I am not very savvy when it comes to tech terms. Of course, I am familiar with the basics like, Internet, Cloud, Website, etc. However, anything above that is foreign to me. The other day, when someone mentioned IP Address during a conversation about computers, I had no idea what they were talking about. Truth be told, as passionate as I am about cooking, when I heard I-P, Iceberg lettuce and pickles came to mind. I had to remind myself the conversation was about technology not turkey on rye.
Through the course of the conversation, I discovered every computer has an IP Address, including mine. That made me wonder What is my IP Address? Should I protect my IP Address? How do I find my IP Address? To enhance my knowledge and figure out my IP Address, I consulted an expert. Chris Bay, is Vice President of Technology and Education at LaunchCode, a prominent nonprofit based in St. Louis, Missouri. He answered all of my questions, including What is my IP Address? Should I protect my IP Address and a lot more.
WHAT IS MY IP ADDRESS?
Your (public*) IP address is the unique address of your computer when it is connected to the Internet. It is what allows other computers to find you (and vice versa) when browsing websites, reading email, etc.
*The public IP address of your computer identifies your computer on the Internet. You also have a private IP address which is used within the local network that you are on. Your local network is the network within your home, or at your employer. This IP address is never available to the outside world, so when people talk about an “IP address” they usually mean the public IP address. One way to think of public vs. private IP addresses is as follows. Imagine you live in an apartment building and your full address is something like:
1234 Main St.
St. Louis, MO 31415
If this were an IP address, the public part would be 1234 Main St., St. Louis, MO 31415. The private part would be Apt. 42. The public portion identifies where you are compared to the rest of the world, while the private part identifies where you are within the building.
HOW IS MY IP ADDRESS DETERMINED AND ASSIGNED?
Your IP address is assigned by your Internet service provider (ISP). This is the company that you pay for Internet access (Charter, AT&T, etc). When you connect, your ISP gives you an IP address. For most people, their IP address changes somewhat regularly. So your IP address might be different tomorrow from what it is today.
WHY IS MY IP ADDRESS IMPORTANT?
Without an IP address, it would not be possible to talk to other computers. Think of Internet communication like the US Postal Service. Without a mailing address, nobody can send you mail.
HOW DO I FIND MY IP ADDRESS?
It’s possible to find your IP address by looking it up in your computer’s settings, however an easier way is to just go to Google and search “what’s my IP address”. Google will determine your address and show it in your search results.
WHAT INFORMATION IS GLEANED FROM MY IP ADDRESS?
A few high-level items can be determined, including:
● Your ISP
● The general area in which you live (you can’t determine an exact address or neighborhood, but you can determine that someone lives in, say, St. Louis City). It’s possible for law enforcement to determine exactly where you live based on your IP, but that requires either a warrant or cooperation from your ISP.
I HAVE HAD NEW PHONE NUMBERS AND NEW HOME ADDRESSES THROUGH THE YEARS. DOES MY IP ADDRESS EVER CHANGE?
Your IP address changes all of the time! If you connect at work, you have a different IP than you do at home. You’ll have a different IP address at a coffee shop than you do at work. And as mentioned above, most people’s home IP address changes regularly as well.
SHOULD MY IP ADDRESS BE PROTECTED AT ALL TIMES LIKE MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, IF SO, WHY?
Nope. In fact, every web site and server you interact with on the Internet knows your IP address. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to talk to you! That said, it is possible to mask your IP address by going through an intermediate server. This is typically done by connecting to a Virtual Private Network (VPN). To everyone else on the Internet, this makes it look like your IP address is actually the address of the VPN. However, this is usually only done by people who are carrying out potentially criminal activity, or who are overly privacy conscious.