What Does My IP Address Really Mean?

Many people believe an IP address is just like a home address for the Internet. There are a lot of myths that your IP address can be traced just like a phone call on a cop show. This leads people to believe it can also be traced by hackers directly back to your mailing address. Is this true?

An IP is an Internet protocol address, and refers to the procedure used by your Internet connection to get online. There are different types of IP addresses that have different meanings, but they all identify devices on an Internet connection. While they do give observers clues about yourself, the information they provide is more abstract. Staying safe online means knowing what can – and can’t – be found out about you based on your IP address. 

What an IP Address Really Is

IP addresses can be split into a few different categories, based on function, format, and usage. 

Network IP

In most homes, the Internet network is set up through a modem/router. An external IP address identifies this device. These IP addresses are assigned by the Internet service provider (ISP) that supplies your Internet. Your computer actually doesn’t have an external IP address unless it is connected directly. 

A local IP address is one assigned by your home network (or LAN) to each individual device on it. Local IPs can be found by looking at your router settings or in various different ways in your device settings. On your cell phone, for example, you can find it under your WiFi settings, while your computer might require an IP config command prompt. 

Examples of connected devices that have local IP addresses include:

  • Computers and laptops
  • WiFi appliances, like printers
  • Android devices
  • iOS devices
  • Cell phones
  • Gaming consoles and TVs

IP Version

Addresses come in two forms, or versions: IPv4 and IPv6. This refers to how the IP address is formatted. 

IPv4 is the original protocol, still used today since its creation in 1983. It is a 32-bit code, which usually appears as four sets of numbers separated by periods, such as 192.168.201.205 or 10.1.1.03. An IPv4 address is so common it’s what most people think of when it comes to their Internet connections.

IPv6 was developed because IPv4 had a limited number of combinations that could be created. Since devices get their own private IP address, it was necessary to find new formats for them. IPv6 addresses are alphanumeric and separated differently from IPv4. An example of an IPv6 address is 2dfc:0:0:0:0217:cbff:fe8c:0. IPv6 addresses are also coded at 128 bits.

Static and Dynamic IP Addresses

Home Internet users should take note of the difference between a dynamic IP and a static IP. Most home Internet is a dynamic IP, which means it changes during maintenance updates or outages. A home IP address will most likely not be permanent. Your ISP will reassign an address for you when they send updates to your modem or do maintenance on local lines and hubs.

In contrast, static IP addresses are assigned to business Internet accounts. They stay the same no matter what so that businesses can keep their Internet operations stable and reputable. A static IP isn’t as much of a priority for casual home use, but knowing your address can change with a dynamic IP can prevent a lot of confusion.

How Do I Find My IP Address?

Unless you are setting up a local area network (LAN) on your WiFi connection, the IP address you probably want to know about is your external IP. Finding both your IPv4 and IPv6 is simple, although IPv4 is easier to find.

If you have an Internet browser, you can look yourself up by using an IP lookup site, such as whatismyip.com. Even just asking Google “what’s my IP?” will return your IPv4 address as the result. However, this information is only the IP for your router.

You can also look for it in your device’s WiFi settings. For example, on your Windows 10 computer, both your IPv4 and IPv6 appear with your local address in your Network and Internet settings (or system preferences) when you click on the Properties button. 

On cell phones and other devices such as tablets, TVs, and gaming consoles, this information can be found in the Status menu of the settings or system preferences. Another name for IPs on mobile devices is a MAC address.

What Does My IP Address Say About Me?

While someone can’t identify you by your IP address, there are a lot of things it can tell observers about you

Since your external IP address is assigned by your Internet provider, that is one thing revealed to people who can see it. It also reveals your general location, since providers create these codes based on what region is being served. Part of this is for organization, but part of it is also for local advertising and event blackouts, such as with local sporting events that are already being shown on a local television channel. 

However, that doesn’t mean that your IP can’t give away identifying information. Your online activity is logged to your IP address, which means anyone watching your Internet traffic can see where you go. This is how advertisers send you those personalized ads on your social media. Your Internet activity can give hints about your interests and tastes, as well as purchases you’ve made and subscriptions you maintain.

Your IP also indicates when you are browsing or connecting with online services. An observer can get an idea of when you use the internet the most and how often you use it. They may not get the specifics, but these broader patterns can tell them a lot about you.

The only source that can legally get specific location information using an IP address is law enforcement, who can subpoena the service provider if they suspect illegal activity online. However, since your IP is like an identification tag, it is used by private online entities to administer rules. When people break rules in forums, online video games, and some social media, it is the user’s IP that is blocked to suspend or ban their use.

IP Security and Why It’s Important

Your IP address reaches out every time you do something online. It is your connection’s signature for everything you do. It is attached to the sending details of your email. It makes the requests to access websites. Your guests can see it when they use your home WiFi. Most of the time, this is safe.

However, people who know your IP address can search for it online and see activity connected to it. From your activity, they can piece together things about your identity which can reveal your personal information. Targeted ad campaigns take what they know about individuals from their internet activity to assemble profiles that ensure they see ads relevant to their interests. Hackers can put together the same type of profile and follow the clues given to figure out even more specific details. 

A virtual private network, or VPN, can mask your IP with an anonymous proxy address that acts on your behalf. You would still have an IP address that can be traced by law enforcement, but it’s otherwise encrypted so your activity is erased when you are done.

However, the best way to protect yourself online is to keep good security habits. Strong passwords can do a lot to protect your data and identity, and also keeps unwanted users from hijacking your WiFi. Protecting your Internet connection protects your IP address from being used against you.

Finding Secure Internet

Your IP address is assigned to you by your Internet service provider, which means finding the right provider is an important part of your online identity. Comparing plans in your area is always important since availability might change as technology improves, but finding the plan that meets your security needs means taking a good look at the providers that service your area. You can do that here or by calling 1-833-933-2468 today!