What Is an IP Address? (Plus How To Secure Yours)

Updated June 24, 2022

Many technical devices and systems that people use regularly have IP addresses. An IP address can help devices and websites communicate with one another safely. Understanding how IP addresses operate can help you protect your personal or company data from potential cyber threats. In this article, we discuss what an IP address is, what they do, why they matter, how they work and how you can secure your IP address.

Related: What Is IP Whitelisting? Definition, Benefits and Disadvantages

What is an IP address?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique code that identifies a device connecting to the internet. Devices such as laptops, mobile phones, desktop computers and routers all can possess IP addresses. Local computer networks also have their own distinguishing IP address.

Every device that connects to the internet receives an IP address in the form of a unique string of numbers. This numerical string typically contains periods between several sets of numbers and may sometimes contain letters from the alphabet as well.

What do IP addresses do?

IP addresses allow devices connected to the internet to send and receive information. With IP addresses, websites can successfully verify the identity of a device trying to access its information. The website can then grant the IP address permission to transfer data to or from its domain.

Related: What Is a Default Gateway and How Do I Find It?

Why are IP addresses important?

IP addresses can provide various benefits, such as:

  • Communicate through the internet: The primary purpose of IP addresses is to allow devices and websites to successfully communicate with each other over the internet. An IP address makes it easier for devices and websites to know the exact location of where they're transferring data and verify that it's a secure connection.

  • Help law enforcement officials: Law enforcement officials sometimes use IP addresses to help them solve investigations. For example, a forensic specialist could use IP addresses and computer forensic technology to pinpoint the location of a hacker.

  • Present relevant advertisements: IP addresses contain information about a user's local region. Knowing your approximate geographic location can help companies display more localized or relevant ads to potential customers.

How does an IP address work?

Before receiving an IP address, your device connects to a network that has access to the internet. This could be your home network or a public one, such as the Wi-Fi at an airport. This network can then grant your device access to the internet. After that, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns you the IP address that gives your device the ability to go online.

Depending on where and how you connect your devices to the internet, they may have different IP addresses assigned to them. For example, if you sometimes connect your mobile phone to your home internet and other times use it to access Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, your device uses original IP addresses while operating on these distinct networks. IP addresses can change for other reasons too, like if you turn your router or modem on and off.

Related: Types of Computer Servers and How They Function

Types of IP addresses

There are four main types of IP addresses:

Private IP address

Private IP addresses refer to the devices connected to a home internet network. Any device that connects to a home network receives a private IP address, whether it's a personal or business computer, tablet, mobile phone or smart device like a watch.

Home networks assign unique IP addresses to each device connected to them to ensure that each device can send and receive data from the internet separately. For example, if you're using a computer for work at the same time that someone else in your household is on their computer for school, your distinct IP addresses help guide online data transfers to the correct device.

Public IP address

Public IP addresses are unique codes that identify an entire network. For example, both your home network and the network at your job each have distinct IP addresses. Networks receive their public IP addresses when their ISP assigns one to their router or modem.

Related: Common Categories of Routing Protocols (With 7 Types)

Static IP address

Static IP addresses refer to IP addresses attached permanently to a device or network. A static IP address is also one that's chosen deliberately by its users rather than assigned by an ISP. Some businesses use static IP addresses to bolster their cybersecurity system and ensure that only authorized employees can access their company data.

Dynamic IP address

A dynamic IP address is one that changes continually. Many ISPs automatically reassign their IP addresses to their customers regularly. Most individuals who access the internet use these dynamic IP addresses.

How to secure your IP address

Following are five strategies that can help you secure your IP address:

1. Get a virtual private network

Think about using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows devices to access the internet through a private server rather than their own IP address. When you access websites or other online tools through a VPN, the VPN gives you a secure but anonymous identity. This can help you not only access the data on the VPN safely but also enhance your personal cybersecurity.

Related: How To Effectively Use a VPN in 4 Steps (Plus Benefits)

2. Create unique passwords

Design complex and distinct passwords for all of your accounts. Hackers that gain access to your passwords can sometimes move into other parts of your network. This may let them view your personal data or intercept communications between your devices and the internet.

Strengthening your passwords can help ensure that your data and internet connection remain secure. Here are some tips for creating unique passwords:

  • Use a combination of lower and uppercase letters, numbers and special characters.

  • Create distinct passwords for each of your accounts.

  • Find a secure password manager to help you safely store and remember all of your login information.

3. Be mindful of suspicious emails

Pay attention to emails that might contain malware. Knowing how to recognize signs of a malicious email can help you reduce the possibility of hackers finding out your IP address.

If you're ever unsure about the legitimacy of an email you've received, send it to your company's IT team. You might also reach out to the supposed sender through another method, such as their phone number, to confirm whether they sent the message. Here are some other strategies you can use to detect potentially suspicious messages:

  • Look at the email domain. Check to see if you recognize the email domain, meaning the part of the email address following the "@" sign. Suspicious senders may use unfamiliar email addresses from websites designed as scams.

  • Check for grammatical or other errors. Look for grammatical, syntactical or other errors in the text of the subject line or in the body of the email. Emails generated by cyber viruses often contain typos and other mistakes.

  • See if there's an attachment or link. Check if the email contains an attachment with a strange name or a link to an unfamiliar website. If you see one of these, flag the message as spam and delete it immediately.

4. Use a proxy server

Proxy servers act as intermediaries or messengers between devices and their network or internet. A proxy server is a highly powerful computer that can safely filter the data sent between your device and websites or digital tools. When you use a proxy server, the domains you're accessing online can see only the proxy server's IP address rather than your device's personal one.

Related: What Are Proxy Servers and How Do They Work?

5. Download antivirus software

Install antivirus software and other cybersecurity measures, like firewalls, on your devices. Antivirus software can automatically and continually check your devices for potential threats while you perform other tasks. It's also important to make sure that you regularly update the programs to ensure that they're able to protect you against the most recent types of cyberattacks.

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