The internet is a highway that links people, groups and entire communities together. Right now, almost 57% of the world’s population has access to the internet. The tasks that we use the internet for range from information search to entertainment, ecommerce to digital banking and so much more. It has become an integral part of our lives enabling people separate by millions of miles to interact with one another creating a ‘global village’.
Unfortunately, as the internet and its usage has grown data has become the most important and valuable asset on the planet. It is traded for hefty amounts and used in a variety of ways. Different entities have formulated ways to get access to user information which may be ethical or unethical, even sometimes illegal. And if you’ve been up to speed with the tech world recently, you will probably know about the threat that cybercrime poses today.
Here we dive into the source of information leaks, i.e. IP addresses and determine why it is important to protect it at all costs.
What is an IP address?
The Internet Protocol or IP address is a numeric label assigned to each device that is connected to the internet. The device may separate or part of a network of computers in the area. The local Internet Service Providers (ISP) determines how a device that is on their network will connect to the network. The IP address is unique to each and every device. Also, it may change every time you connect to the internet.
An IP address performs two functions. It is the network interface identification for the user who is on the internet at that time. A network interface is any software or hardware that is forming a bridge between two elements on a specific network. In this case, it is anything that is connecting the user to their ISP. The second function is location addressing and together, these two can form a potentially sensitive combination.
How is it shared?
The IP address for each device is public by default. This is to enable the ISP to keep track of what their users are doing and where they are located all the time. This surveillance became necessary after the threats we faced from terrorism globally but sadly, it has given rise to local crimes and misuse of authority that is causing more damages than physical terrorism.
Whenever a user connects to the internet and wants to access a website, they go to the browser, enter the domain name in the address bar and clicks ‘Enter’. As this happens, a packet of data is formed which contains the users public IP address and that of the website they wish to visit. This is sent to the ISP which redirects it to the server of the specified website. Of course this process takes longer to explain than it takes to execute which is why you get a response within a few milliseconds.
The user IP address is always public. In order to check what the current IP address is, simple type ‘What is my IP location’ or ‘address’ in Google. The top snippet will display your current IP address. The bad thing however, is that anyone with the basic knowledge and resources can get access to your IP address easily. This is where things start to go wrong.
What harm comes with a public IP address?
There seems nothing wrong with a public IP address unless you start to think of it as your home address. What if the location of your house was to go public? Nobody would ever want that to happen. Now take the same approach to the IP address because it your digital home address. The whole internet knows where you are located and this makes users vulnerable.
These days, we don’t have many valuables in our homes but on our devices, there is everything that we hold dear. Or smartphones, computers and laptops hold sensitive data and anyone who can get access to our public IP address can easily track what a user is doing on the internet. Not just this but the same can also be used to send and implant viruses which can be used to get access to private data.
This data can include records like date of birth, social security numbers, house address, banking details and much more. Even a little bit of this information can lead to significant loss to businesses and individuals.
The hard to define boundaries between the ethical and unethical
IP address and subsequent location tracking is used by organizations and entities which fall in the realms of both legal and illegal. Government organizations use IP address tracking to keep check on individuals and groups that may be involved in suspicious activities or showing extremist tendencies. Although this is justified, the scope has grown to institutions tracking each and every individual even without proper cause. Similarly, businesses and other parties also track and keep logs of user data for customer profiling. This is where the boundaries of ethic begin to blur.
Most effective ways to hide your IP address
There are numerous ways of protecting your IP address but by far the most efficient is the use of a VPN. These programs are designed to reroute user IP addresses so that instead of going through the servers of the ISP, it first goes to a secure server of the VPN. Here the IP address is changed and then sent to the website for which it was intended. This hides the original IP and makes a user anonymous so anyone trying to spy on them has no idea of the online activity.
An IP address is one of the most crucial pieces of information regarding a user and it can open a portal into the device that a person is using. Once there, government departments and hackers can do what they want like spy or even siphon off information from the user’s system. This is why it is vital to use a VPN in protecting IP addresses.