What Can Someone Do with Your IP Address? The Privacy Risks Explained 

Posted on May 3, 2024 by Elly Hancock

Ever wondered what information others get from your IP address? Your IP address can’t expose your exact location or who you are, but it still contains information that ISPs, government authorities, and websites can use to see what you’re doing online. They use this information to profile you, make money from your data, and apply content restrictions.

People can even use your IP address to help them identify you or your exact location. This could be damaging to your online privacy, especially if you’re concerned about your safety and want to surf the web with more anonymity.

Let’s explore exactly what someone can do with your IP address and, most importantly, what you can do to stop them.


Protect Your IP Address with PIA VPN

Want to safely lock away your IP address? You can use PIA VPN to camouflage it with one from another location. That way, no one can trace your activity back to your real IP address. PIA also encrypts your traffic before it goes anywhere, so everything you do online stays safely concealed – even from your ISP.

  1. Sign up for PIA VPN and download the app to your device.
  2. Log in to the PIA VPN app and connect to a server location of your choice.
  3. That’s it! Your IP address is switched to the VPN server’s IP address.


What Is an IP Address?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique string of numbers assigned to your network by your ISP when you connect to the internet. It’s a way for web servers to identify your network so they can send data to the right place. 

IP addresses are registered to specific locations and your ISP assigns the ones it owns to servers in each region, which are usually divided by zip code. Your activity is routed through your ISP’s network using your IP address, and data is transferred to you via the same address. 

If you go online and type in a search request to Google, this will go through your ISP’s DNS servers first. These servers process and grant your request before sending it on to Google’s servers, which also log your IP address. Google’s responding search results are then transferred back to your device via your ISP. 

Each device has two IP addresses. The first is a private IP address that identifies your device. This allows your home router to see whether you’re using your mobile or laptop, for example. Private IP addresses are only used for internal networks, so web servers don’t see your private IP address.

The second is a public IP address, which is the IP address your router displays. This is used to identify the network you’re connected to. This IP address is what web servers see when you send a request to their site. To find your public IP address, follow our instructions at the end of this article. 

Your public IP address varies depending on which network you’re connected to, even if you use the same devices. ISPs can change your public IP address over time. This is called a dynamic IP address, and it’s what most people have. Some ISPs also offer static IP addresses that stay the same each time you connect to the internet on that network. Having a static IP address (or dedicated IP address) can be useful but it’s considered less anonymous since it’s permanently linked to you.

What Information Does an IP Address Reveal?

By default, IP addresses reveal the location of the ISP server you’re connected to. People can use this to guess your zip code or which city you’re in. It’s not foolproof, though, as this information can sometimes be inaccurate depending on how your ISP routes your connection. For example, if it routes your DNS queries through an ISP server located in a different zip code. 

Unless someone has other data such as your physical address, name, or email, it’s extremely difficult to reveal your identity with just an IP address. This is why IP addresses are typically used in combination with other tools, such as trackers embedded on websites that monitor your searches and online behavior. Coupled with your IP address, this could expose more personally identifiable information, such as your name and exact location. 

How Can Someone Find My IP Address?

Finding your IP address isn’t difficult. Everything you do online reveals your IP address. If a service provider couldn’t see your IP address, you wouldn’t be able to access its platform, so it’s an essential part of how the internet works. People can also trick you into providing your IP address in other ways. This lets them grab other information to use alongside your IP address, such as your email or banking details. 

Let’s go through the ways someone can find your IP address:

  • Opening a website: It doesn’t matter which website you use, they all collect your IP address. This is needed so you can view the website’s content. Your IP address is then likely stored on the website’s server, so anyone accessing that server can view it.
  • Clicking on an ad:  Ads and other marketing trackers can log your IP address. You often don’t even need to click on an ad for it to record your IP address. Cybercriminals can also set up malicious ads purely as clickbait to get your IP address and other personal details. 
  • Using social media: Most social media platforms are known for collecting your personal information, which includes your IP address. 
  • Using games and online forums: If you play games online, you could be exposing your IP address to other players so they can see your estimated location. Forums can also log your IP address so that admins can see information about who’s posting. 
  • Social engineering: Cybercriminals can use social engineering tactics to deceive you into thinking they’re someone else, like a friend on a social network. They can then befriend you and encourage you to send over your IP address.
  • Sharing files: Sending and downloading files via P2P platforms can reveal your IP address. Whoever you’re sharing files with can usually see your IP address, but in some cases, it could reveal your address to anyone within the file-sharing network.

