The device you’re reading this article on has a unique identifier known as an internet protocol (IP) address. Without this numerical tag, it can’t open the Cloudwards website or other online services. While the IP enables devices to communicate, cybercriminals can use it to exploit you. Keep reading to learn what someone can do with your IP address.
- Your device’s IP address is analogous to a digital identity card. It helps websites, apps and other devices on a computer network identify and communicate with your device.
- An IP address doesn’t reveal direct information about you — it only displays your country and city. However, with the IP, hackers can use tricks to get personal information, such as your Social Security number, exact location, name and phone number.
- Hackers can get your IP via email, digital ads, phony links, torrenting sites or your devices, such as routers and computers.
- You can use a VPN to protect your online activities and prevent hackers from getting your IP address.
In this article, we’ll tell you what an IP address is, what it’s used for, how someone can know your IP and how it can precipitate a cyberattack if it falls into the wrong hands. We’ll also discuss best practices, such as using one of the best VPN services, to keep your IP address safe.
If someone has your IP address that doesn’t always spell danger, because not everyone wants it for illegal purposes. However, you should take preventive measures, like changing your router’s and devices’ IP addresses, to foil potential cyberattacks.
They can get your IP banned, locking you out of Xbox Live. However, such cases happen rarely.
If someone driven by malice gets hold of your public IP address, they can hack your device, impersonate you online, block you from online games and services or track your online activities.
Yes, the VPN hides your real IP address and assigns you a new IP address linked to the VPN server you connect to. A single VPN IP address is shared by thousands of VPN users, making it difficult for anyone to identify you or track you down.
What Is an IP Address?
An IP address is a unique identifier or numeric tag designated for each device in a computer network. It’s a string of numbers separated by points, such as 18.104.22.168, which gives valuable information about your approximate geographical location.
The internet service provider (ISP) assigns an IP address to each router on a network to set it apart from the billions of others. This enables computers, routers, websites and mobile devices connected to a network to exchange data and communicate with each other.
Public Vs Private IP Addresses
Your computer has two IP addresses: a public IP, which identifies it to the wider internet, and a private IP to communicate securely with other devices on a private network. Take your home network, for example. The ISP assigns a public IP to the router, whereas each device in the network, such as TVs, PCs and mobile phones, has its own IP address.
The public IP identifies you to the worldwide web so the information you search for can find you. The private IP address doesn’t identify your device for the broader internet, but instead helps devices within the same private network connect securely.
How Can I Find Out My IP Address?
To find your IP address, search “what is my IP address” in Google. You can also use a DNS leak test to find additional personal information, such as your city and country. IPLeak.org gives you details about your ISP, as well.
Keep in mind if you have multiple computers, mobile phones and laptops connected to one router (via LAN or WiFi), they will share the same public IP address. You can look up the private IPs in each device’s settings.
For Windows, go to the “network & internet” option and select the network you’re connected to. Select “properties” and scroll to the bottom of the tab to see the IPv4 address. If you’re using a macOS device, select “system preferences,” double-click “network” and click “ethernet.”
For Android, head to the device settings and select “about device.” Tap on “status information” to see the IP. Lastly, to find an IP address on an iOS device, go to “settings,” click “WiFi” and select the active network to see the IPv4 address.
Can Someone Else Find Out My IP Address?
Your IP address is visible on the internet. That means a tech-savvy person, such as a hacker, can find your IP address (we’ll discuss how in a bit).
It’s not illegal for another person to see your IP address, particularly if they have no intention to harm you. However, if their curiosity to find out the IP involves social engineering or hacking, it’s illegal and punishable by law.
What Can Someone Do With Your IP Address?
Since your IP address is publicly available, malicious snoopers can use it for illegal activities. Here are a few things someone can do with your IP address.
1. Access Your Sensitive Information and Geographic Location
If someone with ill intentions has your IP address, they can use an IP lookup tool to find your geographic location. The good thing is an IP doesn’t reveal your exact location. In most cases, it will only disclose your city and country.
The IP alone isn’t enough to learn your name, home address or phone number. However, it is linked to your internet service provider. As a result, a skilled hacker can use network attacks to get personally identifiable information (PII) from your ISP.
2. Impersonate You for Malicious Purposes
With an IP address, a hacker or malicious snooper can learn your approximate location, so they can better tailor their social engineering or phishing attacks to get hold of personal details. These details include your phone number, name, mailing address, social handles, Social Security number (SSN) and birthdate.
That data set is a goldmine for identity thieves. They will piece it together and try to impersonate you, sometimes for malicious purposes. For example, downloading copyrighted files and child pornography, trafficking drugs or traversing the dark web.
If law enforcement authorities come calling, it will take a lengthy legal battle to prove you didn’t download illegal content or engage in criminal activities.
3. Track Your Online Activity
Since your IP is unique to your device, employers may use it to trace your digital footprints while you’re at work. Employee tracking isn’t illegal, but it’s an invasion of employees’ privacy.
Regardless, some employers are hell-bent on flushing out lazy employees who use the workplace network for social media, online gaming or shopping. In most cases, employee tracking can only happen when you’re connected to the work network.
