What Is My IP? An Introductory Guide To IP Addresses

IP Addresses

All of your devices are probably hooked up to the internet and when you go online to do whatever you do, your traffic has to be directed in the right way and the responses has to come back to you. IP addresses are such an important part of making sure that this works and are a vital part of how the internet work. Knowing a thing or two about IP addresses is very valuable when it comes to cyber security.

Internet Protocol

The Internet Protocol is a set of rules that all devices must follow to successfully connect to other devices on the internet, this ensures that connections between devices works smoothly. It sends data packages with information about the sender and receiver in the form of an IP address. 

Currently the most common internet protocol is called IPv4 but you may have seen a newer version called IPv6 which uses a more advanced addressing scheme to allow for more users.

IPv6 was developed because of the fact that IPv4 addresses only can use: 

232= 4,294,967,296 (about 4,3 billion) addresses, 

which are quickly running out. When the internet was created and the internet protocol was developed, no one could have imagined the importance of the internet and how many users it actually has today. IPv6 on the other hand, can use:

2128=340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses. 

I’m not even going to attempt to articulate that number…anyway, IPv6 allows for an incredible amount of users and doesn’t face the problem of running out.

Why Is it Called IP Address?

For the internet protocol to successfully and correctly deliver data packets and traffic between computers, networks and all types of devices connected to the internet, it needs an addressing scheme. Think of it like how telephones use telephone numbers and how the postal service uses street addresses. Since the Internet Protocol is what controls how internet traffic works, these addresses are called Internet Protocol Addresses (IP-addresses).

Understanding IP Addresses

A computer cannot understand written text (a-ö) in the way that a human does, nor can it count in decimal (0-9), it can only perform logical calculations of combinations of ones and zeroes. Each of those ones and zeroes are called a bit. One 0 = 1 bit and one 1 = 1 bit. This is also called binary. 

IP addresses are written in what is called ”dotted quad notation” which means four numbers that are separated by dots. Like this: 192.168.1.100. You’ve probably seen them. 

Of course, we know that a computer doesn’t understand this number so it has to be converted to binary (for the computer to understand) from decimal (for humans to understand).

Each of those quads may range between 0-255. This is because when the Internet Protocol was created it was decided that each number should be represented with 8 binary bits, also called an octet. What we get is two numbers (0 and 1) in 28=256 possible combinations per octet. But, because we start counting at 0 we get 0-255, which is what we use.

So, each IP number is made of 8+8+8+8 = 32 bits in total.

Calculating Binary

Calculating binary is actually very simple and all it takes is simple addition. Every position inside the octet is given a value. Beginning from the right with the value 1 going to the left and doubling for each step until 128. Like this:

Now, all you have to know is that 1 means add and 0 means skip. Moving from the left to the right, just add all the numbers representing a one. Lets say that we have the binary number 11000000.10101000.00000001.00001010

Public And Private Address Spaces

As we discussed earlier, the IPv4 can only use a finite number of IP addresses before they run out. This problem is partially solved by the use of public and private addresses. This way a device may use one IP inside a local network, allowing for that IP address to be reused on any other local networks but as soon as a device needs to access the internet, it is assigned a public IP address. This process is called Network Address Translation (NAT) and is done automatically by your router.

How NAT Works

Whenever you send a data packet on to the internet, your router remembers the local IP address of your computer, stores it in a table, gives you a new public IP and send the packet to the intended receiver. Then, whenever you get a response from the receiver it remembers that and knows that the response should be routed to your local IP address.

What Is My IP Address?

To find you local IP address you navigate to the network settings of your computer, look for TCP/IP and IPv4. The IPv4 number is your local IP address. 

To find your public IP address there are several websites that offer this service. Just google ”what is my ip?” and you will find many options. 

Are There Any Ways To Hide My IP?

Since IP addresses are the main way of recognising devices across the internet, sometimes you would like to hide who you are. Your IP address can be used by corporations to target ads against you or track your browsing history. It could also be used by hackers to target you for hacking attacks. Of course, the possibility of hiding ones online identity also brings not so honest intentions to the table. 

Either way, a couple of common ways to hiding IP addresses are:

VPNs

A VPN creates a secure and encrypted ”tunnel” between you and the VPN server and securely encrypts all of your data before it leaves your device. Because your traffic passes through the VPN server before it hits the internet, the only IP address the internet will se is the one of the VPN server. Therefor your IP is hidden. Of course, your ISP still know your IP and can see the IP of the VPN server, but they can’t understand your data in any way because of the encryption.

Read more about VPNs HERE

Proxies

Proxies basically does the same job as a VPN except it isn’t as secure. It also acts as a middle man by connecting your traffic through a server and thereby hiding your true IP address to the internet. Proxies doesn’t offer encryption in the same way though and only works on an application to application level, which means that it must be setup on every application you want it to be used on. VPN’s on the other hand encrypts all network traffic. 

TOR

Tor is an open source and encrypted network operated by volunteers with servers placed all over the world. By routing your traffic randomly through these servers, also called relays, and then on to the internet, no one is able to link your traffic to a single source and your IP address will be hidden. This way your traffic is anonymised and protects you from many types of attacks and threats. The TOR network can be used by anyone to anonymise traffic and hide their location and IP address and then accessing websites anonymously.

Learn more about TOR HERE

Unfortunately, It's Not That Simple

If you want to hide your IP to bypass corporate tracking, targeted ads or location restrictions these options will be fine. However, for purposes where anonymity is important you must know that these options won’t be able to completely anonymise you. 

Unfortunately, the nature of the internet wasn’t built with privacy or anonymity in mind and it has turned out to be very complicated to stay anonymous online. This is because there are so many ways identifiable data is spread. Your browser, plug-ins, operating system and software all leak information about you on to the internet. Improving privacy is easy but staying anonymous is very hard and takes a lot of work and knowledge.

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