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What is an IP address?

An IP address acts as a device's digital address.

An IP address is more than a confusing string of numbers. It's a unique identifier that enables devices to communicate with one another over the internet—letting you surf, shop, and message online. Learn how IP addresses work, different types of IPs, and security issues to be aware of. Then get a reliable VPN to help protect your IP address and keep your online activity private.

How IP addresses work

All devices that connect to the internet—such as computers, phones, tablets, printers, and IoT devices — have an IP address. Your IP address works like a digital address. When you send or request information online, your IP address acts as an identifier so the information can reach your specific device.

For example, when you search for a particular website, that search request stems from your device’s IP address and travels via your router to the website’s server. The request then travels to the website’s IP address, and the information you requested retraces the same route back to your device.

A simple IP address definition: it's a unique identifier assigned to each internet-connected device.

Types of IP addresses

There are several types of IP addresses, each with different purposes and characteristics. Here’s a look at each of them, what they’re used for, and how they work:

Public IP addresses

Public IP addresses are what devices and servers use to communicate over the internet. Your internet service provider (ISP) assigns a public IP address to your router. Then your router assigns your device and other devices connected to it with their own individual IP address.

Private IP addresses

A private IP address, also called a local IP address, is the IP address used to identify each device within your local network. While your public IP address is visible to devices outside your network, your private IP address is only visible within your network.

Each device within your network requires its own unique private IP address so your router can easily direct traffic to the correct device, since even a home network is likely to host multiple devices—laptops, smartphones, printers, speakers, tablets, etc.

Static IP addresses

Static IP addresses don’t change; once a device is assigned an IP address, that address remains the same. Static IP addresses are often used for large servers or other central devices.

Dynamic IP addresses

Most devices use dynamic IP addresses, which change over time—how often varies depending on the ISP and other factors. A dynamic IP address offers security benefits, because changing IPs are harder to hack or spoof.

Website IP addresses

Just like devices connected to the internet, websites on the internet also need a unique IP address so that people searching for a specific website can locate it amid the sea of information online.

Website IP addresses fall into two categories:

  • Shared IP addresses: Websites that don’t expect large volumes of traffic are often hosted on a common server. All websites on the same server will have a shared IP address. This is the cheaper option, but some possible issues include performance or reputation (if others on the same IP address engage in bad practices).
  • Dedicated IP addresses: Websites that expect a lot of traffic and/or need more control often use a dedicated IP address. While more expensive, it means that a website or domain will have its own IP address, which offers benefits like helping to block unauthorized access.

How can I find my IP address?

You can find your public IP address by running a Google search for “What is my IP address?” Google will usually display your public IP address in an info box at the top of the page.

Google and other web services know your IP address because it’s assigned to your device and is required for browsing the internet. But note that your IP address changes every time you connect to a different Wi-Fi network or router.

If googling your IP address isn’t working, you can also look it up on your computer or smartphone. Here’s how to find your IP address on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices:

How to find your IP address on Windows

1. Go to Start > Settings > Network & internet > Wi-Fi.

How to find IP addresses on Windows in Settings, Network and internet, Wi-Fi.

2. Click Show available networks, then next to your Wi-Fi network click Properties (the info icon).

 Under Wi-Fi, click Show available networks and click the info icon next to your network.

3. Scroll until you see your IP address.

An IP address example on Windows 11.

How to find your IP address on Mac

1. From the Apple menu, go to System Settings > Wi-Fi > Details.

 You can find IP addresses on Macs in System Settings, Wi-Fi, Details.

2. You will then see your IP address displayed.

An IP address example on a Mac.

How to find your IP address on Android

1. Go to Settings > About phone > Status information. Your IP address will be visible here.

Find your IP address on Android in Settings, About phone, Status information.

How to find your IP address on an iPhone

1. Go to Settings > Wi-Fi > tap the blue info icon next to your network.

You can find your IP address on iPhone in Settings, Wi-Fi, then tap the info icon next to your network.

2. Your IP address will be displayed.

 The IP address visible on an iPhone.

