisements for products that you have shown interest in. This is known as targeted advertising and is becoming increasingly popular.
Online predators can use this information to hack into your bank accounts, steal your credit card numbers, and even steal your identity. Talented hackers can find out anything they want to know about you through your IP address and online activity.
Protect yourself online
Protecting yourself virtually is just as important as protecting yourself physically. These days, protecting yourself over the internet is a large component in protecting you and your family in everyday life. The good news is there are steps you can take to protect your online activities and surf the web with peace of mind knowing your information and transactions are secure. Surfshark is dedicated to providing the ultimate protection services to protect you and your data from unethical use over the internet. Access all of your favorite content safely and securely without leaving behind unwanted footprints.