What is an IP address and how to protect it?
As people learn about Internet privacy, they often ask, “What is an IP address and what is my IP address?” In a nutshell, an IP address is an address label for devices on a network. Your device may have a public and a private IP address.
It’s essential to learn how to protect your public IP address because the unfortunate reality is that someone could use it to invade your privacy and security. In our in-guide, we’ll cover the following:
- What is an IP address?
- What is my IP address?
- How to find IP addresses on Windows, Mac, or iPhone
- How to change IP address
- How to hide IP addresses
Let’s start with a brief IP address definition: an IP address is a unique numerical label that can identify devices on a network like the Internet or a local area network. IP stands for "Internet Protocol." Your ISP assigns a public IP address to your network router and your router assigns a private or local IP address to your computer or device. Websites communicate with you through your public IP address while your devices communicate with each other on your local network through private IP addresses.
How many numbers are in an IP address?
An IP address looks like a string of characters separated by periods. The length of an IP address varies. The maximum number of characters in an IPv4 address is 15, while the maximum number of characters in an IPv6 address is 39.
- Example of a private IP address: 192.168.1.1
- Example of a public IPv6 address: 2001:0db9:89a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:9334
How IP addresses work
IP addresses function like any other address. When someone sends you mail in the physical world, the postman finds your home by using your address. Similarly, devices communicate by sending data to the IP addresses of other devices on a network in the virtual world.
Protect your IP address with a secure VPN connection:
How IP addresses are assigned
Let’s start with public IP addresses. The International Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is in control of the Internet Protocol addressing systems. It states that both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are assigned in a hierarchical manner.
ISPs gain allocations of IP addresses from a local, regional, or national Internet Registry (IR). In turn, they run DHCP servers and dynamically assign public IP addresses to their customers.
The process is similar for private IP addresses. A router has a selection of IP addresses. When a connecting device requests an IP address, the router assigns it from its selection. When a device disconnects, the IP address returns to the router’s pool of IP addresses.
Likewise, when a customer temporarily or permanently ends their connection with an ISP, the IP address eventually returns to the ISP’s pool.
How to change IP address
To change your private IP address, you’ll need to renew your IP address through your router’s admin panel or operating system. Here are a few ways to change your public IP address:
- Disconnect and reconnect your modem to see if you have a new IP address.
- Contact your ISP to change your IP address.
- Connect to a different router for a different IP address.
- Mask your IP address with a , proxy server, or TOR connection.
Types of IP addresses
Consumer IP addresses: What is a consumer IP address?
Any individual who uses the Internet has a consumer IP address. A consumer IP address can be a public or a private IP address. A public IP address is seen outside the network, while a private IP address is seen within a network.
Private IP address: What is a private IP address?
Each device in a local network has a numerical label generated by your router for identification. Here are some examples of devices in your home or office with private IP addresses:
- Smart TVs
- Smart appliances
- Voice assistant devices
Public IP address: What is a public IP address?
While every device in a local network has its own numerical label, they also share one numerical label when connecting to the Internet through an ISP called a public IP address. Your ISP assigns a public IP address to your router. When your devices connect to the Internet through that router, they share a public IP address.
Types of public IP addresses
Dynamic IP address: What is a dynamic IP address?
A dynamic IP address isn’t set and can change. ISPs typically assign dynamic IP addresses to their clients because they’re easier and more cost-effective to manage. You can request your ISP to assign a static IP address instead of a dynamic IP address, though not all ISPs offer this service.
Static IP address: What is a static IP address?
A static IP address doesn’t typically change unless the device is retired, there are changes to your network infrastructure, your DHCP lease time expires, or the ISP has suffered a network failure.
You may use a static IP address for the following benefits:
- Help others locate you on a network by sharing your IP address.
- Gain stability by having the same IP address every time.
- Add a security clearance for your specific IP address when connecting to a network.
The advantages of having a static IP address can also be problematic. While friendly people can locate you more easily, so can threat actors. A snooper may also track your activity more easily, knowing that your IP address is almost permanent.
