What is IP Lookup and Why Should I Care?

Your IP address follows you wherever you go online and is visible to websites you access. This article talks about an IP lookup tool.

Take a look at the top of this page and you will see your IP address displayed as well as other information that can be deduced from those numbers. Now let the fact sink in that every site you ever visited had the potential to gather this information about you. How do you feel about that?

Before we go further, let me clarify a point. When you connect to a website your IP address is visible and most likely logged somewhere. But that is simply the address, not the underlying information that is related to that address which we are displaying in our IP widget. Take a look at it and see how accurate it is. Does it correctly identify your location? How do we do that?

What is IP Lookup?

At first, it might appear to be some sort of magic trick. We take the innocuous digits that comprise your IP address and through some prodigious feat of divination figure out where in the world you are located. For a small fee we may be able to…excuse me, I digress.

There is no magic behind performing an IP address lookup, though there is some level of access to information that is required in order to be successful. Basically, it is a coordinated digital search. Here is how it’s done.

The key to an IP address lookup is an entity known as a geolocation service. These services harvest data from a variety of databases and use this information to find your geographic location. There are free and paid geolocation services and any business or individual can obtain a subscription.

Let’s take a look at some of the sources that are used to pinpoint your computer’s location.

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Informations Sources That Contribute to an IP Lookup

Regional Internet Registries are one of the primary sources that are queried by geolocation services. These are official organizations that manage and distribute IP addresses. Different registries are responsible for the IP addresses in specific geographic areas. In North America, the registry that manages IP addresses is called the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).

The registry gives the geolocation service some information, but the search does not end there. Other sources of data are scoured for further details regarding your IP address. Performing an online search for a nearby restaurant or a weather report and providing your ZIP code can result in the location associated with the code linked to your IP address. Data can also be supplied by your ISP that can assist a geolocation service to narrow down your location.

What Information Can Be Obtained Through an IP Lookup?

There are quite a bit of informational nuggets that can be acquired with an IP lookup. This is the type of data that someone can find out about you by performing an IP address lookup:

The ISP and organization that owns the IP address
The hostname of the IP
Country, region, and city information. The accuracy is greater for larger areas, so it is much more likely to get the correct country and regional information. City data may be less accurate, especially in cities not located in Europe or the United States.
An estimate of the latitude and longitude of the location
The regional area code
Known services that are running at that IP address

That’s quite a bit of information that can be derived from that seemingly meaningless string of digits known as your IP address. But there are limits. You cannot learn these identifying tidbits with an IP lookup:

The name of the person associated with an IP address
Precise address information
A phone number or email address

So there are some details that cannot be gleaned through conducting an IP lookup. That’s a good thing. But you have to admit, there is a lot of data that can be learned about you simply by knowing your IP address. Let’s see why some IP addresses are less likely to be exactly geographically located than others.

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Static vs Dynamic IP addresses

IP addresses come in two flavors. You can have a static IP address or a dynamic IP address. They are essentially the same except for the fact that a static IP address never changes. A dynamic IP address can and usually will periodically change.

Most IP addresses that you use are dynamic. You will be assigned a dynamic IP address if you use a public WiFi hotspot. The IP address that your ISP assigned to your router and that you use when you go online from your home is most likely a dynamic address.

Just because it stays the same for an extended period of time does not mean the address is static. Dynamic IP addresses are often assigned for a specific lease time and can appear to be a static IP.

True static IP addresses can be requested from your ISP but will usually cost more than a dynamic IP. It is more efficient for ISPs to use dynamic IP addresses. A static IP address may be effective in a business setting and can have advantages for certain applications such as mail and web servers.

The type of IP address that you are using has implications regarding the ability of geolocation services to track you down. A static IP address makes it easier for a service to locate you. If you are concerned about revealing your location through your IP address, we suggest you stick to dynamic addresses.

Why Would Anyone Want to Lookup My IP Address?

There are a wide variety of reasons that someone might want to perform a lookup on your IP address.

Websites may want to analyze where traffic originates to better tailor their offerings.
Ad agencies can use the data to produce targeted campaigns which are based on your location.
Certain services such as legalized online gambling may only be made available if your IP address indicates you are in a specific geographic location.
Law enforcement or government authorities may use the information while conducting investigations.
Hackers may be able to conduct attacks by using the knowledge gained from an IP lookup.

What Can I Do About This?

If you are at all concerned about the possibility of your identity being exposed through a lookup of your IP address, you can take some proactive steps to maintain your privacy. Use of a proxy server can be useful, but your real IP address may be logged and potentially used to locate you. Continuously logging in from different WiFi networks will ensure that your IP address is constantly changing. This is not a safe or reasonable way to keep your location private.

By far the most effective defense against an IP lookup is to use a VPN service to mask your IP address and spoof your geographic location. Logging into a VPN server located in a different country will negate the power of an IP lookup. So will connecting from a different city in your own country. If you would like to keep your location to yourself when online, you should start using VPN as soon as possible.

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