Think of an IP address as connectivity. It is both a destination and a source for traffic exchange. It is also the connection or transit point between these two addresses. Like a telephone number, each suggests a geographic location and service provider. Together they form a route that maps the path between the source and destination.
Everything using the Internet needs an IP address to connect and to be found. For example, you may be connecting to this web page from a personal computer, a smart phone, or a tablet. Each of these devices has a unique IP address on their local shared network. At a coffee shop or work, this network can include work phones and laptops that you are not aware of.
Private IP addresses are assigned by the device that provides the Internet connection, such as a WiFi router. The router also has a private IP address. Each request initiated from your device passes through the router and back directly to your device through these two addresses.
Wiki quiz: How do you identify all devices sharing your Internet connection?
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Your router connects with your Internet Service Provider. This service loans you one of their IP addresses to make this connection. The numbers associated with this IP address generally identify the ISP and, because IP addresses are assigned to geographic regions, the numbers can also suggest a general, geographic location.
Some countries treat IP addresses as personal data, these numbers alone do not directly contain personally identifiable information about the users. However, the IP address of your Internet connection travels with you across the Internet like the license plate of an automobile. When you sign into a subscription service and then view a series of pages, your IP address is likely logged by that server. It may also be logged by traffic analytics used by the webmaster, such as Google Analytics.
Wiki quiz: An IP address is different from a domain name address.
But, can you still visit a website after the domain name has changed or moved?
Learn how in a Basic Internet class.
Get familiar with the construction of IP addresses. It will help you identify general locations of servers and attempts to obscure it. IP version 4 addresses are comprised of 4 segments known as octets. Each octet ranges from 0 to 255. Regional Internet Registries, like ARIN, allocate IPv4 addresses in blocks to countries where the numbers are, in turn, allocated to major entities like ISPs.
Here is an example of an IPv4 number assigned to Google.com.
Investigators who become familiar with hosts in their region can generally spot a regional datacenter based on the first octet.
Wiki quiz: What’s your IP address? Where are you located?
The services you use to check an IP address makes a difference.
Find out how to troubleshoot geo-location in the Basic Internet training.
In IPv4, private addresses begin with 192.168. At home, these numbers are issued by your router. But, you may also notice blocks of private IP addresses while reviewing an email header or conducting a traceroute. The first octet of these numbers can include 10. and 172. Like your home network, these addresses represent traffic passing internally within an ISP, such as through a series of servers on Yahoo or Google.
A website can have more than one IP address and it can have both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. IP version 6 addresses are more complex and consist of 8 octets separated by colons.
Here is an example of an IPv6 number assigned to Google.com.
DNS and Anonymous Surfing
When you enter a domain address into your web browser, a separate service is needed to translate that text into the current IP address or hosting location of the website. This lookup is performed by DNS (domain name system) and is updated on regular intervals determined by the operator. Without it, websites could not be found by name, alone.
Wiki quiz: Can an operator keep a website accessible after the domain name has been seized or suspended? Get the facts in the Basic Internet class.
Most servers log the IP address of visitors. Some servers block users in specific countries based on their IP address. Proxy servers are often used to maintain anonymity or overcome IP blocking. A proxy server rests between the user and the Internet; effectively becoming the platform from which you search, view, or download content.
Some proxies are available as free online page services. Some tunnel users to shared or private servers through desktop software, while others function through online platforms. Even with a proxy, it is possible to leak geo-location data through your browser.
Image source: Wikipedia.org
Wiki quiz: Do you know how to turn off browser geo-location and stay anonymous online?Learn the undercover basics at NetBootCamp.