What is my IP Address?
What are IP Addresses?
IP Address is short for "Internet Protocol Address".
You can think of an IP Address a bit like phone number for your computer; it is a number that identifies any device that is connected to a network; although there are a few key differences between phone numbers and IP Addresses.
Devices such as computers (and smart phones or game consoles etc) can be linked up to other computers. This is called computer networking. Each computer that gets connected to a network is given a different IP address, so that each computer can be identified and communicated with individually.
When you link different computers together, a computer network is formed. You can have a computer network contained completely inside your home; in fact, if you have an internet connection at home that gets shared by all your different computers, laptops and ipods then you already have your own network!
In the case of most home and business networks (e.g. your office), all the different computers are joined on a private network. On the private network, each computer will have it's own "internal" IP Address, but externally, all the computers on that private network will appear to have the same IP Address.
So that's why if you load this webpage on two different computers on the same private network, it will show the same IP Address at the top: because they are coming from the same network, even though on the private network those two computers have different IP Addresses.
Can my IP Address reveal my physical location?
Essentially: yes. Your ISP knows exactly where you are (because they have your billing details linked to your IP Address), however to most other people, websites and organisations, IP Addresses can usually only reflect an approximate location (perhaps at a suburb level).
Can I hide my IP Address?
You always need an IP Address to do anything on the internet... however it is possible for your internet traffic to appear to come from a different IP Address.
If you don't want web servers to be able to see which IP Address you are coming from, you can use a "VPN" service, which puts another network link in front of your computer; so that it seems like your traffic is coming out of a different location.
The VPN which you use will know your real IP Address but the assumption is that you trust your VPN provider. Using a VPN will not fix all your privacy or anonymity problems, but it is a good start.
What's the deal with VPNs?
Using a VPN is a trade-off and you need to understand the various reasons why you might want to use one.
Coming from a different geographic location
Some services - commonly gambling or online TV websites - will restrict your access to their services unless your internet traffic is coming from the correct location (eg. the same country). If you try to access their website from overseas, you will be denied.
Using a VPN is a primary way of getting around these kinds of blocks. You'll need a VPN which has end-points in the country you need to appear to come from - then when you select that end-point for your traffic, when you access that site it should detect that your traffic is local and let you in.
Be aware that some websites that have these location-based checks, also include checks to see if you're coming from well-known VPNs as well - and may choose to block you as well, to prevent customers using VPNs to get around their blocks.
Preventing people snooping on your web browsing
Another common reason for people using VPNs is to prevent malicious third-parties from intercepting and analysing their internet traffic.
Any time you connect your computer to a network, you are - at a certain level - trusting that network and their owners to act "properly" - not intercept or tamper with your network traffic. If your computer is connected to your Employer's network, a University network or a free WiFi hotspot in a restaurant, when you access the internet, your traffic goes out through their router/firewall and reaches the broader internet.
As such, we have to trust whoever is providing that link to the internet... however it is possible for the provider of that router/firewall to keep copies of some or all of the internet traffic that is going through it, without you being aware that this is happening. Fortunately more and more websites are using TLS/SSL to secure themselves and help prevent this from happening, but the firewall would still know that you're sending some kind of traffic to that website (it just couldn't see what it was). And not all websites are doing this (or doing it properly). And if your adversary was very determined, they could try to break the TLS/SSL encryption...
So, by using a VPN when you are using an untrusted network, you can "tunnel" all of your traffic out to a different end-point before it his the public internet.
However, as you can probably guess, this then means that you now have to trust your VPN to not tamper with, intercept or store the traffic that is now going over their network!
This is why we say that using a VPN is a trade off - you have moved your trust away from the Free WiFi access point that you've connected to in a restaurant to a company that you are paying money to and who should have a vested interest in helping keep you safe.
Never use a "Free VPN"
Some companies offer "free" VPNs, however the wide consensus among techies and security people is to avoid free VPNs at all cost.
The old adage "if you aren't paying for the product, you are the product" definitely applies to free VPNs.
Here are two articles about the risks of Free VPNs:
So which VPN should I use?!
This is your own decision and it's a complicated one, however we've been investigating NordVPN's offering and it seems pretty awesome.
They've gotten some excellent reviews and seem to provide a solid product.
If you have any more questions, use the contact form and we'll answer it and add your question here.