What Can Someone Do with Your IP Address?

People can’t do much with your IP address if that’s all the information they have. Things get a little riskier when your IP address is combined with other information though, especially your online activity or any personal records stored online.

Track Your Location

An IP address reveals your approximate location, including area code and city. Although it doesn’t pinpoint your exact address, if someone has access to other information, they could find this out. For example, cybercriminals could spy on your social media to identify your name, address, and frequently visited locations. It wouldn’t take them long to put two and two together. This can leave you vulnerable to crimes like identity theft, stalking, swatting, and doxxing

Monitor Your Activity 

ISPs typically spy on your website activity and log your history. They can then sell this to third parties such as advertisers or share it with government authorities. All ISPs store your data, but some are required by law to store it for longer than others. Government officials can also request to see all the information your ISP has tied to your IP address. 

Remember, every online request you make has to go through your ISP first because it routes your traffic through its network, so it knows which websites you’re visiting. If you attempt to visit a website blocked in your country, it could leave you vulnerable to investigation.

Send Targeted Ads

Websites need to see your IP address so you can view their content, but some websites also use this information to spam you with targeted ads. All your online activity is tied to your IP address. Trackers and web browser cookies gather your browsing information alongside your IP address to learn about your habits, identity, and location so they can send you targeted ads.

This information gives websites and anyone else willing to pay for your data a detailed overview of your search history, browsing activity, and frequently visited pages. That’s why you might see ads about local services in your area or that new pair of sneakers you’ve been searching for.

Target You with a DDoS Attack

Once a hacker has your IP address, it can make you incredibly vulnerable to DDoS attacks. This type of attack prevents you from accessing sites and services on your network. DDoS attacks are more commonly directed at e-services and companies rather than your home network, but they can still happen. The main aim is to disrupt the network, typically to inconvenience you or as part of an extortion tactic.

In a DDoS attack, cybercriminals flood your network with traffic using multiple connection requests. This overloads the network, slowing it down so you can’t do anything because your router has too many requests to process. The router may get an error and stop processing requests or even shut down completely, disconnecting you from the internet in the process.

Hack into Your Network

If a cybercriminal has your IP address, they can use it to identify your ISP and hit them with phishing scams to get your personal information. Even worse, they can scan for and exploit vulnerabilities in your network or router to gain unauthorized access to your devices. For example, if you use a network with a badly configured firewall or unsecure ports (if you set up port forwarding, for example), someone might be able to use that to gain entry to your network. Cybercriminals can then take control of your devices, snoop on your activities, and steal your information.

Block Access to Websites

Some online platforms (like streaming services) monitor your IP address to block access to their sites or certain content – depending on your region. For example, if you’re in the US and try to access BBC iPlayer in the UK, you’ll get an error page because you have a US IP address, not a UK-based IP address. 

Even though your ISP lets your request go through, the service provider won’t let you onto the platform without the right IP address. Websites can also blocklist individual IP addresses if they believe someone using that address violated their terms of service.

Is Tracing an IP Address Legal?

Yes, it’s legal to trace an IP address. You can’t access the internet without it, so it’s necessary for ISPs, websites, and other service providers to detect your IP address. 

Nothing stops you from looking up an IP address online either. IP addresses aren’t classed as personally identifiable information, so anyone can see them. You can quickly trace an IP address to see the approximate location linked to it and the ISP that owns it just by typing it in online. Tracing an IP address and then committing criminal activities such as identity theft and fraud are not legal though. Using an IP address for illegal activity is still illegal regardless of how you traced or obtained it. 

How to Stop Someone from Seeing Your IP Address

Just like your private information, you can use multiple tools to protect your IP address and stop someone from snooping on you. Let’s go through some steps to protect your IP address.

