Your IP address is a unique way to identify your computer or phone. It lets you use the internet, but there is also a privacy risk. This guide will explain what an IP address is, why you should hide it, and the best ways of doing it.
What is an IP address?
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is like a ZIP code for computers. It is a unique code made up of numbers for each device on the internet. Websites use IP addresses to correctly send data back to your computer rather than to somebody else’s.
Websites also have IP addresses. Load 22.214.171.124 in your browser, for instance, and it will take you to Google.
URLs like google.com or facebook.com are just conveniences for us humans. Your browser uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to convert these easy-to-remember words into an IP address your computer understands.
IP addresses are just one part of computer networking — the so-called ‘network layer.’ IPs get two computers connected, and other systems like the Transmission Control Protocol handle details like transferring data.
What can hackers do with your IP address?
IP addresses make the internet work, but hackers often use them to compromise computers, cause damage, and ruin lives. Here are five examples of what they can do.
#1: See where you live
People can use free online tools to match your IP to where you live, often down to the ZIP code. Hackers or stalkers can then cross-reference that with other information (like a public Facebook account) to confirm your location.
#2: Wreck your internet connection
Hackers can easily use your IP to launch a DDoS (Distributed denial-of-service) and cripple your internet connection.
They do this with DDoS attacks, which means flooding your connection with so much data that it cannot do anything else, or a more sophisticated attack, like the Slowloris.
Big businesses like Google, Github, and Amazon are the most common targets of a DDoS, but they are just as dangerous for regular computer users.
#3: Infect your PC
When programs connect to your PC, they use both your IP and a unique ‘port number.’ If a hacker knows your IP address, they can scan your PC for unprotected ports. That way, it lets hackers decide which parts of a network are vulnerable to attack.
With that information, they can compromise your computer with tools like the Remote Desktop Protocol and infect it with ransomware or spyware.
#4: Use your PC for illegal activity
Hackers often use compromised computers for things like downloading pornography, copyrighted media, or banned material. Because they use your IP address, the hacker essentially frames you for their crimes.
They might also turn your PC into a zombie computer, using your internet connection to DDoS or serve malware to other people.
#5: Impersonate your ISP
It is easy to find someone’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) from their IP address. With this, a con artist can call you, pretending to be from your ISP.
It often leads to a remote access scam or identity theft, where they ask for your account and bank details to fix a billing error.
How can you hide your IP address?
Hiding your IP address is a good first step to staying safe online. Here are three methods for stopping hackers from using your IP address against you.
#1: Get a new address
Changing your IP address regularly can make it harder for people to track you.
Many devices have ‘dynamic’ IP addresses, which means they change every time you connect to the internet. If your device has a dynamic IP, you can turn your Wi-Fi off and on to change your IP. You can also call up ISP and ask for it to be changed.
#2: Use a proxy
A more permanent solution is to mask your IP address with another one. You can do this by using a proxy, which routes all of your internet traffic through a separate server. That way, the rest of the network only sees the proxy’s IP address and location — not yours.
#3: Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is like a proxy and routes your traffic through a private server. The main difference is that VPNs encrypt your network connection with the uncrackable 256-AES algorithm for extra security. Many VPNs also have “kill switches”, which automatically shut down your internet if your link to the VPN fails.
The most important thing about your IP address is knowing what it reveals. Most people don’t realize that they’re exposing their computer, personal data, and even their location to the world every time they go online.
The dangers of exposing your IP address include identity fraud, DDoS attacks, and direct hacks. Hiding it is important, and the best way to do this is with a robust firewall and the strong encryption of a VPN.
While hiding your IP address is essential, it will not stop truly dedicated hackers. You should also regularly scan your computer with a trustworthy antivirus program and use unique, strong passwords on every site.