IPv4 vs IPv6 IP addresses
Computers, smartphones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are all fueling demand for more IP addresses. The initial 32-bit version of Internet Protocol was called Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4), with the potential for over four billion IP addresses.
As IPv4 neared exhaustion, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) launched IPv6. This newer Internet Protocol is a 128-bit hexadecimal address and has the potential for 340 trillion trillion trillion unique IP addresses.
The IPv4 vs IPv6 question doesn’t end with IP addresses. IPV6 is also potentially more secure, private, faster, and more efficient.
What’s my IP address: How to look up an IP address
Whether you’re using Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS, you can easily find your IP address on the Internet.
- Type “what is my IP address” in a popular search like Google and hit enter. The first search result should be your public IP address.
- Go to the Malwarebytes Privacy VPN page. You should see your IP address near the top of the screen.
To see the private IP addresses of devices on your network, use your router’s settings.
How to find IP address on in Windows
It’s not hard to find your IP address on Windows 10. Click your WiFi network icon on your taskbar. Visit the Properties of the WiFi network you’re connected to. Scroll down to Properties to see your IP address details.
How to find IP address on a Mac
To find an IP address on a Mac, visit your settings. Select network, and you will see your IP Address.
How to find IP address on iPhone
Tap WiFi on your iPhone and hit “i” in the circle next to your network. You should see your IP address under DHCP.
Common IP address security threats: What can someone do with an IP address?
Law enforcement uses IP addresses to investigate cases and even prosecute people. Mistakes from the police and even illegal downloads from hackers can result in problems for you.
For example, a bad actor, like a roommate or a hacker who uses your IP address for illegal activity such as child pornography, terrorism, or stalking, could land you in hot water with the law.
A petty stalker or even a state-sponsored agent can track your Internet activity through your IP address. They can use common tools to learn your general location down to your neighborhood with your IP address. Using social media networks, they can cross reference this information to invade your privacy further.
Draconian governments that want to prevent access to sensitive media will use geo-blocking to stop activists and journalists. Streaming services will block users from specific IP addresses to enforce copyright. And websites, gaming servers, and other platforms may ban certain IP addresses too.
A cybercriminal could target you directly with a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack to overwhelm your network with traffic and disrupt your Internet connection. Such attacks are usually reserved for businesses and websites instead of private users though.
A hacker with your IP address could try multiple port combinations to breach your device’s network defenses. After breaching your device security, they could drop malware or steal confidential information. With IP sniffing attacks, they can steal your data and compromise your network security.
Hackers may also leverage your IP address for a compelling social engineering attack. For example, in a tech support scam, a hacker might launch a flashing popup on your screen that says your system has a virus.
The popup will display your IP address to convince you that the message is authentic. It may ask you to call a scammer, visit an unsafe website, or download malware for “tech support.”
What to do if someone has your IP address
There’s generally no need to panic about IP addresses. It’s not illegal to see someone’s IP address, nor is it illegal to find an IP address.
Lots of people can see your IP address through email headers, message boards, peer-to-peer sharing, or multiplayer gaming. Your IP address is also visible to the administrators of websites and other online platforms.
However, if someone with malicious intent has your public IP address, you may need to adopt some safety measures. Set sophisticated passwords and enable multi-factor authentication to secure your accounts. Please also use cybersecurity downloads to protect yourself from malware and scams.
Try to reset your IP address by turning off your router or modem for a few minutes before reactivating the device. Call your ISP to change your IP address if that doesn’t work. Next, learn how to hide your new IP address with the steps below.
IP address protection: How to hide IP address
There are several good reasons to learn how to hide your IP address. Someone with your IP address and enough technical skills could find your location, initiate a scam, impersonate you, or even pin you for a crime. Hiding your IP address helps protect your privacy.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) protects your anonymity on the Internet by masking your IP address with a virtual one. When you connect to the Internet through a VPN, websites see the IP address assigned by a VPN server instead of the one assigned by your ISP. If you're looking for more information about VPN - read our recent article on the topic "What is VPN" - where you'll find responses to all things VPN.
