Before we go into how your IP address can be abused, let’s start with finding out what your personal IP address is. If you visit our “What is my IP” page, you’ll be able to find out your IP address.
By the end of this post, you’ll know what to protect yourself against and discover ways to hide your IP address.
How can someone find your IP address?
Your IP address is a unique string of numbers assigned to you by your ISP – like a delivery address for online traffic. If you connect to a different Wi-Fi or move house, you will change your IP address along with your location.
Most ISPs use dynamic IP addresses, which aren’t fixed to your device, but you can have a static IP if you wish to (you can learn more about different types of IP addresses here). For example, if you want your computer IP address to always stay the same, you’ll be able to specify that through the device’s settings. This can be useful when port forwarding – if you want certain data to be sent directly from your router to your computer IP address.
Since your IP address holds certain information about you, someone could use it for malicious purposes. People can get hold of your IP address in plenty of ways. Here are just a few:
- Clicking on a link. Any link you click on will need to provide your IP address for the server at the other end to deliver the content provided by the link. Whoever owns that server will see your IP address.
- Clicking on an ad. When you click on an ad, you’re giving your IP to the service provider. Some online ads can be created by cybercriminals and put your security at risk.
- From a web server. Every time you visit a website, your IP address is collected and stored on a server. Anyone who owns that server can go and look it up.
- Filling out online forms. The website that you fill out an online form on may collect your IP address for security and spam prevention purposes.
- Participating in online forums. If you participate in various discussions when you’re connected to the internet at home, forum admins can view your public IP address and sniff out your approximate location.
- Connecting to a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. Hackers can set up a fake hotspot and view your IP address and personal information or even infect your device with malware. Be extra careful when using public Wi-Fi.
- On social networks. While using social media is fun, these platforms collect a lot of sensitive information about you, including your IP.
- Through P2P file sharing. Users with whom you share files on P2P file sharing networks may see your IP address. IP visibility is a given in most peer-to-peer connections or direct communication channels.
- In a social engineering attack. Bad actors may try to trick you into revealing your IP address by impersonating someone else or using deceptive tactics.
Check out our brief video on this topic below.
Is tracing an IP address legal?
Yes, tracing your IP address is legal as long as it’s not used for criminal activities. The websites you visit, the apps you use, and even your ISP collect your IP address along with other personal information.
However, individual users can also easily trace your IP address. If they have no intent to harm you, no law prevents them from snooping on you — unless their curiosity involves hacking or social engineering techniques.
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What can people do with your IP?
While your IP address won’t give away sensitive information like your phone number or exact location, hackers can still use your IP against you. If a cybercriminal knows your IP address, the can use it for malicious purposes:
- Cybercriminals can use your IP address as a stepping stone for finding out your geographical location. Your IP address does not give away your exact location, like your street or house address, but it can pinpoint your approximate location — the state, city, or zip code you are in. If they know your name or user name on social networks, hackers can follow your activity on social media and piece together tidbits of information from your comments and photos. That lets them determine the precise location of your home or workplace to commit crimes like robbery or stalking.
- Hackers can use it to try to get ahold of your personal information. Your IP address does not give away your personal information, but if it is stolen, it could help criminals to get hold of your personally identifiable information (PII). Cybercriminals could use phishing techniques to trick service providers into revealing sensitive information about you by using your IP address as a form of verification to make their attempts seem legitimate.
- They can sell your IP address and other sensitive data on the dark web. Alone, your IP address isn’t worth much, but it might be added to a package of personal information with your username or login credentials. Some VPN services providers, like NordVPN, offer the dark web monitoring feature as part of their product package. It alerts you to accounts in danger so that you can take action to protect your online data.
- Cybercriminals can use your IP to hack your device. The internet uses ports as well as your IP address to connect. Every IP address has thousands of ports, and without proper security measures, a hacker who has your IP can use various techniques to compromise your network and gain unauthorized access. If they manage to connect to your device, they could take it over and steal your data stored on it. Or they could infect your device with malware and continue their hacking activities in secret.
- Employers and snoopers can track your activity. Each IP provided by an ISP is assigned to a user. When you’re connected to your work network, your employers could potentially see and track everything you do online. The same goes for your home network – if someone gets access to it, they can track your online activity.
- Service providers can send you personalized ads and spam. Online advertisers embed tracking programs like cookies, tracking URLs, and tracking pixels in their online articles and ads to collect data about how people interact with their ad campaigns. These trackers record your IP address, which can be used to send you targeted spam and ads based on your browsing history and approximate location. One day, you start receiving ads about locally provided services, whether you’re interested in them or not. NordVPN’s Threat Protection shields you from trackers and annoying ads. So browse all you want and rest assured you will not be bombarded with the same ads for the next three months.
