11 Things People Can Do with Your IP Address
Your IP address is only useful to certain parties. Your ISP and the websites you visit can use it to track your browsing activity and restrict your access to certain services. However, there’s much less a single individual can do with your IP address.
As they are primarily used as an identifier, your IP address itself cannot be hacked. In fact, in most circumstances, an IP address alone is not enough to carry out a cyberattack. However, it can be combined with other tactics to discover sensitive personal information, including your name and address.
Here’s a list of the most important things someone can do with your IP address:
1. Track Your Browsing Activity
Your ISP administers your internet connection and assigns your IP address. This means your online activity and device are visible to your ISP.
Every time you browse the internet, your data is recorded. This includes:
- The device used
- Your geographic location
- The websites you visit
- The amount of time spent on each website
If you are located in the US, your ISP has the right to sell your data to businesses for ad serving, essentially making profit with your data without sharing it with you. This is also a threat to your privacy as third parties can use it to target you with tailored ads.
2. Log Your Website Visits
Every time you visit a website, your IP address is visible to the website host. This is required so that the server can send back the requested information to your device.
Websites and analytics programs use your IP address to track your activity on their website. This includes:
- What pages you have viewed
- How long you have stayed on each page for
- The browser you are using
- The number of returning visitors
- Your geographic location
When visiting a website, you also may be asked to accept cookies. This is a small file of data used to identify and track your device to create a more personalized experience when browsing the web.
If you accept the website cookies, information such as your username and password will be saved on the web browser.
3. Find Your ISP and Approximate Location
Your IP address reveals information about your approximate location. It exposes the city, ZIP code, time zone of the router you are connected to, and the ISP you are using. In fact, anyone with access to your IP address can find all of this information using a simple IP lookup tool.
Used alongside other identifying information, someone may be able to use your IP address to find your exact location.
For example, social media leaves a trail of personal information. A criminal can use these digital breadcrumbs alongside your IP address to work out your exact geographical location.
4. Restrict Access to Websites and Streaming Services
Every time you visit a website, your IP address and subsequently your geographic location is visible to the web server. This allows websites to restrict your access to content according to your IP and physical location, a process known as geoblocking.
Due to copyright laws and royalties, streaming services such as Netflix use this method to regulate your access to content depending on your location. This means someone living in the US has access to a different content library compared to someone living in the UK.
If you travel abroad for an extended period, the content available to you will change as you’re accessing the service from a different location. You can use a VPN to unblock geo-restricted content on Netflix.
5. Scan for Open Ports
Open ports are an important part of internet communication. They allow inbound communication from the public internet, and – with a highly restrictive firewall – outbound communication from a private network to the public internet.
On most consumer routers, outbound ports are open by default. For example, TCP/UDP port 53 is open to allow DNS lookups, and TCP port 80 and 443 are open to allow communication with external websites.
However, malicious actors can exploit open inbound ports in an effort to send malware to your device. This can result in unauthorized access to your personal information.
If someone has access to your IP address, they can scan for open ports using a program such as Nmap. This will reveal which ports are open and available for exploitation.
6. ‘Vishing’ Attacks
A vishing attack is a fom of social engineering used by malicious actors to deceive a victim into disclosing personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone.
If someone knows your IP address, they can identify your ISP and attempt to impersonate you by calling your provider. Telecom operators have access to your personal information and can reveal sensitive information about you.
This attack is much less common now compared to the early days of the internet. A hacker would require your full name to be successful, and most telecom operators will not give out personal information without going through security checks first.
7. Personalized Advertising and IP Targeting
Online advertising companies can define and target a specific audience based on their location and IP address.
IP targeting is an extremely efficient way for advertisers to target certain individuals or demographics without wasting their marketing budget. Some businesses even create personalized content to target individual households, offices, or schools.
8. DoS or DDoS Attacks
Online gaming platforms are a huge target for cyber attacks. When you play a video game online, your IP address is visible to the game’s server, and sometimes other players, depending on the game you are playing.
DoS (Denial of Service) or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are amongst the most common IP-based cyberattacks, especially for Xbox and PlayStation users.
These attacks operate by sending huge volumes of traffic to your IP address in an attempt to overwhelm your network or web server.
A DoS attack is carried out by a single system, whereas a DDoS attack is initiated by multiple sources. Consequently, a DDoS attack tends to be faster and more severe.
DoS and DDoS attacks create lag spikes or cause your server to crash completely. As a result, you will be evicted from the game and lose any progress made. While this will not result in permanent damage to your device, it can be annoying.
Users are at greater risk of these attacks when playing games that support private third-party servers, such as Minecraft, as your IP address is visible to the server host and possibly other players.
EXPERT TIP: DDoS attacks are particularly common in the gaming community. If you want to protect your IP address on Xbox or PlayStation, we recommend using a top-rated VPN for gaming.
9. Doxing Attacks
Doxing is a social engineering technique used to find out your personal information and disclose it to the public without your consent. This information could include your name, address, school or workplace, or even personal photos.
Just like DDoS attacks, Doxing is particularly common in gaming communities and on streaming platforms like Twitch.
When you play multiplayer games, someone can use your IP address and username to find your location and social media accounts. This information can then be assembled and released online.
This technique is also used by hacktivists to expose anonymous users who have acted negatively online.
10. ‘Swatting’ Attacks
Swatting involves sending emergency services to a victim’s address under false pretenses. It involves falsifying high-risk situations such as a bomb threat, murder, or hostage situation.
Victims of swatting attacks are often online gamers and Twitch streamers who have failed to hide their IP address. Here, social engineering and doxing are used to locate the victim’s address.
Although swatting is usually initiated as a prank, it is an illegal act that seriously wastes police time and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal.
11. IP Address Bans
An IP ban is a server-level action that blocks requests from specific IP addresses. They’re usually issued by websites and gaming servers to ban users who breach the terms of service.
If your IP gets banned, you will no longer be able to visit the website or connect to the game, because your IP has been blacklisted by the provider.
Any network can block an IP address. For example, IP bans are commonly used to enforce state censorship, as they allow governments to restrict residents from accessing certain websites.