Privacy is more important than ever nowadays – especially on the Internet. You’ll hear tons of people and read dozens of articles talking about how vital it is to hide your IP address when you’re online.
But what can someone do with your IP address?
There are dangers to someone knowing your IP address, but they’re rarely discussed. Criminals can use your IP to launch various cyberattacks and scams against you and others. Before we begin, however, let’s start with finding out what your IP address is: What is my IP?
What Is Your IP Address?
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address acts as an identifier for the device you use to access the web. That helps websites know exactly where to send the data you ask for through connection requests.
Besides just identifying your device, your IP address also reveals your geo-location since it contains info like:
- What country you are from.
- What city you are from.
- Who your ISP is.
- What your ZIP code is.
The easiest way for someone to find your IP address is if you torrent files, that makes it very simple for every member of the Swarm (the total number of seeders and leechers) to see your IP address. They just need to check the list of peers, and they can see your whole address right there – along with the type and version of the torrent client you’re using.
Also, if you send an email to anyone, they can just check the email message’s header since it might contain your IP address. Not all email services reveal IP addresses, though. For example, Gmail doesn’t do that (they only show their mail server’s address), but Yahoo! and Microsoft Outlook do.
A more unconventional way for someone to find your IP address is if you run a website, and host it on your server at home. They can just open their operating system’s command prompt, and ping the website’s domain. When they do that, the command prompt will return the website’s IP address.
Alternatively, they could just use an online IP lookup tool to do the same thing. Of course, if you use a data center server to host your website, you don’t need to worry about that.
Here are other “minor” ways someone could find your real IP address:
- By checking the web server logs of the websites you visit. Don’t forget – every website you access sees and stores your IP address. Of course, only website owners and admins can see that info – or pretty much anyone if the website suffers a data leak.
- Email HTML bugs can reveal your IP address when you open an email or view an image in said email. This isn’t exactly a “bug,” but a piece of code in a transparent image that’s present in an email. People can use services like WhoReadMe to attach such an image to the emails they send. If you interact with the message, the service will alert the sender, and will also show them your location (so, your IP address).
- If someone is in your home, and are using your WiFi network, they can just use Google, and type “what is my IP address,” and they’ll instantly see it.
- Forum, blog, and gaming server admins can see your real IP address. That’s how they block you, after all.
- Interacting with any online ad (especially on social media) will reveal your IP address to advertisers.
- Someone could use a tool like Grabify to create a link to a legit website, and send it to you. Clicking on the link takes you to a real website, but will also allow the person who sent it to track info about you, including your IP address.
So, What Can Someone Do With Your IP Address?
Here are the main ways your online experience can take a hit if someone has your IP address:
Restrict Your Access to Certain Services
“If someone has my IP address what can they do to my online access?”
Well, content providers can use your IP address to target you with geo-blocks – content restrictions that essentially prevent you from accessing a web page or the content on a website if you’re from a blacklisted geographical region.
Like we already mentioned, your IP address leaks your geo-location, and any website you send connection requests to or visit will see and log your IP address.
That’s how services like Netflix or Hulu keep people from accessing US content from other countries, for example.
Spam You With “Personalized” Ads
Ever looked up an article reviewing the best vacuum cleaners, read it and closed it, only to later see tons of vacuum cleaner ads on your social media feed?
The vacuum cleaner is just an example – really, anything goes with that statement.
Well, that creepy “coincidence” is actually how advertisers track you on the web, and spam you with ads you “might” be interested in.
Advertisers normally use tracking pixels, but they make use of your IP address too. With it, they can deliver location-based ads that are in your native language.
Some people might find that useful, but for most of us it feels like an invasion of our privacy.
Add It To a Database And Sell It On The Dark Web
Some hackers might collect IP addresses to sell them on the dark web for a profit.
Naturally, a cybercriminal won’t sell just your IP address. That’s not worth much to anyone. Instead, they’ll compile a whole database containing user data they stole from various websites – and that data includes your IP address.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should take this lightly. If someone buys your IP address on the dark web, it’s not because they have good intentions with it. They’ll either try to use it to impersonate you, find out personal info about you, or use it in scams.
Find Limited Personal Info About You
Don’t think someone could find your name, physical address, and phone number by just knowing your IP address.
At most, they’d be able to pinpoint your location to a specific area – a country, city, or even a neighborhood.
Still, if the cybercriminal is skilled enough, they could find out who your ISP is from your IP address, and use phishing and vishing attacks against them to find out your details. Stuff like that has happened before, so it’s no speculation.
Cyberstalkers who are persistent enough could also try using your IP address to track your online actions, and find more personal information about you. Though, again, that would only work if they manage to trick your ISP into revealing sensitive data, or hack them to get it.
DoS/DDoS Your Network
If a cybercriminal knows your IP address, they can DDoS/DoS you – essentially flood your network with unwanted traffic to the point where your web connection goes down.
This tends to happen a lot in online gaming – with upset players DoS/DDoS-ing other players.
Sue You For Copyright Infringement
Yep, stuff like that can happen if you live in a country where the law is very tough on torrenting – like the US, for instance. Torrent monitoring and copyright agencies might keep an eye on torrent traffic, and single out your IP address. If they do that, they can find out who your ISP is, and get in touch with them to ask them to hand over your contact details and personal information.
