Everyone online is assigned a public IP address. And one way a VPN protects your privacy and increases your anonymity is by replacing your IP address with a different one that’s shared among numerous users.
But first, what does an IP address do, and what are the risks of someone knowing your IP address?
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What is an IP Address?
A public IP address is a string of numbers assigned by your internet service provider when you go online. It identifies a device on a network so other devices can communicate with it. These numbers give away approximate location information.
Your public IP usually changes every time you establish a new network connection (but this also depends on whether you are using a dynamic or static IP).
There are several ways you can search for your IP address. Head to this page, or simply search in Google, “What’s my IP address?”
Read more: Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi: Which is better?
How someone can know your IP address
IP addresses are not well-kept secrets. These are the ways someone could know your IP:
- By using your device. Someone who borrows your device can easily find out what the IP is.
- Any activity on a website. A company or site admin can know the IP addresses of people who have visited, clicked on something, or left a comment on a website.
- Through your network. If you’re on your company or school internet, for example, they can tell what your IP is. If a friend uses your home Wi-Fi, they can also tell what your IP is.
- Through an email. Some email services reveal your IP address to the email recipient.
What someone can do with your IP address
While your IP in itself does not reveal much, there are ways for snoops to use it to find out more about you or for attackers to harm you. Here’s how:
Find out your location
Your IP only reveals your approximate location, such as the city you’re in. Someone can easily find your location by entering your IP into a site like What Is My IP Address. A stalker could use that information to further narrow down your address.
Block you from accessing websites (IP ban)
If someone wants to stop you from viewing or using their website, they can block your IP address.
Make phishing attacks easier
If you’ve commented on posts, forums, and websites, chances are someone could figure out your IP address. For example, administrators on WordPress-based sites can view the IP addresses of people who have commented on posts. Once an attacker has gathered enough information about you on forums and finds your contact information, they can in theory send you a more convincing phishing email.
Track your online activity
When you’re on your company or school network, they can see your online activity—and they can do that by tracking your IP address. Companies and schools are also known to restrict what sites you can access while using their Wi-Fi networks.
Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks (via IP spoofing)
An attacker could launch a DDoS attack on your device if they know your IP. They do this by generating a high volume of data requests that look like they’re coming from your IP address in order to to flood your device and disable it. This is called IP spoofing.
Potentially hack your device
It’s very difficult to hack devices using an IP address—there are easier ways, like through phishing or smishing—but it is possible. A hacker could brute-force their way into an open port connected to your IP to attack your device. One particular concern is an attacker using your device and IP to download illegal content and make it look like you did it.
Hide your IP address with a VPN
To prevent hackers from getting a hold of your IP address, invest in a good VPN service. ExpressVPN hides your real IP address by giving you a different one. You can choose to connect to a server in a different country, which will be reflected in your new IP. A VPN also encrypts your online traffic and sends it through a secure tunnel so no one can see what you’re doing online, not even your internet service provider.
To protect your IP address, simply subscribe to ExpressVPN, download the app, and press the “On” button. When you visit sites, leave comments, or send emails, the IP address used will be one owned by ExpressVPN that’s shared by many people.