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What is IP Address in Networking?

An IP address is a unique address that identifies a device on the internet or a local network. IP stands for “Internet Protocol,” which is the set of rules governing the format of data sent via the internet or local network.

In essence, IP addresses are the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network: they contain location information and make devices accessible for communication. The internet needs a way to differentiate between different computers, routers, and websites. IP addresses provide a way of doing so and form an essential part of how the internet works.

What is an IP Address?

An IP address is a string of numbers separated by periods. IP addresses are expressed as a set of four numbers — an example address might be 192.158.1.38. Each number in the set can range from 0 to 255. So, the full IP addressing range goes from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255.

IP addresses are not random. They are mathematically produced and allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a division of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a non-profit organization that was established in the United States in 1998 to help maintain the security of the internet and allow it to be usable by all. Each time anyone registers a domain on the internet, they go through a domain name registrar, who pays a small fee to ICANN to register the domain.

Difference Between IPv4 vs IPv6 ?

Here is the tabular comparison between IPv4 and IPv6:

Difference Between IPv4 vs IPv6.png

How do IP addresses work

If you want to understand why a particular device is not connecting in the way you would expect or you want to troubleshoot why your network may not be working, it helps understand how IP addresses work.

Internet Protocol works the same way as any other language, by communicating using set guidelines to pass information. All devices find, send, and exchange information with other connected devices using this protocol. By speaking the same language, any computer in any location can talk to one another.

The use of IP addresses typically happens behind the scenes. The process works like this:

    1. Your device indirectly connects to the internet by connecting at first to a network connected to the internet, which then grants your device access to the internet.
    2. When you are at home, that network will probably be your Internet Service Provider (ISP). At work, it will be your company network.
    3. Your IP address is assigned to your device by your ISP.
    4. Your internet activity goes through the ISP, and they route it back to you, using your IP address. Since they are giving you access to the internet, it is their role to assign an IP address to your device.
    5. However, your IP address can change. For example, turning your modem or router on or off can change it. Or you can contact your ISP, and they can change it for you.
    6. When you are out and about – for example, traveling – and you take your device with you, your home IP address does not come with you. This is because you will be using another network (Wi-Fi at a hotel, airport, or coffee shop, etc.) to access the internet and will be using a different (and temporary) IP address, assigned to you by the ISP of the hotel, airport or coffee shop. 
    7. As the process implies, there are different types of IP addresses, which we explore below.

      Types of IP addresses

      There are different categories of IP addresses, and within each category, different types.

      Consumer IP addresses

      Every individual or business with an internet service plan will have two types of IP addresses: their private IP addresses and their public IP address. The terms public and private relate to the network location — that is, a private IP address is used inside a network, while a public one is used outside a network.

      Private IP addresses

      A private IP address is assigned to each device that connects to your internet network. This includes any electronic devices that support Bluetooth, such as speakers, printers, smart TVs, as well as PCs, smartphones, and tablets. The number of private IP addresses you have at home is undoubtedly increasing as the internet of things expands. These items need to be able to be recognized separately by your router, and many of them also need to be able to recognize one another. As a result, your router generates private IP addresses, which serve as distinctive identifiers for each device on the network.

      Public IP addresses

      A public IP address is the primary address associated with your whole network. While each connected device has its own IP address, they are also included within the main IP address for your network. As described above, your public IP address is provided to your router by your ISP. Typically, ISPs have a large pool of IP addresses that they distribute to their customers. Your public IP address is the address that all the devices outside your internet network will use to recognize your network.

      Public IP addresses

      Public IP addresses come in two forms – dynamic and static.

      Dynamic IP addresses

      Automatic and frequent changes to dynamic IP addresses. ISPs purchase a big pool of IP addresses and automatically distribute them to its clients. They redistribute them periodically and add the older IP addresses back to the pool for use by other clients. The goal of this strategy is to save money for the ISP through cost savings. They can avoid taking special steps to re-establish a customer’s IP address if they move homes, for example, by automating the regular transfer of IP addresses. A changing IP address has security advantages as well because it makes it more difficult for hackers to access your network interface.

      Static IP addresses

      In contrast to dynamic IP addresses, static addresses remain consistent. Once the network assigns an IP address, it remains the same. Most individuals and businesses do not need a static IP address, but for businesses that plan to host their own server, it is crucial to have one. This is because a static IP address ensures that websites and email addresses tied to it will have a consistent IP address — vital if you want other devices to be able to find them consistently on the web.

      This leads to the next point – which is the two types of website IP addresses.

      There are two types of website IP addresses

      For website owners who don’t host their own server, and instead rely on a web hosting package – which is the case for most websites – there are two types of website IP addresses. These are shared and dedicated.

