Internet Protocol or IP addresses are an integral part of how the Internet works, but few actually know about it or what it does. Scarier still, most people don’t even know that their IP address is the first part of the breadcrumbs that enable a hacker to single them out for a lethal attack.
When hackers, advertisers, governments, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) want to gather information about what you do online, they use your IP address along with other sections of information to get a close understanding of who you are and what you are into.
Read on to learn more about what an IP address is and why you need to care about it.
What Is An IP Address For?
To put it simply, an Internet Protocol address is a unique numerical identifier assigned to each device (mobile devices, computers, routers, printers, game consoles, etc.) connected to a TCP/IP network like the Internet.
Every device has its own IP address through which they can connect with other devices and share information. Websites also need to know your IP address so they can find out where the request came from and send back a response.
IP addresses (using the standard IPv4 protocol) are 32-bit binary numbers, but to non-techies they consist of four individual decimal numbers, ranging between zero and 255. Typically, IP addresses look like something as shown below.
Though every device is assigned a unique IP address to identify it on the internet, rarely is it directly addressable over the Internet. After all, now it’s more common for a router to have its own IP address and act as the gateway between devices on a Local Area Network (LAN) and the Internet.
When you, let’s suppose, shoot an email out or visit your favorite website, the public IP address of your router (provided to you by your ISP) is recorded and NOT the individual private IP address assigned to your device.
Nonetheless, whether a bad guy knows the IP address of your network or device, it can reveal information about you, including where you are connecting from and what websites and services you like to use.
What Information Does Your IP Address Reveal?
Now, you definitely may be wondering,“What happens if someone knows your IP address?”According to Lance Cottrell, Chief Scientist at Ntrepid,”Your IP address is the first and most visible piece of identifying information available. At home, your IP address uniquely identifies your household while at work, it identifies your organization.”
The following are some critical pieces of information that can be obtained if someone gets their hands on your IP address:
Your IP address can reveal your geolocation i.e. the city, region, and country you are connected from and other details like your ISP and hostname, but its accuracy will vary depending on the IP address lookup tool being used.
While your IP address will not give away your exact physical location to snoopers, data about your online activities and IP location can be combined to create a digital profile.
2. Ad Preferences
Did you know that advertisers can find out which ads you click on by using your IP address? All they have to do is associate your IP address with your activity online, and they will get an idea about your ad preferences.
The end result? You get served with highly targeted advertisements that follow you around and ruin your online experience. Advertisers might also use IP targeting techniques to get to you by adding your IP address to a certain list.
3. Browsing History
As you probably know already, your ISP can see what websites you visit and which services you use. In countries like the UK and Australia, ISPs are required to collect and store the metadata of their users for specified periods of time.
If an ISP is served a subpoena by the government or a company, they would have to reveal the personal details of the unsuspecting Internet user, such as credit card details, name, phone number, physical address, etc.
While your IP address alone can only provide an approximate location of where you may be at a given time, looking at the online activity associated with a specific IP address can help onlookers piece together a lot of information about the person using that IP address. This makes it important to protect your IP address whenever you use the Internet.
Cottrell explains,“Without IP hiding there is no anonymity on the internet. Anyone with something to hide has a need to disguise their IP address, and everyone does have something to hide. For instance, your web searches could reveal information about your health which is very personal and can be used against you by insurance companies.”
8 Reasons to Mask Your IP Address
In addition to protecting your privacy and security on the Internet, masking your IP address can also help you to:
1. Browse the Internet Anonymously
By masking your IP address from the prying eyes on the Internet, you can obtain a cloak of anonymity and go about your online activities without the fear of someone tracking or watching you at all times.
2. Access All Websites, Regardless Of Your Location
Unable to access a particular website? Masking your IP address and changing your virtual location allows you to access just about any website you want on the Internet, no matter which corner of the world you are from!
3. Protect Your Information While Using Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks are unsecured and accessible to everyone, including hackers. When you mask your IP address, you can keep your information protected from the serious risks associated with the use of public Wi-Fi.
4. Conceal Your Online Activity from ISPs
ISPs often have the right to collect users’ data and sell it to third parties, that too, without their consent. You can conceal your online activity and keep it hidden from your ISP by masking your IP address.
5. Keep Your Private Searches Private
The “Private Browsing” or “Incognito” mode in your browser does no more than keeping zero records of your browsing on your computer. Masking your IP address keeps your private searches private as it hides your activity from search engines.
6. Stream Your Favorite Content
Want to stream a certain TV show, but cannot because of location-blocks? Mask your IP address with that of another location where the streaming service is available, and enjoy watching your favorite content with ease.
7. Protect Yourself From Any Surveillance
When you mask your IP address, your online activities become inaccessible and untraceable. This makes it a whole lot harder for ISPs, the government or anyone else to monitor or track what you are doing on the Internet.
8. Get Around School or Workplace Filters
Masking your IP address is all it takes to bypass stringent censorship measures. You will be able to conveniently get around workplace or school Internet restrictions to access what you want, whenever you want.
How to Mask Your IP Address?
If you search for, “How to Hide IP Address?” on Google, you will come across a variety of ways to mask your IP address. However, the best and most effective method is through a virtual private network (VPN) service.
For the sake of comparison though, we are going to discuss a some of the most common ways to mask your IP address:
1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – The Best Method
Cottrell states,“Hiding your IP address from the websites you visit is as easy as using a reliable VPN service. You will appear to be connected from one of their IP addresses, which makes it impossible for anyone to monitor your activity.”
A good VPN service, like PureVPN for example, will mask your real IP address with one of its 88,000+ IPs from 141+ countries around the world, empowering you to stay completely anonymous while you browse the Internet freely without any hurdles.
You will also be able to take advantage of top-notch features such as no bandwidth caps, military-grade 256-bit encryption, unlimited server switching, WebRTC leak protection, and Internet Kill Switch all of which ensure complete security and privacy.
2. Use a Proxy – The Most Unsafe Method
A proxy or proxy server acts a middleman between your computer and the Internet, masking your IP address (much like a VPN does) when it communicates with the website, server, or Internet service you are connecting to.
But a proxy comes with limitations in terms of usability and security. For starters, it only supports web browsers and offers slower connections due to server congestion. Plus, the lack of encryption and security features make using a proxy extremely unsafe.
3. Use Tor – But Get an AtTORney First
The Tor Anonymity Network conceals your online identity and activity by moving your Internet traffic across different “relays” or “nodes” operated by volunteers across the world, and then encrypting it so that the origin is untraceable.
However, since many people use Tor for illegal purposes, it could end up attracting unnecessary attention – even if you are not doing anything wrong! As these Tor-DNM related arrests prove, Tor may not exactly be the best option to mask your identity.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully, now you will have a better understanding of what is an IP address, what your IP address says about you, what can someone do with your IP address, and how to mask your IP address from snoopers that lurk on the Internet.
Cottrell though, stresses,“Hiding your IP address is only the first step in actually being anonymous or pseudonymous on the internet. You also need to hide all of the other identifiers such as your browser fingerprints, cookies, writing style, and online accounts.”
Wishing you safe browsing from the team here at PureVPN! We always like to hear from you all, so feel free to use the comments section below if you have questions or anything else that you would like to add.