Use a VPN

The best way to protect your IP address is to use a VPN. A VPN does more than keep your IP address private. Once you connect to a VPN server, it switches your IP address to one from that location. So whenever you visit a website, all their servers can log is the VPN IP address, not your real one. This helps to keep your real whereabouts concealed.

Another huge benefit of a VPN is it encrypts your traffic, so anything you do online goes through a private VPN tunnel that no one has access to. To any outsider, your traffic looks like a jumbled mess of letters and symbols, which means they can’t read it. No one can look at your online searches, visited websites, or personal information. They can’t see your location either, because it’s protected by the VPN server’s IP address.

 

You can download PIA VPN to mask your IP address and protect your digital identity with military-grade encryption. Our VPN masks your IP address with another and secures your traffic so no one can see what you’re doing and where you are, no matter which network you connect to. Plus you get unlimited simultaneous connections so you can keep your IP address safe on every device you own. You can try PIA risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.



Use Tor Browser

Tor is a free browser that sends your traffic through multiple servers (nodes) in its network. It changes your IP address at each node to conceal your real location and prevent others from tracking your activity to a single IP address. Tor also encrypts your traffic as it travels through the network to stop people from spying on your activity. After your traffic leaves the exit node, the website you’re visiting sees that node’s IP address. 

Although Tor changes your IP address, you don’t have control over the location it’s tied to as you do with a VPN. You can manually configure Tor to give you an IP address from a certain location, but it’s tricky to do. Since your traffic travels through multiple locations, it also slows down your connection speed significantly. Tor isn’t a viable option for speed-intensive activities like streaming or gaming.

You might also know that Tor can be used to access the dark web. Because of this, many ISPs monitor anyone using Tor more closely for potential illicit activity online. If you use it, it can leave you vulnerable to increased ISP surveillance.

Use a Proxy Server

Proxy servers are usually free. You can use a proxy server to change your IP address by routing your traffic through the proxy server. Your IP address changes to the proxy server’s address, which is shared by others on the same server. This masks your real location and makes it harder to trace activity to one person. Your traffic is blended into a crowd of traffic from everyone on the same server. 

You can usually configure a proxy server to get an IP address from any location. Using a proxy comes with risks though. Proxies don’t offer encryption like VPNs do, so all traffic routed through the server is visible. Online spies can monitor your search queries and visited websites, so your information is up for grabs regardless of whether you change your IP address or not. 

Use a Dedicated IP Address

You can use a VPN to switch your IP address each time you connect, but you share this IP address with anyone on the same server. This can mean having to deal with IP blocks or CAPTCHAs. If a website’s DNS service detects an influx of traffic from one IP address simultaneously, it can flag the IP address as a bot and block you or send a CAPTCHA request. To avoid this, some VPNs also offer dedicated (static) IP addresses. 

Dedicated IP addresses may be considered less anonymous than shared ones because you have the same address each time you log on. In theory, this makes it easier to trace all your activity to one IP address. That’s why it’s important to choose a VPN with additional privacy features to prevent your IP address from exposing any information about you.

You can upgrade your PIA VPN subscription to get a dedicated IP address that’s just yours, rather than an IP address you share with others connected to the same server. This also lets you conceal your real IP address no matter where you go, but you get other benefits too. Dedicated IP addresses can help you get around IP bans, especially if services bulk block IP addresses known to belong to VPNs.

You can request a dedicated IP address from your ISP service provider, but these are usually tied to your email address. Someone snooping could still link your IP address to your email and expose your identity. Choosing a dedicated IP from PIA VPN helps you boost your anonymity with an untraceable IP address. PIA uses a token-based system instead of your email, so you get an anonymous key to copy into your app, which then translates the key into a unique IP address. That way, no one can trace the IP address to you or your VPN account.

Update Your Firewall and Router

Firewalls are there to protect you, so make sure your router has the necessary precautions in place to keep unauthorized users out of your network. 

