With all this talk of VPNs and the best sort of VPN for different functions and intentions, you’ve got to wonder, “Is it really worth it?” and “What does an IP address actually reveal in the first place?”.
Those are the questions that we’re going to be tackling in this article today. And we’re also going to tackle a few other related questions besides. (Feel free to scroll ahead if you wish.)
But first, we’re going to kick things off by going back to basics and asking what exactly is an IP address.
What exactly is an IP address?
In order to be able to access the internet in the first place, your internet service provider will have assigned you an IP address. IP stands for Internet Protocol. Your IP address is a unique identifier that identifies your computer or smart device on the internet. It’s kind of like a membership card for the internet.
The IP address in and of itself is not particularly identifying. No more identifying than a phone number, for example.
The important point to note here is that you cannot access the internet without an IP address. However, you can still access and use the internet while hiding your IP address. And all you have to do to achieve this is to use a VPN. (More on that later.)
What does my IP address actually reveal about me?
IP addresses can be used to identify your geographical location. They can reveal your country, your state, your city/town/village, and approximately where the IP address is based in your town. It does not however reveal your actual home address.
Can An IP Address Reveal Your Identity?
Technically, an IP address does not outrightly reveal your identity…
However, if someone, or an organization wanted to investigate you for any reason, they could quite easily put together enough information about you and your online activity by using your IP address and following your online activity.
Who can see my IP address when I’m online?
Whenever you decide to go online, you leave behind digital footprints with every click, and these are all linked to your IP address, like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (think cookies). Clicking on something is kind of like signing a guestbook with your IP address as your signature.
Your IP address could be of interest to a number of different people and organizations. These can include legal authorities, employers, advertisers, and criminals.
But your IP address doesn’t just automatically pop up in a corner every time you access a website. Nor can anyone find your IP address by simply Googling “What is Joe Blogg’s IP address?”.
It takes a little leg work, but it’s very easily done by anyone who’s suitably determined and knowledgeable.
Can my IP address be used to disclose my bank details?
When you pay for something online, you are often asked to enter your credit or debit card details. This is very private information, and you certainly don’t want anyone to access these details without prior consent.
When you do enter this information on an online form, this information can often be stored so that if in the future you decide to buy something else from the same organization, you won’t have to put the card details in again every time.
This means that a record of the transaction does get stored. However, an IP address alone is not usually enough information for anyone to garner your bank details and use your bank account without your knowledge or consent.
So, if you do decide to buy something online, you should either look out for the lock symbol in the URL bar, or you can use a secure payment service, such as PayPal.
Can my IP address be used by hackers?
Cybercriminals can find your IP address by hacking into your home network or placing a bug in email HTML.
Can my IP address be used to track my online activity?
As we have mentioned, whenever you decide to go online, you leave behind digital footprints with every click, like signing a guestbook with your IP address as your signature.
And it’s not just tech wiz kids and hackers who can do this, there are apps that can be downloaded to monitor online traffic, such as Network Sniffer and Wireshark.
So if you did want to keep your online activity private for any reason, you would be well advised to hide your IP address.
How can I hide my IP address when online?
There are two main ways that you can hide your IP address when online…
Option one is to use a web browser that hides your IP address, allowing you to access all kinds of websites without revealing your IP address to the sites that you visit. Examples include the TOR browser, and Opera.
The Tor Browser routes all your web traffic through the Tor network, thereby anonymizing it, while the Opera web browser features an integrated VPN that you can turn off or on at will.
Option two is to use a VPN that will work with your chosen browser to hide your IP address as you carry on with your various online activities.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. There are a great many VPNs that you can access and use, and it is not illegal (in most countries at least) to use one. Nor is it illegal to use the TOR browser.
The good news is that you really don’t need to be any kind of tech wiz in order to take advantage of a VPN. It’s usually just a case of downloading an extension for your usual web browser and following the online instructions.
So, in summary, your IP address alone does not necessarily reveal everything about you. More often than not, it will only reveal your approximate geographical location, and the name of your internet service provider.
However, there are parties who may be interested in finding out your IP address for any number of reasons. And once they have your IP address, they can use it in conjunction with other information to find out more about you.
So, if you want to throw anyone off your digital trail, our advice to use is to use a VPN. And a good one at that. That way you can cover your tracks without worry of repercussions.