Changing your IP address with an international VPN server helps change your geographical location drastically. For example, if you’re in Canada connecting to the Internet with a United States IP address, websites may think you’re connecting from the United States instead of Canada.
Many services rely on IP addresses to check your location to enforce copyright. So, theoretically, you could access Netflix USA from outside of the United States with a VPN.
Online payment systems such as PayPal may also block access to your account if you access it from an international IP address. Theoretically, you can use a VPN to access the payment platform in countries where it’s blocked.
We recommend that you use a top VPN for privacy to enhance your security and anonymity. Our cutting-edge VPN protects your security with a sophisticated 256-bit encryption system that employs an algorithm more advanced than typical AES standards. We also have over 500 servers in 30 countries to help you find plenty of choices for IP addresses. Our advanced WireGuard VPN protocol and server volume ensure that you have a fast connection even with a VPN. We also have a strict no-log policy that never tracks or stores any of your network data. Compare this to a free VPN that may use outdated security protocols or overcrowded servers. Some popular free VPNs have also been caught spying on users. Read more on how VPN works and and how to use VPN for more in-depth information.
Remember, a VPN doesn’t offer absolute privacy. Even if it masks your IP address, a website can still recognize your device through your cookies. You can learn how to clear cookies if you want to reduce your digital footprint further. We also recommend that you check out: what are tracking cookies. A VPN will also not protect your cybersecurity from malware. If there is privacy-invading malware on your system, you should use free anti-spyware scanner & removal software.
A simple way to avoid using the IP address assigned by your ISP at home is to use public WiFi. A public WiFi connection should assign a different IP address to your device. However, we recommend that you avoid public WiFi for sensitive transactions.
Public WiFi connections can be typically found at shopping malls, parks, eateries, and airports. The security measures of a public WiFi connection are usually weak or nonexistent to encourage visitors and travelers to connect. That’s why they’re vulnerable to different types of attacks from hackers, such as man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. Hackers may also spoof popular public WiFi networkers to ensnare unsuspecting users.
We recommend that you use a VPN on public WiFi. With a VPN encrypting your data, you are secure, even on public WiFi.
You can use the Tor (The Onion Router) browser to hide your IP address. The software hides your IP address by routing your traffic several times through nodes, almost like layers of an onion. However, TOR’s heavy encryption has a downside. Using TOR to hide your IP address will result in a slower Internet connection.
The word proxy means to “stand in” for someone else. A person who votes on your behalf in an election is your proxy, for instance. So, what is a proxy server? As you may have guessed, a proxy server is like an Internet middleman. It acts as a bridge between your device and the Internet, masking your IP address.
You should avoid using free proxy servers for the same reasons you should avoid free VPNs. Free proxies may spy on you or drop malware on your system. In fact, researcher Christian Haschek found that most open proxies tested were involved in suspicious activity.
The future of the IP address
Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act have forced websites to notify users about the data they’re collecting and to ask for consent for cookie usage. The backlash against cookies has led many users to wonder if IP addresses are under threat.
The bottom line is that IP addresses aren’t going anywhere. They’re deeply ingrained in technology and more important than cookies. For example, IP addresses are the only practical identifiers for devices connected to a network.
However, VPN usage is increasing as users take greater control of their privacy. VPN usage particularly surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, matching the rise in Internet activity. While IP addresses will remain an essential component of Internet Protocol communication, hiding public IP addresses will become an even more acceptable practice in the future.
IP address is a unique numerical label that can identify devices on a network.
Your IP address can be found through your internet activity.
There is no need to panic as your IP address can be found for pretty much all online users. However, you shouldn't publicly share your IP address on message boards and through other communication. If you're concern about cyber stalking, take steps to protect yourself. Use a reliable VPN service to hide your IP address if you want your activity to be confidential.
If you a website owner, anyone can look up your IP address through a public domain. If you're a online user, website admins can have access to your IP address on the websites where you've been active.