The internet is, after transistors, perhaps the greatest invention of our time. It has seamlessly infiltrated our lives and turned our world upside down for the better. With what it has to offer, the internet has proved itself a boon for many. However, as often happens with great things, the internet has may have become too nice for its own good. With an increase in reliance, many began to abuse its benefits at the cost of others, leading to an upheaval of cybercrime. After realizing the potential it holds, many corporations began to pursue ways of potentially controlling the Internet. Even the government started shifting its surveillance efforts online in a bid to retain control. With such developments, the internet is no longer deemed safe. Thus, whenever there is something that can threaten online harmony, users tend to wonder whether it can harm them? One such enigma is the IP address, and what someone can do with it.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a unique code given to a device connected to a network, or, in most cases, the internet. IP, an abbreviation for Internet Protocol, is an address that uniquely identifies a device. It is a string of numbers separated by periods in the format of “188.8.131.52.” An IP ranges from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. Worth noting is the fact that these numbers are neither randomly generated nor assigned. Instead, after a fair bit of mathematics, they’re carefully allocated by the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority). The IANA distributes them to the RIR (Regional Internet Registry), who then distributes them to local Internet registries (IIR) such as an ISP.
An IP address serves two primary functions, location identification and providing interfaces to other sites/resources on a network/internet. The IP address also contains additional information. For example, your actual location (it includes your country, state, city, postal code/pin code) and your ISP. Now, by itself, such information may not sound like a severe breach of privacy. But remember that with the aid of advanced technology like digital (or, specifically, browser) fingerprinting, a website can create a detailed profile about you based on your IP address. Even worse, they can tack on everything you do online.
There are different types of IP addresses that exist to offer varying functionality to a user, such as:
- Private IP — It connects to your home/private network. These aren’t unique and are used to differentiate between devices sharing the same network.
- Public IP — These IPs are unique and connect to the internet. The ISP you subscribe to for your home network will have a public IP address.
- Dynamic IP — Assigned to your device by the ISP automatically and are subject to periodic change.
- Static IP — Static IPs are stable and fixed and thus used for hosting web services and websites with a server. Also the first choice for a business.
Is IP grabbing Illegal?
Let’s get this out of our way first. IP grabbing itself is not illegal. Unless a person uses your IP to mount an attack on you, there isn’t anything you can do legally. Why? Because your IP address isn’t private information. It is easy to find, and every website you connect to on the internet has your IP. So, technically, if someone ends up with your IP address, there is nothing you can do lawfully to prevent them from using it in non-harmful ways.
So what can you do other than passively wait for an intruder to attack you online? Well, you can take preemptive measures and hide your IP address in the first place. There are also others, all of which we’ll discuss below.
How can someone find my IP?
Your IP address isn’t Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Thus, most companies and ISPs don’t take any extra measures to conceal it. As such, it is easy to find your IP address by several means, such as:
- Torrents — When you torrent files, the leechers and seeders in your swarm are privy to your IP address right on the peer list. Additionally, most people don’t know that torrent traffic and the IP address that has links to it are prone to constant logging via torrent monitoring services.
- Emails — Some email services like Yahoo Mail and Outlook include the IP address in the header.
- Your device — If someone borrows your device, they can obtain your IP address.
- Your network — Anyone that uses your network has quick and easy access to your IP address.
- Malicious links/online attacks — Clickbait can malicious. By falling for a phishing attack, you can reveal everything about yourself, and IP address will be the least sensitive bit of information among that data, trust us.
- Router hacking — If your router is compromised, the IP address should be the least of your worries.
- Web server logs — Websites hosted by servers tend to keep logs of online traffic. Such records contain your IP address. Thus, whoever has access to these logs has free rein of your personal data.
- Online Ads — Ads that collect information are known as adware, and unfortunately, not all those who practice the trade of adware are illegal entities. Legitimate companies rely on advertisements for profit and employ adware to gather intel.
- Online discourse forms — Admins of forums, blogs, and online games have access to your IP address as they use it to block unwanted guests.
- IP grabbing tools — These are third-party tools that are used to snoop your IP address.
What can someone do with my IP address?
The IP address in itself isn’t sensitive. However, there are multiple ways for people to use your IP against you:
- Compromise your real-life location — While it is not possible on an individual level, registered organizations can force your ISP to locate you in real-time.
- Potentially hack your device — It is next to impossible, yet, there is a chance that with the correct tools and knowledge, a hacker can gain access to your device after plenty of repeated attacks.
- Steal some personal information — An IP doesn’t contain sensitive data, but can still be used for phishing bits of personal information if a talented hacker targets your ISP.
- Impersonate you — After successful phishing attacks, criminals can impersonate you on social media networks by hoodwinking your ISP.
- Track you online — Remember, someone with access to your IP can learn and track what you do online, whether your employer, school network administrator, or your ISP.
- Carry out a DoS/DDoS attack — The most common illegal use of an IP address is to mount a DDoS/DoS attack to force the user offline.
- Target you with personalized spam/ads — IP address helps marketers create personalized ads. However, the same is true for spam, and personalized spam is a prerequisite to phishing attacks.
- Restrict your access to services/games — A server/website can prevent you from their platform by blocking your IP address. Many online platforms practice geo-blocking to prevent users from different regions from gaining access to their services.
- Sell it — Believe it or not, any data of value is a commodity to be sold.
- Sue you for copyright infringement — If you indulge in the practice of illegal streaming or downloading copyrighted data, you can be sued based on your IP address and logged activity history.
How to prevent someone from exploiting my IP?