- Service providers can ban or blocklist your IP. Some online service providers, including social networks, entertainment and gaming sites, block IP addresses to prevent users from certain regions from accessing them. They might also blocklist your individual IP address if they disapprove of your actions or suspect you violated some rules.
- A hacker can hit you with a DDoS attack. If a hacker has your IP address, they could harm you with a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack. A DDoS attack uses an army of computers controlled by a hacker to flood your device with traffic so it disconnects from the internet and completely shuts down.
- Cybercriminals can frame you for illegal activity. Hackers are known to use hacked IP addresses for illegal activities they don’t want traced back to them. They could buy illegal substances and banned goods and pin it on you. So protect your IP address with a virtual private network, and prevent hackers from getting their hands on your IP address.
How do I stop someone from using my IP address?
You should always protect your personally identifiable information even if you think the risks do not apply to you. With enough determination, a bad actor can stitch together an entire identity with stolen personal data, and your IP address could be the starting block.
- Change your privacy settings. Change the settings on all your instant messaging as well as other apps to “private” and don’t accept calls or messages from people you don’t know. Hackers are known to gain access to your IP address through messaging apps like Skype. This will also help you avoid accidentally clicking any images or links in suspicious messages that may infect your device with malware.
- Update your firewall and router. A criminal can hack a router remotely and intercept your web traffic, especially if you’re still using the default password and your router is outdated, because outdated routers leave your network vulnerable to security risks. Change the default password of your router and be sure to use a long mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. And make sure to install updates as soon as they become available.
- Use a VPN. A VPN will protect your IP address and your private information while it’s in transit on the web. By routing your online data through a VPN server with its own IP address, you can prevent websites from knowing your real IP address and virtual location.
Does a VPN hide my IP address?
Yes, a VPN completely hides your IP address and encrypts your internet connection. Even better, a VPN prevents third parties like your ISP from eavesdropping on your data. Your online activity cannot be traced back to you, giving you a powerful layer of security.
NordVPN has over 5,000 servers in 60 countries, providing you with the best speeds available. With one NordVPN account, you can protect up to six different devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. You can also install NordVPN on your router and secure gadgets that don’t support VPN functionality directly.
You might have heard of proxy servers that route your internet traffic so it looks like the traffic comes through the server’s IP address and not yours. However, free proxy services are especially risky to use because most of them collect and sell your data. Also, a proxy doesn’t encrypt your internet traffic, while a VPN does. Check out the other advantages of a VPN below.
What other benefits does a VPN offer?
While you might be principally interested in VPNs for their IP-switching functionality, they also come with a range of other features.
- Security. A VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. That means that no one can spy on your data as it moves from your device to the server — not even your internet service provider (ISP). Data has never been more valuable. Your ISP can monitor your activity and sell that information to advertisers and other third parties. Hackers can steal your passwords and use your private details to launch phishing attacks. It’s vital that you protect your data.
- Privacy. A quality VPN service is a huge step towards making sure your online traffic and identity remain private. Using a VPN, you can jump from one server to another in seconds, changing your IP address as you go and masking your location. Plus, NordVPN doesn’t log your browsing activity. Your internet service provider will only see the IP address that NordVPN gave you, shared by thousands of other users, increasing your privacy online.
- A dedicated IP. NordVPN offers the service of assigning you a dedicated IP address that will not change and will only be used by you. A dedicated IP is great for signing in to corporate remote access systems or private servers, available only to authorized IPs. It also helps to access online services securely and prevents you from ending up on IP blocklists, which may happen if you use a shared IP with users who carry out shady or illegal activities online.
- A secure internet protocol. NordVPN uses NordLynx, an advanced technology built around the WireGuard® VPN protocol. It facilitates faster connection to NordVPN servers and improves VPN connection speeds. In addition, our VPN service uses the OpenVPN protocol, which is known for its security and reliability.
- Threat Protection. NordVPN’s Threat Protection system enhances your protection against malware by shielding your device from high-risk websites and warning you about infected files during download. It also blocks trackers and intrusive ads, so you can enjoy safer and smoother browsing.
- Kill Switch. When Kill Switch is enabled, you can avoid unexpected data exposure or leaks on the web. If your VPN connection drops, Kill Switch blocks internet access for your device.