What Can Someone Do With Your IP Address?
You might think that your IP (Internet Protocol) address doesn’t give away much personal information. After all, it’s just a string of numbers. However, this one piece of data can be enough to put your privacy at risk.
This article will show you what someone can do with your IP address if you don’t protect yourself online. We’ll also explain how someone can get a hold of your information and what you can do to browse the web more safely.
Summary: If someone has your IP address, they can find your home address, hack you, or use your personal details for criminal activities. Luckily, there are several ways to protect yourself from this.
How Can Someone Use Your IP Address for Malicious Purposes?
Tech-savvy people know how to use IP addresses to discover the personal information of their holders. Let’s look at some of the main ways someone can use yours.
Tracking Your Online Activity
The rise of remote work has propelled this use of IP addresses. Employers can use your IP address to monitor your internet activity to see how much time you spend working. While not necessarily illegal, it’s certainly an invasion of privacy.
Your employer is far from the only one who can use your IP address for this purpose. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider), communication apps, and government authorities can do the same. This doesn’t need to have any negative consequences, and just about everyone online is tracked this way, but it’s still worth knowing if you’re protective of your online privacy.
Finding Out Your Physical Address
Your IP address only shows a general geographic location – the country and city you’re in. Still, this is enough for many people to worry about their physical address being exposed.
Generally speaking, this isn’t too big of a concern, although it’s not technically impossible for someone to track down your physical address through the IP one. It takes quite a bit of tech prowess, so there are only a handful of cases where this can happen.
For instance, those involved in illegal activity are often tracked down by the authorities through their IP addresses. In addition, a skilled hacker would know how to find someone’s address through their ISP by launching phishing attacks.
So even though it’s not common, it is possible to locate someone’s actual location by looking at their IP address.
Kicking You Out of Online Games/Services
When playing online games, you often have to abide by certain rules. If you don’t, the admin can ban you from the game. They’ll often do this by blocking your IP address so you can’t access the game anymore, which is known as an IP ban.
Other services or websites can be restricted in a similar manner. Someone can block all IP addresses from a specific country or region for security reasons. To access such websites, you might have to contact the admin directly or use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Once you connect to a VPN server in another country, you’ll get a new IP address, so it looks like you’re browsing from somewhere else.
Launching a DoS Attack
A DoS (Denial of Service) attack happens when someone overwhelms your IP address with traffic. This prevents you from accessing services such as your email, websites, and your online accounts.
An even stronger form of this attack is DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service). It works the same way as DoS, except the attacker uses multiple devices to flood your device even more, causing a more severe network connection loss.
Stealing Your Identity
Although not very common, identity theft is too serious a concern not to be discussed. A hacker or cybercriminal can use your public IP address to get a hold of your PII (Personally Identifiable Information) like your name, phone number, mailing address, and even your SSN (Social Security Number).
This can lead to further theft, as your PII would give the attacker access to other information, such as your bank account details.
There have been many cases of hackers engaging in criminal activity in someone else’s name. For instance, they download illegal content or browse the dark web, leaving a trace that could lead back to the victim. It can be quite hard to prove to the authorities that you weren’t the one committing those crimes.
Hacking Your Device
All your devices use something called ports to access different online services. Hackers can exploit these ports for malicious purposes and get a hold of your device through them.
They usually do this by using a port scanner to identify weak points they can use to get access to a certain app or program. Since apps often share ports, getting into one can allow the attacker to go further through your device. Doing so would allow them to install malware on your device, steal its data and valuable information, and perform many other cybercrimes.
Targeting You With Highly Personalized Spam or Ads
Not all reasons for tracking someone’s IP address are illegal or malicious. Some are simply motivated by the bottom line. As technology advanced, advertisers became more skilled at targeting people with the kind of content that has the highest chance of grabbing their attention.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as it doesn’t involve an invasion of privacy. Sadly, many advertisers have crossed this line. They embed tracking programs in their content to save your IP address and send out personalized spam emails or online ads.
While not dangerous, this can surely be quite annoying. Most of us aren’t comfortable knowing that total strangers can get a deep understanding of our interests simply because we’re browsing the web.
How Can Someone Get Your IP Address?
We’ve established that your IP address can be an entryway to some very valuable information. Because of this, you’d think that online services and companies would put in a lot of effort to keep it hidden.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
It’s quite easy to see someone’s IP address. Here are some of the most common ways to do it.
Ads aren’t just annoying; they can be quite invasive if someone wants to use them for further targeting. Due to a specific kind of software called adware, all it takes is a click on the ad and the advertiser can record your IP address.
Worse yet, many ads are created by hackers wishing to install malware on your device. Because of this, only click on ads that seem legit. Remember the rule – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There’s a high chance that everyone you’ve sent an email to can see your IP address, especially if you use Microsoft Outlook or Yahoo. All someone has to do is look at the email header and they can see the address.
This is possible with other email clients, though they don’t make your address so prominent. For a small step towards privacy, you can consider switching to a provider like Gmail. It doesn’t reveal your IP address, but only if you send an email through their web interface.
Piracy might seem like a great way to save money, but it comes at a hidden cost. Torrenting is one of the easiest ways to jeopardize your privacy if you’re not careful.
First of all, torrenting is peer-to-peer, which means you download pieces of the file you want from those who’ve already downloaded them. When you’re torrenting, your name will pop up on the peer list.
Torrenting websites are often jam-packed with spam or malicious ads. It’s easy to accidentally download malware that can steal your personal details.
Forums can be quite useful for finding all sorts of information and joining a community. Although usually appearing friendly, you’ll still want to participate in them with caution.
