Privacy

IP Address: What Is It and How Do I Find Mine?

Silvia Benetti
Author
17. Jan 2023
Last update

Whenever we surf the Web, we reveal quite a bit of information about ourselves. Our IP address, for example, is unique and identifies both our router and location. In this article, we'll let you know what sets the different types of IP addresses apart from one another, and when it makes sense to conceal them.

What Is an IP?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address identifies devices on a network, whether at home or on the World Wide Web. IP addresses are comprised of a series of numbers, which make them unique, like a phone number or license plate. As such, it is possible to link an individual IP address to a single device. If you're connected to the Internet, servers for the pages that you visit will see your router's IP address. Don't see this as an invasion of your privacy: It lets them know where they need to send the data packets you've requested.

A public IPv4 IP address typically looks like this:

104.26.5.112

A public IPv6 IP address typically looks like this:

3A52:9109:7DC0:6774:7238:7746:DD5F:8B9A

We'll explain what IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses are below, but there are types of IPs as well. Broadly speaking, they can be further differentiated between:

  • Public and private IP addresses;
  • Static and dynamic IP addresses

Public vs. Private IP Addresses

A range of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, printers, and PCs can connect to the Internet via a router. This serves as an intermediary (gateway) between the network participants (you, your friends, your family, etc.) and the World Wide Web. However, some devices might have private IP addresses, making them uniquely identifiable on the network. These addresses are assigned by the router so that it knows where a request originated from.

One of the most commonly-used private IP addresses is 192.168.0.0. The sequence of numbers is by no means random: The first part, 192.168.0 (24-bit) comprises what is known as the Network ID, which will be the same for all network participants. The second part (8 bits) is the Host ID and identifies the device. This can range from 0 to 255, but in the example above, is 0.

Unlike a public IP address, private IP addresses don't have to be unique, since they're only used on a home network and, by themselves, can't be used to access the Internet. The number of possible combinations (65,536) can facilitate the unique identification of all connected devices, even on large corporate networks.

A router generates and assigns a private IP address according to three areas:

Number sequenceNetwork sizeComposition

Area A

10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255

For large networks

8 bits for the network and 24 for the host

Area B

172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255

For mid-sized networks

16 bits for the network and 16 for the host

Area C

192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255

For small networks

24 bits for the network and 8 for the host

The Internet provider assigns the router a public IP address so that other routers and servers on the World Wide Web can accurately identify it. Unlike a private IP address, this must be a unique number.

In the table below, we've summarized the differences between both types of IP addresses:

Private IP addressPublic IP address

Can be used on the WWW?

No

Yes

Unique?

Not necessarily

Yes

Can be revealed using online tools?

No

Yes

Changes with each Internet session?

Usually, no

Yes (private routers)

No (servers)

Free

Yes

No

IPv4 vs. IPv6

An IPv4 IP address, such as 35.246.185.33, can be displayed either in 32 bits or 4 bytes. This means that there exist 2^32 or approximately 4.29 billion possible combinations. At first glance, this may seem like quite a lot, however, more than two decades ago, the number of available public IP addresses was starting to run out. For that reason, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) , responsible for assigning public IP addresses, developed a new system.

Known as IPv6, these IP addresses are 128 bits long, allowing for 7.9 x 10^28 possible combinations. In other words, even if everyone on the planet had a billion devices each, 10 whole Earths would be covered. As such, the danger of running out of IP addresses in the near, or even distant future, seems to have dissipated.

IPv6 IP addresses are written in hexadecimal form (base 16), consisting of numbers from 0-9, as well as the letters a-f. In order to make sense of the combinations, 16-bit (4-character) groups are separated by a semi-colon.

Static vs. Dynamic IP Addresses

A website's IP address usually doesn't change on its own. When this is the case, these are referred to as static IP addresses. The logic behind static IP addresses is sound: Because they don't change, they allow Internet users, as well as DNS services, to always be able to find the resource that they're looking for without too much effort. Just think how frustrating it would be if your favorite restaurant or store had a new physical address every time you wanted to pay it a visit.