4. Hack Your Device
Devices on your network use IP addresses and ports to connect. A port is an opening an app or program uses as a communication endpoint. Some apps share the same port, and there are thousands of ports for each IP address.
If a hacker has your IP address, they can use a port scanner, such as Nmap, to see the apps and daemons running on your device. That will allow them to judge vulnerable apps and zero in on the port these other apps connect to.
They then launch attacks using social engineering techniques, like sending you spammed links. The hacker could find a way into your device with sustained efforts. Once they are in, they will steal your data, install malware, wreck your device or perform a ransomware attack.
5. Carry Out DDOS or DOS Attacks
In addition, your IP address could be a gateway for hackers to accomplish a denial of service (DOS) or distributed denial of service attack (DDoS). In this case, the hackers use a network of controlled computers to bombard your device with data. As a result, the device disconnects from the network and shuts down.
Hackers carry our DoS attacks to net easy money. For this reason, they rarely set them up for regular users. Instead, they direct the attacks on popular companies and websites. They perform service attacks to bring the companies down to their knees then demand a massive payout to call off the dogs.
How Hackers Get Someone’s IP Address
The hacker must first find your IP address for all the above attacks. There are several ways a hacker can get hold of your IP.
If you fall into the hacker’s trap and send them an email, they only need to check the email header to see your IP address. Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Outlook put the IP in the header. Gmail doesn’t display the IP in the header, but hackers can find it with the help of email header analyzers.
2. Online Ads
When you click a link, your device has to show your IP address for the web server on the other end to display the content you need. Hackers may create a legitimate online ad then tap the information your device exchanges with their web server to get the IP address.
When downloading torrent files, the torrenting site displays the IP addresses of the peers list. Peers refer to torrent clients downloading the same file at a particular time. Hackers could be among the peers, but they aren’t there to download the file — they want to steal the IP addresses. You should use the best VPN for torrenting when torrenting files.
4. Router Vulnerabilities
A hacker can also target your router’s vulnerabilities or crack your password to gain access to your network. If you haven’t changed the router’s default admin login credentials, they use the standard passwords for most popular routers to log in and view your IP address.
5. Borrowing Devices
Sometimes, hackers may masquerade as friends and ask to use your device. If they’re using the device on your home network, it will take a few clicks to find your public IP and the private IPs of the devices on that network.
How Can I Stop Hackers From Getting My IP Address?
To stop hackers from getting your IP, you have to use the right cybersecurity tool to protect your online activities and adhere to a set of best practices.
Protecting Your Online Activity With a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is the best tool to protect your IP address. Nearly all the ways hackers get someone’s IP address are linked to online activities. Using a VPN to protect your online activities can block most of the paths to hackers seeing your IP, as you can read in our guide — does a VPN protect you from hackers.
When you connect to a VPN server, it hides your actual IP address and replaces it with its own IP. A hacker will only be able to see the VPN’s IP address, which has no details about your device, ISP or actual location. Plus, the VPN encrypts your traffic, which means no one will know what you’re doing online.
Moreover, hundreds or even thousands of VPN users can share one IP address. This helps you blend in with the crowd, making it nearly impossible to track you down. What’s more, the VPN assigns you a dynamic IP address that changes regularly for additional anonymity. Some VPNs offer static IP addresses, too, though those are only useful to businesses.
The VPN offers other benefits, too, including:
- Sending your traffic via an encrypted tunnel, making it nearly impossible for hackers, ISP and surveillance agencies to spy on your traffic.
- Additional security tools if you’re using a top-tier VPN, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN. Among these may be a kill switch or DNS leak protection to minimize the chances of IP leaks (read our DNS leaks guide to learn more).
Keeping Your IP Address Safe: More Tips
A VPN by itself can’t guarantee total anonymity and thwart hackers’ endeavors to steal your IP address. In addition to using the VPN, you should also:
- Change the default password on your router and use a better password. You should also change the router’s admin login credentials regularly.
- Change the privacy settings on instant messaging apps and other communication tools to private. Don’t pick up calls or open messages from unknown callers/senders.
- Avoid clicking on phony links or opening every ad you see online. They could be a hacker’s ploy to steal your IP.
- When traveling or going about your business in town, switch off your WiFi to prevent your device from accidentally connecting to unknown WiFi.
- If you must use public WiFi, connect via a VPN.
- Switch to mobile data when in public places. Telecom operators assign a temporary IP to all your devices when you start a new data session. If you connect the device continuously, the cellular carrier periodically refreshes the IP address, making it difficult to track you down.
- Do not allow strangers to use your device.
Your IP address alone doesn’t pose a serious risk to your network, digital security and privacy. However, the IP can be a gateway to serious cyberattacks. Hackers could use social engineering, phishing attacks and other hacking techniques to get sensitive private information.
Using these methods successfully would give them options to impersonate you, lock you out of certain services or frame you for serious cybercrimes. If you haven’t experienced any of these cyberattacks, the internet has been kind to you, but you could soon run out of luck.
Don’t wait until danger knocks on your door. Arm yourself with the most secure VPN to thwart attempts by hackers to steal your IP address. We recommend ExpressVPN or NordVPN, as they are the most secure VPN services. In addition, observe the aforementioned best practices.