IP address security issues

Cybercriminals who know or can access your IP address can potentially attack your device, track your location more closely, or even try to steal your identity. Here are some of the security issues related to IP addresses that you should be aware of:

  • Illegal downloads: If a hacker can connect through your Wi-Fi network, or assume remote control over your device, they can use your IP address for illegal activity without it being traced back to them. This could get you in trouble with the law even though you didn’t do anything wrong.
  • Location tracking: If someone knows your IP address, it can help them find out your physical location and use it against you.
  • DDoS attacks: A distributed denial-of-service-attack floods a server with traffic, making it nearly impossible to use the internet. This type of attack has been directed against the IP addresses of some of the world’s largest businesses.
  • Sending spam: If advertisers know your IP address, they can target you with personalized spam. Or a hacker could use IP spoofing to send scam messages to people you know using your IP address.
  • Identity theft: IP addresses enable cybercriminals to work out who your ISP is and contact you pretending to be them, phishing for your personal information. In a worst-case scenario, they could uncover enough sensitive data to steal your identity.

How can I protect my IP address?

You need to protect your IP address to help ensure that your device and data remain secure. There are several ways to do this:

  • Use a VPN: A VPN is one of the best ways to protect your IP address. Norton Secure VPN will help you hide your IP address and keep your online activity private.
  • Use a proxy server: Proxies route your online activity through a different server, so the sites you visit will only see the proxy server rather than your actual IP address.
  • Use dynamic IP addresses: A dynamic IP address means that your device is assigned a new IP address from time to time, adding an extra layer of security.
  • Use a NAT firewall: A Network Address Translation (NAT) firewall on your router means that only the internet traffic a device on the private network requested can pass through.
  • Reset your modem: Every time your modem resets, your IP address will change. Doing this regularly can reduce exposure of your IP address.
  • Use strict privacy settings: Adjust the privacy settings on your messaging apps to limit who can see your personal information.
  • Use antivirus software: Robust antivirus software helps protect your device from external threats. Norton 360 Deluxe features a built-in VPN to encrypt your network traffic.
VPNs provide an encrypted tunnel to secure the data you share online.

Use a VPN to help protect banking details and other sensitive information you share online.

Secure your online activity

One of the best ways to protect your IP address and keep the information you send and receive online secure is to use a VPN. Norton Secure VPN offers bank-grade encryption to help you mask your IP and keep your browsing activity hidden from advertisers, snoops, and even your ISP. A more secure connection is just a click away.

FAQs about IP addresses

What is an IP address and why is it important? Here are a few answers to common questions about IP addresses.

What information does my IP address reveal?

IP addresses can reveal the city, ZIP code, or area code from where you’re connecting to the internet. Your IP address almost always reveals the geolocation of your ISP’s nearest servers—not your physical location—and your IP address also reveals the name of your ISP.

What information is not revealed by my IP address?

IP addresses do not reveal your name, phone number, or other precise personal information. And it’s generally your router’s IP address that is revealed, not the IP address of your computer of the device you’re using to go online.

What is IPv4?

IPv4 stands for Internet Protocol version 4, which is currently the most common type of IP address used. Each IPv4 address has 32 bits and consists of four sets of numbers that can be one to three digits long, ranging from 0 to 255, with a dot separating each number group.

What is IPv6?

IPv6 is the upgraded version of IPv4 and is being introduced to accommodate the influx of new networks and devices that are connecting to the internet every day. All these new devices require more IP addresses. IPv6 addresses are 128 bits compared to IPv4’s 32-bit addresses.

Can I change my IP address?

An easy way to change your IP address is to use a VPN, which will assign your device a virtual IP address whenever you connect, keeping your real IP address private.

What is the 192.168 IP address?

The IP address example of 192.168.x.x is a private address commonly used as the default for routers in home networks and other small private networks. Each device that’s connected to the same local network will share the same number sequence at the beginning but will have a unique identifier at the end.

What is a loopback IP address?

A loopback IP address routes data packets from the original device back to itself so it doesn’t travel over the internet. It’s typically used by developers or network administrators to perform tests or debugging.

What's the difference between a MAC address and IP address?

A Media Access Control (MAC) address is used to identify a device’s network interface controller (NIC), whereas an IP address identifies a device’s connection to a network. While a MAC address does not change, an IP address varies based on where and how a device connects to the internet.

Can others find my IP address?

It’s possible, but not easy, for others to find your IP address. Cybercriminals can find your IP address by hacking your router or Wi-Fi connection, or by other methods like placing a malicious snippet of code in email HTML. There are also IP lookup tools, where users can enter an IP address and discover certain identifying info like the location connected to that IP.

Dan Rafter
  • Dan Rafter
  • Freelance writer
Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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