For this reason, most organizations and businesses also prefer static IP addresses, since they more readily facilitate remote access to Intranet resources. However, static IP addresses need to be purchased from an Internet provider and are rather expensive. In addition, they make life easier for hackers, since the target's location doesn't change.

Generally, only routers and servers have public IP addresses.

On the other hand, private users who connect to the Internet via a router, are assigned a new IP address every session. Since these are automatically generated by a so-called DHCP server users don't have to take any action on their own. Cybercriminals also run into difficulties when IP addresses change so frequently.

Find an IP: On Your Own or With an Online Tool

With just a few clicks or taps, you can find the IP address of any device, regardless of whether it's a tablet, smartphone, or PC. The same goes for website IP addresses. Below, we'll show you how to do this.

See Your IP Address on Windows

If using Windows, you can find out both your private and public IP addresses with the following steps:

  1. 1.
    Open Command Prompt, either through the Windows Menu or by typing cmd.
  2. 2.
    Type ipconfig and press enter.
  3. 3.
    Among the information that appears, you'll see a number of entries. Look for those with number and letter combinations similar to the ones in the IP address section above. The first of these shows your public IP address. If so-called privacy extensions are activated, Windows will generate a 64-bit number and replace the last 64 bits in order to better protect your privacy. Your private IP address will be displayed under Link-local IPv6 Address, with your IPv4 address appearing directly below this.

When using the ipconfig prompt, Windows will list all IP addresses on the system.

How to See Your IP Address on a Mac

Finding your IP address on a Macbook is even easier than on Windows:

  1. 1.
    Open system settings.
  2. 2.
    Click on Network.
  3. 3.
    All active connections will appear green. To view a device's IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, click on the connection they're using.
  4. 4.
    Alternatively, you can open the Terminal, type ifconfig en0, and press enter.

How to Find Your IP on iOS

Just like on a system running macOS, it's also easy to find your IP address on an iPhone:

  1. 1.
    Open settings.
  2. 2.
    Select WLAN and tap on the active network.
  3. 3.
    Tap on the blue "i" next to the network's name. Then, you'll see the device's private IP address.

How to Find Your IP on Android

Should you have a smartphone that uses Android, you can find your device's private IP address by following these steps:

  1. 1.
    Go to Settings.
  2. 2.
    Tap on Connections.
  3. 3.
    Select WLAN. You should now be able to see all available WiFi connections.
  4. 4.
    Find the network that you're connected to and open settings for it (tap on Configure along the bottom).
  5. 5.
    Depending on your phone's model, the interface can vary but look for the IP Address field. There, you'll be able to see both your public and private IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses.

You can view your private IP address in the WLAN section of your Android device's Settings menu.

Some Online Tools That Show Your IP Address

If you only want to find out what your public IP address is, you can on websites like Whatismyipaddress.com . Internet Tools such as Ipinfo  can show you a domain's IP address or server location, such as for EXPERTE.com or bbc.co.uk.

Is an IP Address a Security Risk?

As far back as 2010  Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, said: "We know where you are. We know where you were. We know, more or less, what you think." It's no secret that search engines, Internet providers, and websites track us based on our IP address, cookies, or user profiles on social media networks. However, even though this might be distressing, your IP address is actually more important owing to what it reveals about your physical location.

No one is going to knock on your door, however, things like your ZIP code and what neighborhood you're living in can be determined from it. This isn't all bad either, since you'll get accurate weather forecasts, or ads from new restaurants close by. At the same time though, this can feel like an invasion of your privacy, since strangers have gotten more information about you than you might have been willing to offer up.

Operators of sites that you visit will know which city or town you're in and can even find out your ZIP code.

Through phishing or data leaks, cybercriminals can also find out your IP address. Hackers often collect IP addresses and then use them for IP spoofing. This occurs when they conceal their real IP address to launch DDoS attacks using stolen or compromised IPs from unsuspecting victims. Anyone who wants to stay ahead of online threats has plenty of reasons to protect their IP address.

Why Should I Hide My IP Address?

Most people don't mind legitimate businesses and corporations prying into their lives for marketing purposes. However, if this makes you uncomfortable, hiding your IP address is one of the first steps you can take to safeguard your privacy online.

