Every system connected to a network features a unique identifier. And similar to addressing letters sent via mail, computers employ a unique identifier in communicating data to other computers on a similar network. Nowadays, most networks, comprising of internet-connected computers, make use of the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol as a standard for network communication.
In a TCP/IP network, the identifier used is called the IP address. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique identifier for computers or devices using the TCP/IP protocol. Networks who engage the TCP/IP protocol route messages via the IP address of the receivers.
Why The IP Address Was Invented
Following the invention of TCP/IP protocol suite in the 1970s, the most popular network protocol globally, the core of these early systems was based on a set of protocols which interconnected computer network. These features allowed the communication of the computers over a network. The role of IP address considered as follows: “A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there.”
Nevertheless, it ensured the exchange of information between two computers occurred just between them. This guaranty follows the idea of no “centralized” computer for the transfer to be possible, thus limiting the prospect of a widespread attack.
The protocol system employed in the connection of other network computers became the foundation of what developed into the TCP/IP protocol system, which the Internet and other computer networks use globally.
In 1983, the first version of the Internet Protocol, the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), was initially deployed in the ARPANET. The header of each IP packet contains the IP address of the sending host and that of the destination host. An IP address serves two essential functions.
- The IP address identifies the host, or, more precisely, its network interface.
- IP address makes available the location of the network host, with the added capability of creating a path to the host.
In the early 1990s, the hasty exhaustion of the available IPv4 address assigned for ISPs and end-user organizations led the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to explore newer approaches towards the expansion of the addressing the internet capabilities.
The outcome led to the redesigning of the IP system which eventually developed into the Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) introduced in 1995. The introduction of the IPv6 technology followed several testing stages until the mid-2000s before commercial usage began. Due to the historical pervasiveness of IPv4, the primary use of “IP address” typically still implies addresses defined by IPv4. Nevertheless, other versions, like v1 to v9, were well-defined but only v4 and v6 ever received general use.
How IP Address Work
Currently, the two versions of the Internet Protocol, IPv4, and IPv6, are simultaneously in active use. Amid several technical changes, the format of addresses for the particular version is defined differently.
Every IP address takes the format of a 32-bit numeric address inscribed as four numbers separated by periods. The number ranges from 0 to 255. For instance, 10.166.11.251 could represent an IP address. The four numbers contained within an IP address are engaged in diverse ways of identifying a specific network alongside a host.
The four regional Internet registries include ARIN, APNIC, LACNIC, and RIPE NCC. These designated regional Internet registries allot Internet addresses from the three classes highlighted below:
- Class A – supports 126 networks, with each having 16 million hosts.
- Class B – supports 16,000 networks, with each having 65,000 hosts.
- Class C – supports 2 million networks with each having 254 hosts.
With the number of unallocated Internet addresses nearing exhaustion, a new classless scheme named CIDR is progressively replacing the class system with the adoption tied to IPv6. The IP address size, in this case, is increased from 32 to 128 bits.
Considering an isolated network, IP addresses can be assigned at random as far as it remains unique. Nevertheless, the connection of a private network to the Internet entails the use of registered IP addresses (called Internet addresses) to avert duplication.
An IP address can either be dynamic or static. Dynamic IP addresses are considered a temporary address that is allotted to a computer or device each time it connects to the Internet. Static IP addresses do not change as they are permanent Internet addresses.
How IP Address Are Used to Track User Activity
The IP framework can track user activity as it enables most 2-way communication involving the internet. The framework does this by allotting unique protocol addresses with numerical identifiers to every connected device for identification.
These IP address feature also aid proper communication with website services, and even in recognizing and locating devices online. The IP address of a connected user consist of two parts:
- Network ID, and
- Host ID
With the possibility of global communication, IP addresses also allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to be able to differentiate unique hardware for billions of users. The ISPs can track online activities via IP address as well as tracing your exact position. Consequently, a user approximate physical location is visible to any website with access to the user’s IP address.
Nevertheless, ISPs can tell your location at any time, and even though some policies are employed to provide privacy, connection logs of internet activities are kept. In most nations, law enforcement agencies can use details from ISPs. Some countries, like the UK, do not require a warrant following the Investigatory Powers Act 2016
Measure to Be Taken in Protecting Your IP Address
Data on location, browser history, and more are collected over time through IP addresses. These data can give a detailed story about your routines, interest, and information related to your internet usage. Well, a hidden IP address can stop details of your activities and location from being determined or traced.
Also, if you desire more privacy, the IP address can be changed to keep your details anonymous. Once you understand how the IP address works, the measure to be taken in protecting your privacy is pretty straightforward. Nevertheless, internet privacy, online freedom, and security are three primary reasons most users seek the protection of the IP address. Below are four effective methods of protecting an IP address.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPN services offer the easiest and possibly the best approach to protecting your IP address. The first step is choosing a well-rated VPN provider. Users can download and install their client software, followed by connecting to a suitable server on the VPN provider’s network. After connecting to the server, the VPN will become the middle-man between your device and the Internet.
Once you make any data request over the internet, the VPN removes your IP and replace it with one of theirs. Also, as the data request returns with a result, the server puts back your IP address. With the use of a VPN server, any website or service has absolutely zero chance of knowing who is communicating.
Every application connected to the internet would follow this process, as the VPN would route all data through to increase user protection. Nevertheless, VPN also offers the following additional benefits:
- VPN services allow users to pick selected servers available for several locations.
- The connection between your device and the server is encrypted.
The Onion Router (Tor)
The Onion Router (Tor) offers another excellent approach to hiding IP address. While it’s a little more complicated and slower compared to VPN, Tor is entirely free. To get started, users are required to download, install, and configure a Tor browser. The Tor browser bears similar appearances and functions to the Mozilla’s Firefox. This system depends on a global network of volunteer-run servers termed the “relays nodes.”
Once a device makes a data request, the request randomly “bounce” around several nodes before getting to its final destination. The outcome of the data request also follows a similar process. Each node is only aware of the next and previous nodes in the network chain, thus eliminating the possibilities of the website or service to track it back. All data on the Tor network is encrypted.
The proxy is another excellent way of hiding an IP address. In terms of connection, proxies are relatively easy to set up. Proxies can be free and offer minimal impact to the Internet speed. A proxy can be configured straight from an existing browser, and different process follows the set up in all major versions).
Accessing the web through proxy requires no extra software and only the IP address of a proxy server. With the browser set up correctly, the proxy relays everything sent and received through it while swapping the users’ IP with that of the server. Similar to VPN, choosing a proxy server location is available dependent on your goal.
Proxies are only efficient in masking IPs and come with limitations. They do not encrypt your data, hence, less privacy and security. And similar to Tor, running another application aside, a browser would entail a more complex setup that requires native proxy support and likely your network settings at the OS level.
Nevertheless, there are several sources online to get proxy server IPs, and a simple Google search can provide the free ones as well as paid providers.
The use of public Wi-Fi can also protect your home IP from being known. The IP address does not travel and whenever your device is connected to Public Wi-Fi, their IP address is what is used. In this case, the IP address used in accessing the internet would be different from your IP at home.
Nevertheless, this solution is not always convenient, especially in the long run, as it offers several downsides. The most grievous are the possibilities of specific individuals using such networks to hack your connection.
IP addresses are essential in our everyday connection to the internet. There are several benefits attached to using an IP address as it varies in importance for the User, the ISPs, and also security outfits. If it becomes a necessary step to maintain a high level of privacy, the use of VPN, Tor, Proxies, and Public Wi-Fi are some Excellent options to consider. These options offer various levels of flexibility to match different needs. Your IP address is essential, be free, and be safe.
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