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Your IP address: Who can see it and what you can do about it

You need a visible IP address to surf the web, but you can manage some of that visibility to protect your privacy. Here's how.

Melanie, concerned about online privacy, asked the Antivirus & Security Software forum who can see her IP address and how serious a problem that is.

All Internet communications require Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. If a website you visit couldn't see your IP address, it would have no way to send you pages, images, files, and so on.

To see how easily a site can see your IP address, visit What Is My  IP Address. Or just Google what's my ip address. It's easier to get than your telephone number.

 [Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com.]

But it's not as scary as it sounds. Assuming you're using a router (as you should), those web sites can only see the router's IP address, not your PC's. They can't tell who in the house is visiting them--a small comfort, I admit, but this also protects you from certain drive-by malware attacks.

What can website administrators find out about you from your router's IP address? They can identify your ISP and figure out approximately where you're located. They will likely be able to identify your neighborhood, but not your home. And they can see how often you (or someone else sharing your router) visit their website.

But they won't be able to see that forever. Chances are your IP address is not a permanent fixture. Most home Internet accounts use a dynamic IP address, which your ISP changes from time to time.

And, of course, if you take your laptop to a coffee house or library, you'll have an entirely different IP address there (and public network security issues to consider).

If you're still worried, you can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Once you've set one up, your Internet connections travel encrypted from your computer to the VPN server, and from there, unencrypted, to their final destination. The sites you visit see only the VPN's IP address. The problem, of course, is that the VPN can see everything you do.

I don't use a VPN on a regular basis, but when I do, I currently use the free version of CyberGhost. I'm satisfied with it.

Read the original forum discussion.

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