Every machine connected to the internet has an IP address. Every time you connect to a website or server, it’s revealed to the intended party. Unfortunately, it’s not just a combination of numbers that indicates your device.
IP addresses carry with them a whole host of information, starting with a way to reach your machine and ending with location and Internet Service Provider data. As such, IP leaks can reveal something about your whereabouts and other uncomfortable information.
What is an IP address?
The Internet Protocol (IP) address is a combination of numbers and/or letters, depending on the version used. Most of the current internet uses IPv4, which encodes addresses through 4 combinations of numbers from 0 to 255, separated by dots. For example, a typical IPv4 address might look like 250.194.205.35.
These IP addresses work like pointers for machines connected to the internet. Without them, no communication would happen and no websites or servers could exist. Over time, however, a lot of other data has been added that can be easily checked and unveiled by anyone.
For example, most IP addresses are provided by Internet Service Providers. Since the number of IPs is limited, each ISP has their own set, which can be detected. As such, each IP address will have a publicly known ISP assigned to it.
Additionally, some geolocation data can be extracted from both the IP address and associated ISP. Usually, it’s possible to narrow down an IP address at least to a city-level, sometimes even lower. While no personal details are ever revealed, geolocation knowledge can still be concerning.
Ways how someone can spy your IP address
A multitude of ways someone can get your IP address exist. These days more or less every app you use has the potential to leak your IP address.
Most of the time, anyone can look up your IP address if they’re using a messaging application. Some of them will establish a direct connection to you just through messaging. Others will establish a connection whenever an audio or video call is initiated. In either case, the person on the other end can acquire your IP address.
Additionally, every website you connect to will track your Internet Protocol address. It doesn’t even have to be malicious, install malware, or use online ads. A simple connection makes you send a packet that includes the IP address of your machine. The website’s owner can track your online activity and uncover your IP address. Some, more malicious owners as is common on the dark web, might try to gain even more data through various methods such as HTML5 Canvas.
Finally, if you connect to the internet through a public wireless network, the Internet Protocol address can also be leaked. If another person is connected to the same network, they can see every public IP address that has been assigned. While it’s not very common and well known, a tech-savvy individual can collect your public IP address and even track what you’re doing.
What can someone do with your IP address?
There are several things someone can do with your IP address, although in most cases it might be harmless. In fact, most people don’t even know how to look up an IP address and find any associated data.
Those who do know their way around IP addresses can look up the aforementioned data on a public website. As such, they may be able to track you down to a city-level. Luckily, such tracking wouldn’t go too far as it’s significantly harder to derive street-level data from an IP address or any other private information.
Additionally, there are some issues a potential attacker could cause with your IP address. Primarily, the most common way to cause issues is through a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. They can spam your IP address with connection requests, which can cause significant internet slowdowns or even entirely shut it down.
In more rare cases, an owner of a website, application, or online game could completely bar you from using any of the above services. It is, however, highly unlikely that such a thing would happen without good reason as IP address bans are often reserved for malicious actors.
Finally, an IP address is commonly used to perform online tracking and profile building. Advertisers will often attempt to associate an IP address with some person and show personalized ads.
Luckily, in all of these cases, it’s not that difficult to change your IP address and completely subvert whatever someone was planning to do.
Tips for protecting your IP address
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to acquire a dynamic IP address. These are IPs that change automatically every time the router is restarted or at set intervals. Having a dynamic one means you can freely avoid any IP related issues by waiting or resetting your router.
Dynamic IPs, however, are quite rare and it’s unlikely that you’ll run into one. The second best option is to use residential proxies. They are more or less the same as dynamic IPs, however, they grant additional benefits.
With residential proxies, however, you can change your IP whenever you want with ease. Some providers even give you the option to use rotation settings that change the address with every connection request.
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Additionally, each IP can potentially give you a different geolocation after every change while the one provided by a dynamic address will be static. ISPs will be different as well, so it does a much better job at stopping any tracking.
The only real drawback of residential proxies is that they’re slightly harder to set up than dynamic IPs. If you have the latter, that’s all it takes. The former needs, depending on your use case, from several minutes to a couple of hours to enable completely.
On the other hand, for the slight hassle, you’re getting a ton of additional benefits and complete privacy when browsing online. You won’t have to worry about revealing your IP address ever again.