When you join a forum, its admin can see your IP address and location. Most of them won’t use this information for any nefarious purposes, but you never know when someone can use it against you.
It’s usually not advisable to connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network. Doing so can leave your phone or other devices vulnerable to attacks. Avid hackers know how to use such networks to access the victim’s personally identifiable information.
You can never know if a hotspot might be fake. Such hotspots are often referred to as honeypots, and for a good reason – they lure you in so they can mine sensitive information. To avoid this, always connect to trusted networks.
Social media platforms are goldmines of personal information. They usually understand this massive responsibility and protect users’ data. But as online security measures evolve, so do cyberattacks.
All it takes is a data breach and your IP address can leak out, along with lots of other sensitive information. The best you can do here is hope the social platform you’re using knows how to defend itself from sophisticated attacks.
Many people never change their router’s default password. Don’t make this mistake, as it can make your internet connection unsecured.
A hacker can target a vulnerable router to crack its password and gain access to your device. To minimize the chance of this happening, make sure to set a strong password.
Does a VPN Hide Your IP Address?
If everything you’ve read has made you a bit paranoid about browsing the web, don’t worry. It’s time to move towards a more hopeful section of this article and show you what you can do to protect your IP address and other information.
You’ve probably heard of VPNs as the most surefire way to achieve online anonymity. Does a VPN really hide your IP address?
Good news – it does. VPN software completely masks your IP address and assigns you a new one. Instead of communicating directly through your address, you’ll use the one assigned by the VPN. This new address belongs to the VPN server, so nobody can see your actual IP address.
Moreover, one address can be shared among thousands of users, so you’ll blend in with a large crowd. Not even your ISP can track what you do online thanks to effective encryption, which makes a VPN an excellent choice for safe browsing.
Another handy feature of capable VPNs is threat protection. Your VPN can alert you if there’s a risk of malware so you can take action in time to ensure you don’t download it to your device.
As you can imagine, this sort of security comes at a cost. While there are free VPN services, you might have to pay for the more capable options with all the necessary security features. If you decide they’re worth the investment, you can find many great solutions. If not, let’s see what else you can do to protect your IP address and other data.
Review Your Privacy Settings
Most online tools we use come with built-in settings that you should have a look at. It’s crucial to properly set up both your device’s settings and those of instant messaging apps. The latter is especially important, as someone can easily access such apps.
To prevent this, make sure your accounts are set to private. This way, you can only be reached by those you know and trust. Make sure to never accept calls or messages that seem like spam, and only reply to new requests if you can confirm they come from a genuine person.
Set Secure Passwords
We use all sorts of devices and services, and remembering the password for each can be a hassle. That’s why most people choose simple passwords or just use one across many devices and accounts.
While convenient, this isn’t a good idea, as it exposes you to quite a bit of risk. You should always go for longer, more complicated passwords that will make it harder for a hacker to get access to your accounts.
To stay protected, set solid passwords for all your devices, router, firewall, and accounts. If needed, write them down somewhere so you don’t forget them.
Discuss Privacy Concerns With Your Internet Service Provider
What does your ISP do to ensure your IP address and other data are safe? Can they suggest some steps you can take to boost your security?
These are some of the main questions you should ask them. Your ISP is responsible for your online privacy to some degree, so they should help you browse the web safely.
Use Proxy Servers
Think of a proxy server as a buffer between you and the web. It works similarly to a VPN in that it creates another layer of communication and masks your IP address.
A proxy server doesn’t have the encryption capabilities of a VPN, so your online activity can still be monitored. It’s a convenient option for hiding IP addresses if that’s all you want to do.
Switch to Mobile Data
If your cellular plan allows it, you’ll want to use your mobile data rather than Wi-Fi networks. Why?
It’s simple –- whenever you turn on cellular data, your ISP assigns you a new IP address. The address is temporary, and will change automatically every time you’ve been idle for a certain amount of time.
Even though you’ll still have a visible IP address, mobile data leaves a much shorter time window for hackers to attack.
Use Private Browsers
Most web browsers don’t ensure online anonymity. Luckily, some of them were designed specifically for privacy.
Tor is a perfect example. While it has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation for being the go-to browser of those surfing the dark web, many online security buffs use it for everyday browsing.
Your IP address will be routed through the open-source Tor network containing many other users. That way, it’ll stay hidden from third parties.
How to Change Your Own IP Address
No matter what device you’re using, you should be able to change your own IP address in no time. Here’s how.
Go to Settings > Connections
Tap Wi-Fi and select your network
Tap the gear icon > Advances
Go to IP Settings > Static
Type your new IP address
Go to Settings > Wi-Fi
Go to IPv4, and tap Configure IP
Type your new address
Go to System Preferences > Network
Click Network Connection > IPv4
Click Manually, and type your new address
Click Start > Control Panel
Go to Network Connection and select your LAN connection
Click Properties > TCP/IP
Type your new address
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it illegal for someone to have my ip address?
Seeing someone’s IP address isn’t illegal. Even intentionally searching for it isn’t. This is true as long as someone doesn’t use it for criminal activities. Many businesses and organizations legally use your IP address to gather all kinds of data, mostly for marketing purposes.
What can i do if someone gets a hold of my ip address?
Despite the many negative consequences of someone getting your IP address, there’s no need to worry about it in most cases. Even if someone launches an attack against you, you can defend yourself. All you have to do is change your IP address in your device settings, or restart the router if you’re on Wi-Fi.
What's the best way to protect my privacy online?
Even though there are many steps you can take to browse the web more safely, a VPN is still the only way to be truly anonymous online. Even that’s not a bulletproof solution, as a VPN server can be attacked as well. But it’s a solid option that will get you as close to true privacy as you can be.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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