Change the default password on your router and be sure to update it regularly so that even if it’s compromised, no one gets access to your network. Keep your firewall up-to-date to avoid any loopholes that could compromise your security or let hackers into your network. Be careful when changing network settings, though. If you accidentally change firewall rules or disable security settings you could create a gateway for unauthorized access.



Use Tor Browser

Tor is a free browser that sends your traffic through multiple servers (nodes) in its network. It changes your IP address at each node to conceal your real location and prevent others from tracking your activity to a single IP address. Tor also encrypts your traffic as it travels through the network to stop people from spying on your activity. After your traffic leaves the exit node, the website you’re visiting sees that node’s IP address. 

Although Tor changes your IP address, you don’t have control over the location it’s tied to as you do with a VPN. You can manually configure Tor to give you an IP address from a certain location, but it’s tricky to do. Since your traffic travels through multiple locations, it also slows down your connection speed significantly. Tor isn’t a viable option for speed-intensive activities like streaming or gaming.

You might also know that Tor can be used to access the dark web. Because of this, many ISPs monitor anyone using Tor more closely for potential illicit activity online. If you use it, it can leave you vulnerable to increased ISP surveillance.

Use a Proxy Server

Proxy servers are usually free. You can use a proxy server to change your IP address by routing your traffic through the proxy server. Your IP address changes to the proxy server’s address, which is shared by others on the same server. This masks your real location and makes it harder to trace activity to one person. Your traffic is blended into a crowd of traffic from everyone on the same server. 

You can usually configure a proxy server to get an IP address from any location. Using a proxy comes with risks though. Proxies don’t offer encryption like VPNs do, so all traffic routed through the server is visible. Online spies can monitor your search queries and visited websites, so your information is up for grabs regardless of whether you change your IP address or not. 

Use a Dedicated IP Address

You can use a VPN to switch your IP address each time you connect, but you share this IP address with anyone on the same server. This can mean having to deal with IP blocks or CAPTCHAs. If a website’s DNS service detects an influx of traffic from one IP address simultaneously, it can flag the IP address as a bot and block you or send a CAPTCHA request. To avoid this, some VPNs also offer dedicated (static) IP addresses. 

Dedicated IP addresses may be considered less anonymous than shared ones because you have the same address each time you log on. In theory, this makes it easier to trace all your activity to one IP address. That’s why it’s important to choose a VPN with additional privacy features to prevent your IP address from exposing any information about you.

You can upgrade your PIA VPN subscription to get a dedicated IP address that’s just yours, rather than an IP address you share with others connected to the same server. This also lets you conceal your real IP address no matter where you go, but you get other benefits too. Dedicated IP addresses can help you get around IP bans, especially if services bulk block IP addresses known to belong to VPNs.

You can request a dedicated IP address from your ISP service provider, but these are usually tied to your email address. Someone snooping could still link your IP address to your email and expose your identity. Choosing a dedicated IP from PIA VPN helps you boost your anonymity with an untraceable IP address. PIA uses a token-based system instead of your email, so you get an anonymous key to copy into your app, which then translates the key into a unique IP address. That way, no one can trace the IP address to you or your VPN account.

Update Your Firewall and Router

Firewalls are there to protect you, so make sure your router has the necessary precautions in place to keep unauthorized users out of your network. 

Change the default password on your router and be sure to update it regularly so that even if it’s compromised, no one gets access to your network. Keep your firewall up-to-date to avoid any loopholes that could compromise your security or let hackers into your network. Be careful when changing network settings, though. If you accidentally change firewall rules or disable security settings you could create a gateway for unauthorized access.

For extra security, you can configure PIA VPN on your router. This conceals the IP address of every device connected to your network, even if they don’t support a VPN app – like a games console or smart TV. Any traffic leaving your network stays encrypted and gets the VPN server’s IP address. 



Practice Good Cyber Hygiene

People often underestimate the importance of good cyber hygiene. Something as little as checking yourself into a location on social media can be risky, especially if a cybercriminal is watching you. Think about the information you share online and only give out what’s necessary. You can even try other tricks to minimize what activity can be traced to you, such as dummy email addresses with different names. 