      Shared IP addresses

      The majority of the time, shared hosting plans from web hosting companies will host multiple websites on the same server. This frequently occurs with personal or small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) websites, when traffic volume is controllable and site size is limited. This type of hosting will use shared IP addresses for websites.

      Dedicated IP addresses

      Some web hosting plans have the option to purchase a dedicated IP address (or addresses). This can make obtaining an SSL certificate easier and allows you to run your own File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server. This makes it easier to share and transfer files with multiple people within an organization and allow anonymous FTP sharing options. A dedicated IP address also allows you to access your website using the IP address alone rather than the domain name — useful if you want to build and test it before registering your domain. 

      How to look up IP addresses

      The simplest way to check your router’s public IP address is to search “What is my IP address?” on Google. Google will show you the answer at the top of the page.

      Other websites will show you the same information: they can see your public IP address because, by visiting the site, your router has made a request and therefore revealed the information. The site IPLocation goes further by showing the name of your ISP and your city.

      Generally, you will only receive an approximation of location using this technique — where the provider is, but not the actual device location. If you are doing this, remember to log out of your VPN too. Obtaining the actual physical location address for the public IP address usually requires a search warrant to be submitted to the ISP. 

      Finding your private IP address varies by platform:

      In Windows:

      • Use the command prompt.
      • Search for “cmd” (without the quotes) using Windows search
      • In the resulting pop-up box, type “ipconfig” (no quote marks) to find the information.

      On a Mac:

      • Go to System Preferences
      • Select network – and the information should be visible.

      On an iPhone:

      • Go to Settings
      • Select Wi-Fi and click the “i” in a circle () next to the network you are on – the IP address should be visible under the DHCP tab.

      Go inside the router to verify the IP addresses of any networked devices if necessary. Depending on the router’s brand and software, there are different ways to access it. In most cases, you should be able to access the router by entering its gateway IP address into a web browser connected to the same network. You must then go to a page called “attached devices,” which ought to show a list of all the devices that are currently or recently connected to the network, along with their IP addresses.

      IP address security threats

      Cybercriminals can use various techniques to obtain your IP address. Two of the most common are social engineering and online stalking.

      Attackers may trick you into disclosing your IP address via social engineering. They can locate you, for instance, by using Skype or a comparable instant messaging program that communicates using IP addresses. It’s crucial to be aware that if you use these applications to talk with strangers, they can see your IP address. Attackers can access the Skype Resolver tool and use your username to obtain your IP address.

      Online stalking

      Criminals can track down your IP address by merely stalking your online activity. Any number of online activities can reveal your IP address, from playing video games to commenting on websites and forums.

      Once they have your IP address, attackers can go to an IP address tracking website, such as whatismyipaddress.com, type it in, and then get an idea of your location. They can then cross-reference other open-source data if they want to validate whether the IP address is associated with you specifically. They can then use LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social networks that show where you live, and then see if that matches the area given.

      If a Facebook stalker uses a phishing attack against people with your name to install spying malware, the IP address associated with your system would likely confirm your identity to the stalker.

      If cybercriminals know your IP address, they can launch attacks against you or even impersonate you. It is important to be aware of the risks and how to mitigate them. Risks include:

      Downloading illegal content using your IP address

      Hackers are known to download illegal materials and other things they don’t want associated with them using hacked IP addresses. For instance, thieves might download illegal movies, music, and videos using your IP address, violating the terms of service of your ISP, and even more gravely, content relating to terrorism or child pornography. This could imply that, through no fault of your own, you might catch the eye of the police.

      Tracking down your location

      If they know your IP address, hackers can use geolocation technology to identify your region, city, and state. They only need to do a little more digging on social media to identify your home and potentially burgle it when they know you are away.

      Directly attacking your network

      Your network may be specifically targeted by criminals who then conduct a number of attacks. Among the most well-known is a DDoS attack (distributed denial-of-service). This kind of cyberattack takes place when criminals utilize compromised computers to overwhelm the targeted server or system with a large number of requests. As a result, services are interrupted because the server cannot handle the increased demand. In essence, it disables your internet. While this attack is frequently directed against companies and online gaming services, it can also target a specific person, although this is considerably less usual. Due to the fact that their screens are visible while broadcasting, online gamers are especially at risk for this (on which an IP address can be discovered). 

      Hacking into your device

      The internet uses ports as well as your IP address to connect. There are thousands of ports for every IP address, and a hacker who knows your IP can try those ports to attempt to force a connection. For example, they could take over your phone and steal your information. If a criminal does obtain access to your device, they could install malware on it.

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