The internet is vast and rapidly evolving, and with that constant change, frequent questions arise about cybersecurity and the safety of your personal information. Your Internet Protocol address, better known as the IP address, is a series of numbers that identify the connection that your device is using to access the Internet, Wi-Fi network and location. What can someone do with your IP address if revealed?
What is an IP address?
An IP address is used for device and network identification. The Internet Protocol is a set of rules for the data on the internet, first pieced together in the 1970s. For other devices, networks and websites sharing the internet with you, knowing the location and address of a device is critical to sending and receiving data. Internet Service Providers supply IP addresses to devices and routers connecting to the internet through their products. Devices connected to the internet receive a public IP address via their router as well as a private IP address, which identifies the device on the local network—a series of devices connected to the internet through the same router in one area or space.
What can hackers and others do with your IP?
Cybersecurity experts don’t view IP addresses as particularly sensitive or vulnerable to malicious behavior, primarily because of advances made in cybersecurity for basic internet users.
“We have a lot of protections built into it these days,” said Alex Stine, a DevOps engineer with Kinsta, a WordPress hosting service. “There’s not much real severity of someone finding your IP address on the public Internet, unless they’re going to bad places in the deep or dark web. There’s just not a whole lot of risk.”
That said, there are still a few nefarious things cyber criminals can do with your IP address:
- Distributed denial of service (DDoS): Someone can overwhelm an IP address and the associated device with data or spam. It will essentially slow down or stop the device from working. This, however, isn’t typically something that happens to individual users but rather larger companies.
- Block service and website use: Users can have their device blocked from certain services, such as online gaming. Users can also lose the ability to comment on forums or news stories if they’re blocked, but this is a relatively common administrative move, often used to keep out trolls and bad actors. Blocking service isn’t always a cudgel for cybercriminals—streaming services, such as Netflix, use IP information to keep their content separated by country.
- Location tracking: The location data gleaned from obtaining your IP address could help someone obtain more details about where you are. That info could help them find out more information about you
- Hacking your device: An IP address alone won’t help a hacker get into your device. It can, however, give them a first step toward finding potential vulnerabilities in your network. We get into more detail below, but this is why staying up to date with your device and its apps, along with your passwords, is so important.
How to stop someone from using my IP address
Users can take steps to try and protect themselves from hackers and malicious internet use, and these methods may help beyond just guarding an IP address.
1. Timely updates of apps and systems
One of the biggest hacks in world history came from Microsoft Office users across the world not updating their computers in a timely manner. Sure, we’re all busy online, scrolling apps, texting friends, etc. But don’t ignore those update notifications. Almost every hack has something related to unpatched software.
“It is just always good to stay up to date,” Stine said.
2. Enable your device’s firewall
Those annoying notifications about your firewall settings? Don’t skip past them. You don’t want a firewall so strict that it “gets in the way of everyday life,” Stine said, “but keep that firewall strong and updated.”
A VPN, short for virtual private network, can add another layer of protection for users on their devices, but Stine suggested looking for VPNs that offer end-to-end encryption. Data should be encrypted before it leaves your device, throughout its time traveling the internet and upon its return. Do your research before opting for a VPN: They can be expensive to purchase, with little return for your buck.
“Only a few VPNs out there really, really protect you,” Stine said, “and they have end-to-end encryption.”
4. Good security habits
Stine’s No. 1 recommendation: Keep good security habits. Keep your devices updated and don’t put off the notifications about new security patches or other fixes to apps. Create strong passwords. (Too many passwords to remember? Try a top-notch password manager.) Don’t share your credentials with a bunch of people. Don’t share your credentials with anyone.