Then, depending on how serious your “torrenting crime” is, they might just threaten you with DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notices, or they could sue you directly.
Prevent You From Playing Online Games
This just applies to online games. An admin who’s a sore loser might ban you from the match.
Now, when they ban you, they’re banning your IP address. Since the gaming server blacklists it, you can’t reconnect to it anymore until someone lifts the ban.
“Can My IP Address Be Hacked and Used?”
Not exactly, though you might see people talking about “IP hacks” online.
However, a cybercriminal can’t exactly hack an IP address. It’s just a number, not software or hardware.
“Okay, so what can a hacker do with an IP address then?”
Well, a cybercriminal could theoretically use your IP address. To do that, they’d need to hack your device, therefore getting access to its IP address. That, or they could get access to your home WiFi network – which they can easily do if you don’t secure it properly.
Once they’re using your network or device, they can start doing illegal stuff with your IP address – like making death threats or downloading illegal torrents, child pornography, or content that might threaten the country’s national security.
“Can Someone Remotely Access My Computer With My IP Address?”
Usually, no. Just knowing someone’s IP address isn’t exactly enough to remotely hack their devices.
Still, a very skilled cybercriminal could use your IP address to scan for open ports associated with it. If you’re not familiar with ports, just think of them as pipelines data flows through into and out of your network and device.
If a hacker were to manage to find an open port, and gain control over it (and many others), they might have a way to remotely control your computer. However, that can only happen if your operating system is out of date, you don’t use antivirus/antimalware software, and you turned your firewall off.
Another thing a cybercriminal could do is use your IP address to learn personal info about you and your browsing habits, and use phishing methods to try and trick you into installing malicious software on your device. If they’re successful, they can get remote access to your device.
How to Protect Your IP Address from Hackers, Advertisers, and Surveillance
Here are some good ways to hide your IP address to make sure nobody can track or steal it:
1. Use a VPN Service
A VPN is an online service you can use to quickly and easily hide your IP address. All you need to do is connect to a VPN server, and it will automatically replace your real IP address with its address. Before committing to a VPN, it’s a good idea to test the connection well to make sure it doesn’t suffer any IP leaks.
Also, using a VPN with a Kill Switch is preferable. That way, if you ever lose your VPN connection for any reason, you won’t need to worry about anyone seeing your real IP address since the VPN will automatically cut off your web access until the connection is running again.
2. Use a Proxy Server
Much like a VPN, a proxy server will also hide your IP address whenever you connect to it. However, it doesn’t offer the same level of security VPNs do. So you don’t get high-end encryption that properly secures your traffic and data. Also, proxy servers often tend to be slower than VPN servers, so keep that in mind.
If you’re worried about that, but still want to use a proxy server, consider getting a VPN whose servers double as proxy servers.
3. Update Your Firewall And Router
A criminal can hack your router remotely and retrieve your IP address, especially if you’re still using the default one. Change the password of your router regularly and be sure to use a long mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters.
4. Switch WiFi Networks
If you’re worried someone is targeting your IP address, and you have access to multiple WiFi networks, just switch between them. The moment you connect to a network, you’ll get a new IP address.
Of course, this isn’t an ideal solution. Public WiFi is pretty risky and full of cyber threats since most networks don’t use any kind of encryption.
5. Switch to Mobile Data
If you don’t have any WiFi networks you can use (can happen if you’re at home), another way to hide your IP address is to just turn on your mobile data.
When you do that, you’ll start using your cell phone provider’s network, so you’ll get a new IP address.
6. Talk With Your ISP
Since your ISP is the one who assigns IP addresses to you, it’s obvious you need to talk with them if you want to change it. You could try seeing if they’d be willing to offer you a dynamic IP address – basically an address that changes every single time you go on the web.
Of course, if your ISP agrees, they might charge you more for that. And they might have you answer a few questions or fill out some forms too.
What About Tor?
Sure, Tor can also hide your IP address. It’s an anonymity network, after all. However, there’s one big problem with it – the network already had a flaw some time ago that leaked users’ real IP addresses.
True, it was fixed, but who knows if an issue like that will show up again? The last thing you want is randomly exposing your IP address without even knowing it.
Besides that, you’ll also have to put up with other issues like the lack of encryption on the exit relay, having to only use the Tor browser, and slow speeds since there aren’t enough relays to support the huge number of Tor users.
What to Do If Someone Has Your IP Address
Well, it’s pretty obvious – change it. You can do that with a VPN or proxy, or by asking your ISP to do it for you.
Other than that, there’s not much you can do. If you fear a cybercriminal is using your address to download or do illegal things, it’s best to alert the authorities as soon as possible.
What Can Someone Do With Your IP Address? The Bottom Line
Quite a lot – they can use it to find out approximate details about your location (country, city, ZIP code, ISP), restrict your access to certain websites or gaming servers, and target you with annoying ads.
As for how someone can find your IP address, they can try many things – from using IP lookup tools and checking the list of peers on torrent clients to using email HTML bugs and online ads.
To make sure your privacy stays intact, you should use a VPN or a proxy server to hide your IP address whenever you’re on the web.