In the real world, we need addresses to identify a location for homes or businesses, and in order to receive mail. It’s the same in the digital world – an Internet Protocol (IP) address is what allows your computer, smartphone, printer and other network devices to communicate with each other on a local area network (LAN), as well as with websites and other computers or devices that are also on the internet.
The IP address is a unique string of numbers and periods, such as 18.104.22.168, that identifies network devices on the internet. It is important to understand what an IP Address is and how it works so that you can stay safe online, and keep your personal information secure from hackers and identity thieves.
Your ISP assigns a private IP address to your home or business network router, and the router then assigns a public IP address to all devices connected to it. The IP address acts as a sort of identification card on the internet, and gives each device its own unique identity that the web can use to locate it. In addition, it also tells the routers and switches on a local area network where to send packets of data from the internet or from one LAN device to another.
When you surf the web, a record of your IP address 192.168.0.1 is created in server logs, and this can give criminals a pretty good idea of who you are, where you live, and how to reach you. Hackers can use this to target your computer or phone with malicious software (malware), and to deliver targeted advertising based on your search and browsing habits. They can even use your IP address to carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), in which massive amounts of fake traffic are sent to a website in order to bring it down.
The IP address helps to ensure that the correct devices receive messages, so it’s a crucial part of communication on the Internet. However, a person’s IP address can change from time to time. This happens when a person connects to Wi-Fi at a hotel, airport or coffee shop. In order for the device to connect to that network, it must have a valid public IP address from its internet service provider (ISP).
The current version of the Internet Protocol, called IPv4, has a limited number of public and private addresses, so ISPs often change a subscriber’s IP address when they upgrade their modem or router. The IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), which designs the backbone technologies of the Internet, has been working on a new version, called IPv6, for over a decade now. This has a much larger pool of possible addresses, and is slowly replacing IPv4. However, both versions coexist today, as they are compatible. To learn more about IPv6, click here.