Security experts are often advising us to hide our IP addresses by using VPNs when browsing the web. But, what exactly is an IP address?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about your IP address, including what it is, what it looks like and what risks come with having one…
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a unique code assigned to your device when you browse the Internet. Every device connected to a network has one, including smartphones, laptops and tablets, as does every website and router.
IP itself stands for “Internet Protocol”, which refers to the set of rules used for routing packets of data across different networks online.
Think of your IP address like your home address, but instead of mail and Amazon packages, you’re receiving emails and access to Amazon.com, along with any other images, videos or websites you’re looking to access online.
What do they look like?
There are two types of IP address actively being used right now – IPv4 and IPv6.
IPv4 addresses consist of four different numbers separated by full stops. These numbers can range from 0 to 255, meaning the total number of digits in your IP address can range from 4 (i.e. 0.0.0.0 or 18.104.22.168) to 12 (i.e. 255.255.255.255).
IPv6 addresses, meanwhile, are expressed using hexadecimal strings and are, generally speaking, significantly longer (i.e. 2001:0db8:582:ae33::29). IPv6 was introduced in the late 90s to make room for more IP addresses (think over 4 billion), meaning we won’t need to worry about running out of unique identifiers anytime soon.
It’s important to note that these numbers are not random and are instead allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority based on your location.
They also don’t stay the same. An address is then assigned to your device by your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, when you connect to the network, but it can change with something as simple as resetting your router. Your IP address will also be different if you connect to the Wi-Fi outside of your home, such as in a coffee shop, a hotel or a library.
You can view your public IP address at any time by searching “What is my IP address?” on Google, or by diving into your computer’s network settings.
Can you change or hide your IP address?
IP addresses are a necessary part of surfing the Internet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers associated with them, especially as they contain information that can be used to pinpoint your physical location.
According to Kaspersky, some of the most common risks include online stalking, network attacks and device hacking. Cyber criminals can even use your IP address to track down your location or download illegal content they don’t want traced back to them.
The easiest way to disguise your IP address is to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.
As we explained in our guide, a VPN offers a direct, encrypted connection to a private network via the Internet. Not only does this prevent snooping eyes from monitoring your online activity, but it also allows you to appear as though you’re located in a completely different country.
There are multiple benefits to this, but the obvious ones are that this makes it harder for cybercriminals to track down your physical location and it makes it possible for you to access streaming sites from overseas when you’re abroad on holiday (though be warned, most platforms will view this as a breach of their terms and conditions and could certainly block you if you’re caught).
You can find a breakdown of all of our favourite VPNs in our best list.