Another good reason to conceal your IP address is that it allows you to get around geoblocking or regional restrictions. If you've ever been unable to access or watch content because of where you physically are, you'll know how frustrating this is. By taking on a different IP address, you can watch British or German Netflix and check out shows or movies that might not be part of your local catalog. All you'll have to do is get an IP address from one of those countries.

Content is often limited to particular jurisdictions owing to the licensing agreements that it's produced or distributed under.

Should you be visiting a country like China, where the Web is heavily censored and social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are usually blocked, you'll quickly want to find a way to get back on the "real" Internet. The only option for bypassing the Great Firewall is to hide your IP with a VPN, Tor, or a proxy server. In the next section, we'll let you know what the advantages and disadvantages of each option are.

Hiding Your IP Address ≠ Automatic Anonymity

Even though Google and other services won't be able to see your IP address, they can still gather quite a bit of information about you. For example, they'll know which operating system, hardware, browser, and plugins you're using. Taken together, these can create an incredibly accurate mosaic of who you are, even without your IP address. Total anonymity might not be possible online, but, there are ways to complicate what is known as browser fingerprinting for third parties.

How Can I Hide My IP Address?

Should you want to change your IP address, there are a number of ways:

  • VPN services act as an intermediary between your router and the IP address of the resource you're attempting to visit. Each request is encrypted before being sent to your VPN provider's server. From there, it's forwarded to the target server, albeit, with the IP address of the VPN's server, not yours. Since VPN services operate servers worldwide, you can choose from dozens or even hundreds of countries to connect digitally to, making it possible to circumvent geoblocking. The only downside is that most VPN services require paid subscriptions.

With a VPN, all you'll need is a few clicks to hide your IP address.

  • The Onion Router or Tor is a network made up of numerous shared computers around the world that act as nodes. Here too, your requests take something of a detour, with your target only seeing the last Tor node's IP address. Since Tor is volunteer-based and free to use, the hardware contributed by participants isn't the latest and greatest. In addition, your requests will be routed through multiple nodes, impacting speed to a far more noticeable extent than VPNs.
  • Proxy services, like VPNs, act as intermediaries between your router and the server of whatever website or resource you're trying to visit. However, unlike a VPN, proxy connections usually don't encrypt your requests, with speeds varying considerably from server to server. There do exist premium (paid) proxy services that encrypt all requests and traffic and are both faster and more reliable than their free counterparts.

Conclusion

An IP address identifies any Internet-capable device. Along with private IP addresses, which only play a role within a network, public IP addresses facilitate Internet communication between routers and servers. While the former have dynamic IP addresses, which constantly change, the latter rely on static, or fixed addresses.

When surfing the Web, the servers of websites that you visit will see your IP address. With these, businesses can determine broadly where you're physically located, making it possible to target you with personalized ads. However, there's a dark side to this, as cybercriminals can misuse IP addresses. Should you want to protect yourself, solutions like VPNs, proxy services, or Tor browser are all capable of hiding your IP address. As an added bonus, with each of these, you can get around geoblocking or regional content restrictions.

Even when you hide your IP address with one of these, it will still be possible for search engines, app operators, and marketing companies to track you. In order to be as anonymous online as possible, you'll have to embrace some additional measures. These include so-called privacy browsers, or limiting your usage of apps and social media. Whatever steps you take, you should know that there's no such thing as 100% anonymity.

FAQs

What is an IP address?

An IP address is a combination of characters that acts very similarly to a telephone number, uniquely identifying a device on a network. It's important to distinguish between public and private IP addresses; the former are used on the World Wide Web and are only assigned once, whereas the latter are assigned by networks.

What do IP addresses do?
Which types of IP addresses are there?
Which dangers are associated with IP addresses?
Can I hide or change my IP address?
Author: Silvia Benetti
After her studies in physical engineering, Silvia Benetti was active in the development of wind turbines. She has been writing about technical subjects as a freelance author for several years. Her focus areas include IT, artificial intelligence, industry 4.0 and renewable energies.
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