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What is an IP Address?

A Quick Introduction to IP Addresses

Although you may feel anonymous on the Internet, this is hardly the case. Learn about what is an IP address and then use this knowledge to better understand how to stay anonymous online.

An IP address is a numerical label assigned to every device connected to the Internet at any one time. IP addresses are usually written in a set of four numbers separated by periods (this is known as dotted quad notation). For example, 151.196.0.0.

Each of the four numbers is in the range of 0 to 255. The further right you go in the set of numbers, the more specific the address they signify. For example, 115.169.57.01 and 115.169.57.02 might be connections right next door to each other while 115.169.57.01 and 116.169.57.01 would be completely unrelated and could be half a world apart.

What is an IP Address? = It's Your Online Fingerprint

Your IP address marks, like a fingerprint, all of your online activities. It attaches to your web page browsing, your email messages, your social media posts, your downloads and everything else you do online.

With a number of widely available tools, even a layperson might be able to track you down by IP address. In fact, the basic business model of online tracking and profiling firms, often huge businesses with billions of dollars at their disposal, relies on being able to follow you by IP address. Hackers, snoops and adversaries can also exploit this targeting by launching attacks specifically aimed at your IP address looking for ways to gain access to your devices and personal information.

Top Tip – The technology used for tracking you online is already becoming more sophisticated and moving away solely from IP addresses to other means such as device fingerprinting.

The Privacy Risks

A certain amount of information is automatically sent from your web browser app to the websites you visit. This information usually includes your IP address, the type of web browser app you use, your geographic location, the web pages you previously visited, how long you stayed on a page, the site you came from (called the referring site), your device’s operating system, perhaps the information residing in your clipboard from your last copy-and-paste, and more. Even this seemingly innocuous list of information may be enough to start building a profile on you.

Top Tip – To see your IP address at any time, type “IP address” in most leading search engines or consult the resources at http://www.cogipas.com/whats-my-ip/.

Once someone has your IP address, it can be cross-referenced with other data to determine the websites you visit, your email address (using beacons or web bugs), your social media habits etc. In other words, a comprehensive profile starts to be formed in no time.

Therefore, one of the most fundamental ways to protect yourself from all this potential tracking and profiling is to hide your IP address as much as possible when web browsing. Generally speaking, there are three ways to do this: with a web proxy, a virtual private network (VPN) or The Onion Router (Tor).

Web proxies are a bit old-fashioned nowadays, but are still useful, especially in some circumstances or in some parts of the world where censorship is alive and well. Plus, web proxies are usually free. In addition, knowing how web proxies work will help you understand and appreciate the better ways of how to browse the web anonymously, with a VPN or Tor.

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