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What is an IP Address Exactly?

Hi there! If you‘ve ever wondered "what is an IP address?" you‘ve come to the right place. As an experienced cybersecurity professional, I‘m going to walk you through everything you need to know about IP addresses in this detailed beginner‘s guide.

An IP address is like a home address for your computer, smartphone, or other device connected to the internet. It‘s a unique numerical label that identifies each device on a network and allows them to communicate with each other.

Every single device connected to the internet – whether it‘s a laptop, mobile phone, smart fridge, security camera, etc – is assigned an IP address. Without one, devices can‘t properly send and receive data over the internet.

How Do IP Addresses Actually Work?

IP addresses consist of two parts:

Network ID: The network ID identifies the specific network your device is connected to, like your home or office network. It‘s similar to how a ZIP code identifies a region or neighborhood.

Host ID: The host ID identifies your specific device on the network. This is like the house number that identifies your home on a street.

For example, in the IP address

  • 192.168.1 is the network ID
  • 101 is the host ID

When you connect to your home internet, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns your WiFi router a public IP address. This allows your devices to communicate with networks and devices outside your home on the wider internet.

Your router then gives each device on your home network – like laptops, phones, tablets – a private IP address. This allows devices to communicate with each other locally.

Public vs. Private IP Addresses

Public IP addresses are globally unique addresses that enable communication between devices on the internet. Your ISP assigns one public IP address to your home network‘s router. This IP represents your whole home network to the outside world.

Private IP addresses are locally assigned by your router only to devices on your internal home network. This allows your devices to communicate with each other and access the internet through the public IP address. But devices on the wider internet cannot directly reach your private IPs.

Here‘s a simple analogy:

  • Public IP = Your home‘s postal address
  • Private IP = Room numbers within your home

The postal service needs your home‘s public street address in order to deliver mail. But someone sending a letter wouldn‘t be able to address it to "Room 204" – that‘s only useful within the home for internal organization.

IPv4 vs. IPv6: What‘s the Difference?

When you look up your device‘s IP address, you may notice two sets of numbers – one starting with 192 or 10, the other with long digits like 2600. These represent the two addressing standards used on the internet:

IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4): The original IP addressing system, created in 1983. It uses 32 bits for addresses, allowing for around 4.3 billion possible unique addresses.

IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6): A newer standard introduced in 1999. It uses 128-bit addresses, allowing for approximately 340 undecillion available addresses.

Here are some key stats:

  • IPv4 supports 4,294,967,296 addresses
  • IPv6 supports 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses

The massive growth of internet-connected devices like smartphones, laptops, smart home tech has contributed to a shortage of available IPv4 addresses.

IPv6 was developed with far more IP capacity to accommodate the ongoing growth of the internet – it won‘t run out of addresses anytime soon. Many networks today use both IPv4 and IPv6 together.

How to Find Your IP Address

You can easily look up your public IP address using any search engine. Simply search for "what is my IP address" and you‘ll see your current public address displayed.

To find your private IP address on your device:

On Windows:

  1. Press Windows key + R to open Run command
  2. Type cmd and press Enter to open Command Prompt
  3. Type ipconfig and press Enter

You‘ll see your device‘s IPv4 and IPv6 addresses listed for each network connection.

On iPhone/iPad:

  1. Open Settings app
  2. Go to Wi-Fi and tap the "i" icon next to your connected network
  3. Scroll down to IP Address section

On Android:

  1. Open Settings app
  2. Tap Connections > Wi-Fi > Tap your network
  3. IP address is under Network details

On Mac:

  1. Click the Apple menu and select System Preferences > Network
  2. Select your active internet connection on the left side
  3. Look for IP address on the right side

And that‘s how easy it is to find your IP address!

What Can Your IP Address Reveal About You?

While your IP address doesn‘t contain identifiable info like your name or physical address, it can reveal some details about your location and ISP based on the network ID portion.

Using IP geolocation tools and databases, someone could determine the broad geographic region your IP address is registered in, usually down to the city level.

However, IP geolocation is very imprecise – it relies on databases of IP address locations that are often outdated. The location mapped to your IP can be hundreds of miles off your actual location.

If your ISP frequently reassigns dynamic IP addresses, your current IP likely won‘t reflect your physical address. Static IPs that never change are more at risk of lingering geolocation issues.

How Can Hackers Abuse Your IP Address?

Unfortunately, there are various sneaky ways hackers can get ahold of your IP address and leverage it for cyberattacks:

  • Launch DDoS attacks to flood your IP address with traffic and take down your internet connection

  • Show fake pop-up ads or malware precisely targeted to your geographic area

  • Intercept unencrypted connections to spy on your online activity and steal data

  • Impersonate your IP address to perform illegal activities that get traced back to you

  • Pinpoint your approximate location to launch further social engineering or hacking attempts

Here are some common ways hackers obtain IP addresses:

  • Guessing weak passwords to access your WiFi router admin panel

  • Running scans to detect devices on open WiFi networks

  • Tricking you into clicking on a fake link that makes your IP address visible

  • Infecting your device with malware that transmits your IP back to the attacker

  • Physically accessing your device if left unattended in public

  • Buying IP databases on the dark web marketplace for targeting attacks

The more they know about you, the more vulnerable you become to highly targeted cybercrime.

5 Simple Ways to Hide and Protect Your IP Address

Luckily, there are steps you can take to conceal your IP address from prying eyes:

  1. Use a VPN (virtual private network) to mask your IP address and encrypt traffic

  2. Enable the Proxy Server setting on your home router to obscure your IP

  3. Tunnel your connections through the Tor anonymity network to route through random nodes

  4. Request your ISP assign you a new dynamic IP address if your current one is compromised

  5. Use Private/Incognito Mode in your browser to prevent local IP logging

You can also make it harder for hackers to access your network and IP address in the first place:

  • Set a strong WiFi password – don‘t use the default one from your internet provider

  • Enable the firewall on your wireless router to filter traffic

  • Be cautious when connecting to public WiFi and use a VPN to stay secure

  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links and attachments that could reveal your IP

  • Install comprehensive antivirus software to block malware

FAQs About IP Addresses

Let‘s wrap up with answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q: Does every device have its own unique IP address?

A: Yes! Every single device connected to a network is assigned its own IP address to identify it.

Q: Can someone locate you based on your IP address?

A: In some cases yes, but IP geolocation is notoriously inaccurate, often hundreds of miles off. A VPN will completely hide your IP address.

Q: Can one device have multiple IP addresses?

A: Yes, your device can be assigned both an IPv4 and IPv6 address by your ISP to support both standards.

Q: Do VPNs completely hide your real IP address?

A: Yes, when you use a VPN it masks your true IP address by routing your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a remote server.

Q: Can changing your WiFi password prevent IP address hacking?

A: Absolutely! Using a strong, unique WiFi password prevents unauthorized people from accessing your network and IP address.

Q: Can factories or offices with many devices have the same IP address?

A: Nope! Every single device, whether in a home or workplace, must have its own unique IP address in order to connect.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the basics of how IP addresses work is key to protecting your privacy and security online. While extremely useful for powering internet communication, IP addresses can potentially expose your approximate location if you don‘t take precautions.

By using a VPN, securing your home WiFi, and following cybersecurity best practices, you can keep your IP address concealed from hackers and snoops.

I hope this beginner‘s guide has helped explain exactly what an IP address is and how to keep yours safe! Let me know if you have any other IP address questions.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.