Although the information you share can still be linked to your IP address, limiting what’s available can make you less of a target for cybercriminals and data-hungry companies. If there’s little data to tie to your IP address, it’s less likely someone will be able to use your IP address to target you.

How to Find Your IP Address

It depends on your device, but you can usually find your IP address by opening your settings app and looking for the Wi-Fi section. You can also use online tools such as PIA VPN’s IP address lookup feature to see your IP address and location within seconds. 

View Your IP Address on iPhone

  1. Open Settings
  2. Click on Wi-Fi 
  3. Find the network you’re connected to and click it.
  4. Scroll down to see the phone’s private IP address and your network’s public IP address. 
Screenshot of steps to find your IP address on mac

View Your IP Address on Mac

  1. Open System Settings
  2. Click Wi-Fi 
  3. Find your Wi-Fi network and press Details to see your Mac’s private IP address and network’s public IP address.
Screenshot of steps to find your IP address on Windows

View Your IP Address on Windows

  1. Press the Windows key on your keyboard.
  2. Click Settings then select Network & Internet
  3. Click Wi-Fi and select the relevant network to see its IP address.

View Your IP Address on Android

  1. Open Settings 
  2. Click About Phone
  3. Scroll down to Device identifiers or select Status Information to see the IP address depending on your phone.
Screenshot of steps to find your IP address on Android

Protect Your IP Address for Added Privacy

Having access to your IP address alone won’t risk your privacy too much. After all, service providers and websites have to see your IP address to find you online. The internet would be inaccessible otherwise. 

The risks to your online privacy heighten considerably if a cybercriminal has your IP address, especially if that’s not all they have. Third parties are always watching what you do online, logging details about your habits, search history, and sensitive information. All of this information can be traced back to your IP address.

The best way to stop IP tracing and keep your IP address concealed is with a VPN. You can download PIA VPN to mask your IP address with one from another location in seconds, using a shared or dedicated IP address. Our VPN also encrypts your device traffic, stopping snoopers from seeing what you’re doing online. The less they can see, the less they can trace back to you. 

FAQ

Should I be worried if someone has my IP address?

Not necessarily. Your IP address doesn’t reveal any personal information, so no one can see who you are. All someone can see is your zip code or city and who your ISP is. It’s more of a worry if people have other personal information like your email, street address, or phone number too. Then, someone could use your IP address to identify you or your exact location, which could leave you at risk of fraud, identity theft, and other criminal activity. 

What can someone do to you if they have your IP address?

An IP address can be used to send you targeted ads based on your location and activity. Cybercriminals might also use your IP address to help profile you so they can target you with attacks, including phishing, doxxing, swatting, DDoS, and blackmail scams. You can hide your IP address with a VPN. A VPN switches your IP address with another, stopping others from tracing your activity back to your real address and profiling you.

How do I know if my IP address has been hacked?

Your IP address can’t be hacked and it’s extremely hard to steal someone else’s IP address and pass it off as your own. That said, a cybercriminal can use your IP address to find and hack into your network. This is only possible if your network has a vulnerability like a faulty or outdated router or misconfigured firewall settings. 

If the person found a way into your network, they could infect your devices and monitor everything you do. Any device that uses a strongly encrypted connection should still be safe though.

Can someone use my IP address to control my device remotely?

Just having your IP address isn’t enough for someone to hack your device and take control of it. Cybercriminals can target you by other means to get access to your device though, such as with phishing links or dodgy apps with malware. Once they have access, they can then use your IP address to commit crimes or even sell your details on the dark web.

Can my IP address be traced?

Yes, your IP address can be traced to your approximate location, usually your city or zip code. Anyone looking up your IP address can also see the name of your ISP. Websites, ads, and trackers link everything you do online to your IP address, and use it to follow you around the web. They then use the information they find to send you spam emails or targeted ads.

Can you change your IP address?

Yes. you can contact your ISP to change your IP address, but the risks remain the same. You’ll still be tracked on every site you visit. The best way to change your IP address is with a VPN. PIA VPN switches your IP address to one from another location, so anything you do online is only linked to the VPN server IP address, not yours. It also encrypts your connection to stop others from looking at your activity and logging your information. 

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