There are many ways to hide your IP address from malicious actors. Some methods are detailed below:
- Use a VPN — Virtual Private Networks are undoubtedly the leading online security technology. By using an encrypted tunnel, they allow users to access the internet remotely. Through this, they can prevent those outside the tunnel from knowing anything related to the user, including your real IP address.
- Use a Proxy — Proxies are servers that act on behalf of a user. Latest proxy technology like the SOCKS5 allows users to remain anonymous on the internet by hiding their IP addresses.
- Tor — The Onion Router is a network of overlay servers that use multiple rounds of encryption to relay your data over the internet. It is a technology that comes the closest to true anonymity.
- Changing your privacy settings — You can also update the privacy settings on your device, browsers, and social media accounts to gain a modicum of privacy.
- Update your routers and firewalls — Up-to-date routers and firewalls can solve most of your security problems. A firewall is essential to your overall security, thus keeping it updated is a necessity.
- Switching to mobile data — Switch to mobile data, because even though you’ll still have an IP address, it may be temporary, hard to access from the Internet, or impossible to pin to you. For example, your connection will likely bounce between multiple cell towers nearby, and get assigned several IP addresses in succession.
- Switch Wi-Fi networks — Regularly alternating your Wi-Fi network can prevent hackers from finding a point of entry. It can also prevent Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks. Alternatively, you can also use a VPN with your router for maximum security.
- Talk to your ISP — You can also talk to your ISP to change your IP address. They can supply a dynamic/static IP based on your concerns.
Can I really hide myself online?
Well, as we repeatedly stated, true anonymity is a myth. No one can remain hidden on the internet. But one can come close by using the correct tools the right way. However, you have to keep in mind that such technology needs moderate use instead of over-reliance. Be it a Tor or VPN, they both have their advantages when it comes to online security. By the same logic, they have some glaring flaws too. But although concealing an IP address is still a relatively easy task for them, users must understand the concept of anonymity if they want their online activities to be safe. One such fact is that even when you hide your IP, you are traceable, and your online activities can be logged.
What any VPN or Tor does is mask your IP address. Your ISP may not know what’s hidden behind the mask, but it knows it is hiding there. Thus, going after your VPN can yield results in uncovering your online tracks. Another thing to note is the several technologies that can effortlessly block a VPN, such as the DPI (Deep Packet Inspection). By rendering your VPN ineffective, officials can easily track you down. Users need to understand that VPNs are not foolproof.
So, yes, you can hide your IP address, but no, you can’t hide online. At least not in ways most people think. We will still recommend using a VPN to safeguard against any potential threats. But we’d also remind users that over-dependence on any technology can easily lead to a downfall. For Tor, all we can say is: unless it is an absolute necessity, it is wiser to use a VPN rather than Tor.
Reasons for hiding my IP address
While it may be needless to say, there are several advantages to hiding your IP address. Some of them are:
- Privacy — Hiding your IP address may not be a big deal for regular netizens. But those who are high-value targets (journalists, lawyers, activists, etc.) need to maintain their online privacy and concealing their IP is second nature to them. Even if you are a general user concerned with online privacy, cloaking the IP can present you with peace of mind.
- Secure network — A hidden IP can allow you to secure your network from outside influence.
- Access to restricted content — With your IP hidden, it becomes easier to bypass certain restrictions. You can also fight censorship this way.
- Anti-tracking — Websites track your online habits. You can prevent it by hiding your IP.
- Streaming — A lot of content online is guarded behind geo-blocks, restricting access to foreign IP address. With your real IP unknown, you can spoof it into a local one (depending on the tools you use) and gain access to such content.
What to do if someone has my IP address?
If your IP address is unsecured and someone is targeting you through it, the first thing you can do is explore your legal options. While IP grabbing may not be a crime, using it for nefarious purposes is. Besides reporting to the authorities, you can also contact your ISP and request them to change your IP. Other than that, you can take preventive measures to secure/hide your IP address.
How to manually check and change my IP?
You can also manually check and change the IP address on your devices. All you need to do is:
First, go to the start menu and then locate and clock on settings. Now:
- On the new menu, select “Network & Internet.”
- Now, Select Wi-Fi or Ethernet depending on your connection.
- You can see your IPv4 address.
- After that to change this address:
- First, execute the Run command, either by pressing Windows key+R or using the start menu.
- Then in the dialogue box, type cmd and hit enter.
- Now, in the command prompt, type Inconfig /release.
- Then wait for the text to load.
- After it stops scrolling, enter Inconfig /renew.
Go to the Apple menu, and then:
- Select system preferences.
- Then, locate and choose “Network” from the view menu.
- On the left, you can select Wi-Fi or Ethernet according to your connection.
- For Ethernet, your IP will be visible in the middle, but not for Wi-Fi users.
- Go to advance, select TCP/IP, and you will see your IP.
- Now you must change this IP.
- On the same page with the TCP/IP option, locate and find DHCP.
- Click on it and select Renew DHCP.
Access your iOS setting via the icon or by dragging the notification panel. Now:
- Select Wi-Fi.
- Choose the “network you are connected” to. If you are on mobile data, you won’t have a network IP.
- You can view your IP on the top.
- Now to change it, go back to the setting menu.
- Then, find “Network.”
- Now, you will find your IPv4 address.
- Under this address, select Configure IP.
- From the popup, select the Automatic option.
First, go to your phone’s settings. Then:
- Continue scrolling down till you find the “About phone” tab at the bottom.
- Then, click on it, and from the new menu, select Status.
- And your IPv4 address will be there.
- To change this:
- Go to the Wi-Fi menu.
- Click on your current network.
- Select forget the network.
- Log in to the same network again to obtain a new IP.