Even if you don’t know what an IP address is, you have probably heard the term. That’s because IP addresses are an important aspect of the architecture of the Internet. Without an IP address, other computers wouldn’t be able to communicate with yours, and vice versa. But this short string of numbers can also be used to track you, so for this reason, you may want to anonymize your IP address. In this article, we discuss what an IP address is, and what are some ways you can hide your IP.
What is an IP address?
An IP address, which stands for Internet Protocol address, is a unique numeric combination that identifies routers, computers, or other devices to allow them to communicate through the Internet. In the same way your email address allows others to send you an email, a remote computer needs your IP address to communicate with your computer. IP addresses normally look something like this: 184.108.40.206
How your IP address can be misused
Like any piece of personal information, there are ways others can try to exploit it. Some kinds of misuse may be relatively harmless, such as the unauthorized use of your IP address to track you across the Internet and target you for advertising. Other abuse can be extremely destructive. These are some of the main threats:
- Ad networks – Companies like Google and Facebook are constantly monitoring your online browsing in order to deliver personalized ads. Many people find these ads intrusive and don’t want corporations keeping a record of their activity.
- Censorship – The Internet is supposed to be a place for the free and open exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, many governments and businesses would rather it weren’t. Repressive governments often block websites they dislike, and companies often block IP addresses based on their geographic location.
- Illegal downloading – Cyber criminals can download pirated moves, music, and videos – even child pornography – using your IP address to shield their true identity from law enforcement. In many countries, downloading pirated content is a criminal offense.
- Targeted attacks – Hackers who want to harass and intimidate you can use your IP address in a number of ways. One popular form is a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, in which the criminal bombards your device with data and disrupts your Internet access. Your IP address can even reveal your physical location with surprising accuracy.
- Surveillance – When your Internet service provider can see your IP address, it can associate your online activity with you personally. This information can be used to censor or throttle content, and, through a subpoena, the government could also gain access to your browsing history.
How do criminals find my IP address?
Just as they do to find personal info online in order to target users for malware infection, cybercriminals can be awfully crafty to find your IP address. Here are some of the ways attackers drill down to see that magical number.
Attackers can use social engineering to fool you into revealing your IP address. For example, they can find you through Skype and other instant messaging applications, which all use IP addresses to communicate. If you happen to chat with strangers using these apps, it’s important to note that they can see your IP address. Attackers can use a tool called Skype Resolver, where they can find your IP address when all they know is your username.
In addition, criminals can track down your IP address by simply following your online activity. Any number of online activities can reveal your IP address, from playing video games to commenting on websites and forums.
After finding your IP address, attackers simply go to an IP address tracking website, such as whatismyipaddress.com, type it in, and then BAM—they have an idea of your location. With a little elbow grease, hackers can cross reference other open source data if they want to validate whether the IP address is associated with you specifically. They can use LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social networks that show where you live, and then see if that matches the area given. If a Facebook stalker utilized a phishing attack against all people with your name to install spying malware, the IP address associated with your system would likely tell the stalker that they got the right person.
How to keep your IP address private
Luckily, it’s pretty simple to prevent your IP address from being exposed to the network. Here are four steps to hide your IP address:
1. Use a VPN
A VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. When you browse the Internet using a VPN, all your traffic passes through this encrypted tunnel before reaching the public Internet. In this way, your true IP address and location are hidden, and the IP address tied to your browsing activity is that of the VPN server. For more information about VPNs, check out our articles on how a VPN works and why use it.
ProtonVPN also has an advanced security feature called Secure Core, which defends against sophisticated network-based attacks that can compromise VPN servers and expose your IP address.
2. Follow the basic precautions
We discussed in our article “Why online privacy matters and how you can protect your data.” We’ve provided some safe options for browsers, email services, and instant messaging apps that should help you to control your privacy.
3. Use Tor
Tor is a free software program developed by The Tor Project, which allows users to anonymize their Internet traffic. This makes it a useful tool for those concerned about surveillance and for those who wish to access onion sites. ProtonVPN supports access to the Tor network, making it simple to route your entire Internet connection through the Tor network with a single click. ProtonVPN Tor nodes connect to the Tor network by establishing a new route each time a user establishes a new VPN session. This way, none of the Tor nodes along the way receive information about the originating client, and user details stay hidden even in the case of a malicious Tor node.
4. Keep your antivirus software up to date, and change the default password on your router
These are easy ways to protect your devices from malware attacks that can expose your data, including your IP address.
There’s little reason not to keep your IP address hidden: The hazards of exposing your IP address far outweigh the ease of protecting it. Just as you may not want to publish your phone number or home address online, it may be just as prudent to keep your IP address private as well.
Your router forwards data between networks, and your firewall prevents unauthorized access. Make sure you change the administrative password on your router, since default passwords are frequently used by attackers to break into your network. Each default password provided by your ISP is the same and can be easily searched online. Also, set your firewall rules to not allow any ping requests from the Internet. This makes sure unauthorized visitors won’t get through.
Only allow direct connections from contacts and don’t accept calls or messages from people you don’t know. Changing your settings to private makes it harder to find your IP address because people who don’t know you cannot connect with you.
7. Update your antivirus solution and add security layers
Making sure you are caught up on all of your security software’s updates ensures you’re protected from threats. Adding additional security on top of your antivirus further protects you. For instance, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware blocks malicious URLs originating from phishing emails in addition to blocking bad sites you might encounter.
Protecting your IP address is one aspect of protecting your identity. Securing it through these steps is one more way to stay safe against the wide variety of attack vectors cybercriminals are using today.