An Internet Protocol address, commonly referred to as an IP address, is a unique identifier that is associated with every device connected to any network in the world. This identifier further allows different devices to communicate with each other regardless of whether the device is on the same or a separate network.
You may think of an IP address as a contact address, for example. You can send your mail to any desired recipient only if you know their house number, mailing address, or zip code.
IP addresses can further be categorized into two types: Public IP and Private IP addresses. Devices that need to communicate with each other on the same network, such as one’s home, require private IP addresses, such as smart devices, gaming consoles, laptops, printers, or a computer connected to a home router. They will also have a public IP address to communicate with the wider web if needed.
Public IP addresses, on the other hand, are those sets of IPs that enable the flow of communication between different devices on separate networks, so for example, a computer in Tokyo connecting to a game server in New York. For example, your smartphone would use a public IP address to connect to an internet web server.
Here are a few common reasons that may prompt you to check your public IP address:
IPv4 is the fourth refined version of an IP address that enables the flow of both the packet-switched networks and internet traffic. It was introduced by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1982, and it is still the most widely used version in the world.
An IPv4’s structural composition consists of four eight binary numbers that are separated by a decimal point. However, these addresses are primarily expressed in a dot-decimal notation. For example:
While IPv4 may be the widely used version across the globe, because the limit of available IP addresses is getting exhausted, it is soon going to be replaced with IPv6 addresses, and IPv6 is already being rolled out gradually, currently increasing by 5% every year. You can say that IPv6 is the best version of IPv4 because it fixes a great number of existing shortcomings, such as IP address exhaustion (there will be plenty of IPv6 addresses to go around for a long time), broadcast addressing, and large routing table problems.
Unlike IPv4, IPv6 uses a 128-bit addressing scheme that can support up to 340 trillion addresses or devices, which can easily overcome IPv4’s 4.3 billion IP cap. IPv6 addresses are usually expressed as eight alphanumeric groups, which are divided by colons and four hexadecimal digits.
For example: 2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334
When IPv4 was first announced, it was believed that there would be a limitless amount of addresses available. They were wrong. To overcome the shortage, IPv6 was created. Apart from offering an unlimited number of IP addresses, there are many other reasons that set IPv6 apart from IPv4.
It has a size of 32 bits.
It has an address space of 4,294,967,296 (232) unique combinations.
It is composed of digits ranging from 0 to 255.
It is limited in numbers, and thus, is going to be exhausted soon.
It cannot be connected to an IPv6-only device.
It supports unicast, broadcast, and multicast types of addresses.
It has a size of 128 bits.
It has a vast address space of 340 undecillion unique combinations.
It is composed of digits as well as hexadecimal.
It would take billions and billions of years for an IPv6 pool to max out.
It cannot be connected to an IPv4-only device.
It supports unicast, anycast, and multicast types of addresses.
Private IP addresses are associated with devices on a single network. As a result, devices that are outside the network cannot access other devices, such as from the internet. Every computer, laptop, smartphone, or printer has a unique IP address that is assigned to it by a router via the DHCP protocol. It should also be noted that private IP addresses are fixed and unrepeatable.
If the router’s IP address is 192.168.0.1, other devices connected to it may be assigned the following addresses:
Private IP addresses are further classified into ranges depending on the type of network (referred to as classes) the IP addresses serve, such as a corporate or home network.
This class of IP addresses ranges from 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255, and it is typically used by corporations for their excessively large network. The first block of IP address is used as a network identifier, while the rest of the blocks are used for device identification.
Class B IP addresses range from 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255. This range of IP addresses is often used by medium-sized networks as that seen at universities or similar-size institutions. Unlike the Class A range, the Class B IP addresses use the first two blocks of network identifications while the rest for devices.
Class C range IP addresses include the series of 192.168.0.0, which ends at 192.168.255.255, and most home networks by default are on this range unless the administrator has configured it differently. This range of IP addresses uses the first three blocks for network identifications and one block for identifying devices.
There are also Class D and Class E private IP addresses as well, but these addresses are not assigned to any hosts and used for specific purposes, such as multicasting and research, respectively.
The classes and range of IP addresses we discussed above are defined by netmasks. A netmask defines how many networks are available in a range of IP addresses along with the number of devices that it can host.
For example, in the IP address range, 255.255.255.0, the first block of 255 represents the number of networks, and the “0” represents the number of devices the IP range can host. You may have heard the phrase “subnet mask” which applies to the configuration of these netmasks whereas netmasks define the IP address classes as we’ve discussed earlier.
Public IP addresses are assigned by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). It is the IP that allows you to connect to the internet and browse the web. Every device on a local network shares the same public IP address since the router itself shares the same IP. That means even though your smart TV might be 192.168.1.31 and your PC’s IP is 192.168.1.68, the public IP given to both devices will be the same, like 184.108.40.206.
When the internet first came into existence, it had a handful number of servers. People would connect to those servers through the IP addresses assigned to them. But as hundreds and thousands of servers proliferated the internet, experts created Domain Name Servers (DNS) that would assign a human-readable label to IP addresses, allowing users to remember and access desired servers easily.
Public IP addresses are further categorized into dynamic and static IP addresses. Dynamic IP addresses are shared between hundreds of thousands of users. It rotates between users often as they restart their routers, or when their DHCP lease expires. Static or dedicated IP addresses, on the other hand, remain the same even if the router or modem is restarted.
You can always check all the connected local IP addresses on your network with a simple cmd or Terminal prompt. Here’s how you can go about it:
cmdfor Windows or Terminal for Mac.
arp -afor Windows or
arp -efor Mac.
ipconfigand hit enter.
ifconfigand enter to proceed.
You will be surprised to see the number of personally identifiable information (PII) that an IP address can reveal about you, such as:
From your country and state to your postal code and street, your public IP address reveals everything about your location. It ultimately puts your privacy at risk since it is the information that gives cyber criminals easy access to your device.
Whether it is the searches you make on the internet, the websites you visit, or the web history that is being saved on your browser, everything is being stored and tracked. In fact, some governments even require ISPs to log the data so that they can access it later. You know, just in case...
It isn’t just your demographics, but advertisers are monitoring your buying behavior, interests, and personal preferences. It doesn’t only put your privacy at risk but also allows third-parties to influence your personal opinion and interest.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) not only assigns you a public IP address but also retains all the rights to monitor every activity you do while using that IP. It ultimately gives you zero privacy as your ISP will know what websites you are browsing or what type of content you are streaming the most.
There are lots of things that can go wrong if a cybercriminal gets his hands on your IP address. For instance:
It is easy to spoof or change your IP address and, thus, your virtual location. What you simply need is a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN does not only replace your actual IP with an anonymous IP address, it also routes your Internet traffic via a VPN server, which encrypts the traffic (data), thereby hiding whatever you do online.
In short, you’re connecting to a device that protects you, and everything you do—every site you visit or movie you watch, or transaction you make—is no longer visible to your ISP. Your VPN not only hides your IP address from them but protects any other prying eyes from getting their hands on your private data.
Think about it like driving in a car through an impenetrable tunnel. Your enemies won’t be able to get to you if it’s so well reinforced. That’s what a VPN does too; it tunnels your traffic in an ironclad fashion so that no one can get to what you’re doing online. This keeps you safer than ever before.
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