When you browse the internet or create a website, you're doing so from what is referred to as an IP address. An IP address is a unique set of numbers that help identify a specific user or a user's location while on the internet. Understanding the significance of an IP address and how to protect yourself while you're online is essential in a world where identity theft, phishing scams, and digital hacking attempts are on the rise.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a unique string of (often randomized) numbers assigned to an individual computer or local network. It's typically used as an identifier to collect, send, and share information from one location to the next. IP addresses contain multiple numbers that are separated by periods. An example of an IP address may include:
22.214.171.1242 or 126.96.36.199
IP addresses typically range from 0 to 255, meaning any digit used in an IP address is valid as long as it's over 0 and below 255.
IP addresses are generated automatically using an integrated algorithm by IANA, also known as the Internet of Assigned Numbers Authority. IANA is a part of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a well-known organization to anyone who has ever purchased a domain name or invested in building a website of their own.
IP addresses often contain 2 parts:
- Network ID: The network ID is a portion of an IP address that is used to designate a specific network or host. This section of the IP address is typically found towards the beginning of an IP address.
- Host ID: The host ID is another portion of an IP address used to identify a specific IP/TCP network. A host ID is found after a network ID and can be used in conjunction with class identifiers and to create default subnet masks as needed.
Understanding IP addresses
IP addresses sound complicated, especially if you're unfamiliar with what an IP address is or if you're just getting started on the internet. Having an IP address explained can help better connect how IP addresses relay important information from one location to the next.
Each time you attempt to log online, your computer will try to connect to your network or internet modem. You're automatically assigned an IP address when your computer tries to connect to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). This IP address will remain with you until you change your IP address or you request to have your IP address changed directly by your ISP.
After your IP address is automatically generated and assigned to your computer or location, you can begin browsing the web. Each time you browse a new website, the activity is sent and filtered through your ISP, which then routes the website back to you directly, allowing the website to load properly.
Changing the IP address of your home computer is possible using various tools and by calling your ISP directly to request a new IP address for your household computer. Keep in mind that even when you travel, your home IP address won't follow you. Any time you connect to an alternative internet connection outside your home, you'll be assigned a brand new IP address based on your location and the devices you're using.
How are IP addresses assigned?
Because the ISP is responsible for permitting users online, they're also responsible for assigning and managing the IP addresses of customers. When using domain registrars to create a new website, your web host will also be given a specific IP address.
With IP addresses, specific classes are used to designate the type of IP address visible to any network or individual. Currently, there are 5 IP classes in total: Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E. The IP classes are defined as follows:
- Class A: Large networks or entire ISP networks
- Class B: Medium to large corporate organizations as well as more extensive networks or companies
- Class C: Used for those on smaller networks or ISPs
- Class D: Often used for those interested in multicasting
- Class E: Typically reserved for experimental casting or use as well as for reserved addresses based on the ISP
In addition to labeling the IP addresses with a class, the numbers chosen for each IP address can easily indicate what class the IP address falls within. For example:
- Class A IP addresses range from 188.8.131.52 to 127.255.255.255
- Class B IP addresses range from 184.108.40.206 to 220.127.116.11
- Class C IP addresses range from 192.0.0.0 to 18.104.22.168
- Class C IP addresses are often the most commonly found IP addresses in home and small business IP addresses
- Class D IP addresses range from 22.214.171.124 to 126.96.36.199
- Class E IP addresses range from 240.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255
When you're familiar with IP address classes, you can easily pinpoint which type of network you're using or are connected to when browsing the internet.
It's also important to note that an IP address is not assigned forever, as it can be a temporary IP address or it can be changed manually at any time.
Types of IP addresses
How an IP address works will greatly depend on the type of IP address currently active or used. There are four major types of IP addresses, including:
- Public IP Address: A public IP address is the IP address that's visible to anyone connected to the same network. It's visible to the public and easily accessible.
- Private IP Address: A private IP address is the specific IP address attached to the devices throughout your home or business where a private network is in use.
- Static IP Address: Static IP addresses are IP addresses that don't change. Static IP addresses are assigned by network administrators and can only be updated manually. This is a useful solution for devices that are not constantly changing or logging on and off throughout the day or for equipment that'll be used for years.
- Dynamic IP Address: Dynamic IP addresses can frequently change since they're automatically generated and assigned using a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). Dynamic IP addresses change each time they're connected to the web. However, they have origin IP addresses that can be traced, tracked, and monitored across numerous devices and computers.
How to locate your IP address
If you want to locate your IP address, you can do so with the following methods, based on the device or operating system you're using:
Locate your active internet connection in the lower right-hand corner of your Windows screen. Open the panel to review your current internet connection and available wireless networks. Then, select "Properties" below your active internet network. Within the Properties Settings section of the window, locate "IPv4 address", which will display your computer's full IP address.
Launch the settings section of your Android phone and select "System" to open the system settings. Select "About Phone," then tap the "Status" button that appears. This will display your current wireless connection as well as your phone's individual IP address.
From your Apple device's home screen, tap the Settings icon, followed by WiFi to open your network settings. Locate your current wireless network and select the blue circle icon next to it. This will display your current network settings and IP address, which will appear next to the IPv4 label.
Boot up your Mac and select the Apple icon from the top left-hand corner of your desktop. Select "System Preferences" and then the "Network" icon. Choose your preferred connection, which will display your network name, IP address, and more relevant information.
Can someone find my IP address?
Yes. Anytime you're connected to a public network or share your location with others, your IP address becomes visible. This can be dangerous when your IP address is exposed to potential hackers or online scammers.
Ways to keep your IP address private
Some of the best ways to keep your IP address private include:
- Use a VPN: Investing in a VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, is one of the best ways to keep your IP address protected and hidden from the public.
- Avoid public networks: Avoid connecting to public networks, even if you believe you're in a safe space. This can leave you and your IP address extremely vulnerable.
- Use safe websites and applications: Always use trusted websites that are encrypted, secured, and backed up regularly. Avoid downloading random apps and always read the privacy policies and terms and conditions of any apps you download to your computer or smartphone.
Reasons to keep your IP address safe
From guaranteeing proper email deliverability to preventing identity theft, keeping your IP address safe, protected, and away from the eyes of online scammers is essential in today's cyberwarfare climate. Some ways criminals use IP addresses include:
- Hijacking: Criminals hijack IP addresses and attempt to use them as cover while conducting illegal activities online.
- Large-scale attacks: In some instances, cybercriminals will use another person's IP address to execute large-scale attacks on websites or networks.
- Personal attacks: Keyloggers and identity thieves look for easily accessible IP addresses to capture passwords and highly sensitive information that can then be used to steal an individual's identity.
Now that you know the dangers of exposed IP addresses, you can take the precautions necessary to secure and encrypt your own IP address whenever you're online.
IP addresses: Key takeaways
From launching a website to trying to avoid spam filters or remain anonymous online, learning the ins and outs of IP addresses is essential in today's world. With IP addresses explained, choose the best method to manage your own IP address, whether you're using a public or a private network at home or in the office.