How can someone exploit your IP address and data it reveals?

Anton P. | January 26, 2022

Your IP address is a unique signature revealed on multiple occasions. Every time you enter a website, you introduce yourself by providing this identifier. Then, the site can take appropriate actions, like customizing its appearance for your location. However, your IP address is a detail you do not want to expose to just anyone.

After all, more hostile entities can exploit it for malicious purposes like attacking your device. Your IP address also plays an unwilling role in censorship. According to the information attached, Internet Service Providers can restrict access online.

So, let’s discuss all ways entities can use your IP address and why it is best to keep it private.

How can someone exploit your IP address and data it reveals?

What can an IP address reveal about you?

First and foremost, here are the details that an IP address carries:

  • The city your device is in (an approximate location).
  • ZIP code.
  • Area code.
  • Your Internet Service Provider.

Thus, IP addresses mainly relate to geo-based details about devices. All activities performed on smartphones or computers are associated with these identifiers. However, can IP addresses reveal your identity? Not instantly. But it is possible to piece together various characteristics by looking deeper at activities linked to these identifiers.

As a brief reminder: an IP address is a unique identifier online. Normally, it is possible to relate certain activities to a particular device. Every computer, smartphone, tablet, etc., have their unique IP address. This naming convention helps devices communicate with each other and exchange information.

When do you reveal your IP address?

Sadly, your IP address is not a secret. Online entities need it to deliver content or add certain custom elements. Thus, it would be difficult to conduct online activities as we know it without sharing IP addresses when necessary.

  • Browsing. Each site you visit immediately knows your IP address and extracts information about your whereabouts. Take Google services as an example. They adjust language settings and query results for each user. Most of these customizations depend on IP addresses.
  • Gaming online. When playing online multiplayer games, your IP address will be visible to the server. Sometimes, game owners can also restrict access to their titles for certain users. Thus, such administrators will have access to logs, revealing usernames and IP addresses associated with them.
  • Posting comments. Your commentary is only anonymous to the other users. Service providers will see IP addresses associated with certain comments or reviews. Typically, moderators will perform IP bans if commentators use defamatory, vulgar, or offensive language.
  • Clicking on ads or links. When you interact with links or promotional content, the service providers receive your IP address. It helps entities to supply personalized ads based on your activities and location.
  • From emails. People can find out your IP address by checking the header of the message you sent. Of course, not all providers do this. For instance, you won’t find such details via Gmail emails.
  • Torrenting. If you torrent files, seeders and leechers will likely see your IP address. All they need to do is find the list of peers, and information about them will include software details and IP addresses.

How can online entities use your IP address?

First of all, let’s establish which entities are after your IP address, be it for benign purposes or more vicious goals.

  • Authorities. Law enforcement agencies and governments can request IP logs from Internet Service Providers. Such subpoenas could attempt to find more information on suspects in criminal activities. However, oppressive regimes can abuse such power to silence citizens.
  • Advertisers. These entities use people’s IP addresses to pinpoint their location. Then, it is possible to tailor promotional campaigns according to users’ whereabouts. After all, it makes sense for ads to reflect services nearby as opposed to random providers.
  • Subscription services. Geo-blocks are common on video-on-demand services. Thus, only users from approved locations can access particular content. Similar restrictions can apply to websites or apps.
  • Hackers. If cybercriminals retrieve your IP address, it does not automatically make you compromised. However, certain hacking strategies do require IP addresses, like Denial of Service attacks. In fact, DDoS raids have hit all-time high numbers in Q3 of 2021.

Learn your approximate location

Your IP address will always pinpoint a specific location on the map. The accuracy of your whereabouts depends on circumstances. For instance, your IP address could correctly indicate the city you live in. However, it might identify a completely different neighborhood.

Block content and access

Inappropriate behavior online could leave you in hot water with providers moderating contributions to their sites. IP bans mean that devices with certain identifiers cannot access or comment on restricted platforms.

There could also be more nationwide blocks, like banning IP addresses pinpointing particular locations. For instance, social media giant Facebook is not available worldwide. Geo-blocks prevent citizens in particular countries from accessing it all.

There are many reasons behind it, licensing agreements being the most straightforward. However, when geo-blocks facilitate censorship, the story turns grim fast.

Censor internet and limit free speech

Although IP addresses seem like a minor detail, it allows repressive governments to apply blocks on global services. Such regimes strictly limit the transmission of ideas and news, which often translates into blocks on independent news outlets.

According to our research, an increasing number of countries exercise control over the content their citizens get to access. Thus, these restrictions and battles over online dominance have significantly reduced internet freedom for millions.

As per statistics, nearly 40% of netizens do not have access to open and free digital space. Chinese citizens bear the biggest content limitations and censorship. Thus, techniques for domesticating the internet threaten the digital realm as everyone should know it.

Having IP addresses exposed makes it possible to implement such attacks on the open and free internet.

But wait, how does IP address blocking work?

All information traveling online has a “To” and “From” address. ISPs or network managers can make decisions on which destinations to approve. Thus, they can craft lists containing IP addresses relating to services they wish to block.

Therefore, each time you make a request, dedicated mechanisms check the IP address. If it matches the identifier in blocked lists, ISPs terminate the request.

Helps perform DoS attacks

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are attempts to overwhelm devices with bogus requests. If targeted, your computer could become unresponsive until the flood of data ends. Thus, its purpose is all about forcing systems to overload and render them unfunctional.

Your IP address is one of the main ingredients for DoS attacks. Essentially, the IP address becomes the destination for all the simulated traffic. Fortunately, DoS attacks rarely focus on individual users. Companies are more common targets for such criminal activities.

Use a VPN to hide your IP address

You do not have to expose your IP address to anyone with the means to retrieve it. However, all online users need to have this identifier to make all popular activities possible. In other words, it is not possible to operate without an IP address.

Luckily, IP address masking comes to the rescue. It is the next best thing, and it takes seconds to do it with Atlas VPN.

Once you connect to VPN servers in preferred locations, you no longer show your true IP address. Instead, you receive an identifier pinpointing the location, ISP, and area code of the VPN server. Your accurate IP address gets masked and will not be shown until you disconnect from the VPN.

It is the easiest way to safeguard your IP address from entities wishing to abuse it.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.


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