IPv4 vs. IPv6 Addresses
There are two versions of IP addresses being used today: IPv4 and IPv6. These IP addresses have two primary functions, namely identification and location addressing.
IP Version 4 (IPv4) is what is being widely used today. IPv4 is based on 32 binary bits, consisting of four numbers from 0 to 255 and separated by dots. Unfortunately, IPv4 is only capable of generating up to 4.3 billion unique IP addresses, which is running out soon.
IPv6 was introduced in 1995 to deal with the IP address problem. IPv6 uses 128 bits instead of 32, generating more possible addresses. IPv6 addresses are composed of 8 blocks of numbers, written as four hexadecimal numbers and separated by colons.
Here is how an IPv6 address looks like:
If a block of number contains only zero digits, the zeroes are often omitted and replaced with colons to save space.
You will only see 2001:0db8:85a3::8a2e:0370:7334.
With IPv6, we won’t have to worry about running out of IP addresses because it can generate 3.4×10^38 unique addresses. Some experts also argue that iPv6 is more efficient than IPv4 because it provides better quality and connectivity.
Unfortunately, the adoption rate of IPv6 is so slow and it would take a long time for this version to be fully implemented because of the following reasons:
Backward incompatibility – If you’re running on IPv6 protocol, you won’t be able to access IPv4 websites, which means losing access to most of the websites that we use right now.
IPv4 still works – There is no immediate need for IPv6 because IPv4 still suits our needs. Unless we reach the limit of IPv4, a complete shift is unlikely.
Public vs. Private IP Addresses
When you connect to the internet, you need to have a public IP address. This allows two devices, such as the sender and receiver of online communications, to exchange information with each other.
Your public IP address serves as your digital mailbox where senders, such as email servers, websites, and other online services, can send the information to. Without your IP address, the senders would not know where to send the information that you requested.
The public IP address is provided by your internet service provider. Devices using the same network share this public IP address when connecting to the internet. In a home network, for example, your phones, computers, tablets, and other smart devices that connect to your router share the same public IP address.
So when your phone or computer connects to the internet, they use this public IP address that has been assigned by the ISP to your router.
Your router, in turn, assigns private IP addresses to each device on the network, enabling them to identify and communicate with each other. Basically, each of your devices has two IP addresses: the public IP address assigned to the router by the ISP and the private IP address assigned by the router to your device. But when your device connects to the internet, only the public IP address is visible because the private IP address is hidden.
What Does Your IP Address Reveal About You?
You might think that your IP address is harmless information since it’s just a bunch of numbers, but it can reveal some pretty in-depth information about you. Here are some of the data that third-parties can gather from your IP address:
1. Your Identity and Location
Anyone can know your country, city, region, and internet service provider just by looking at your IP address. And if cybercriminals happen to get access to your IP address, they can look up all online activities associated with your IP address and create your profile. They will be able to know your browsing habits, interests, hobbies, and other private information.
2. Your Browsing History
By looking at your IP address, ISPs can monitor and log your online activity. And as a customer, your ISP also knows more information about you, such as your name, phone number, address, credit card number, credit history, banking details, and others. And when you think about the 24/7 monitoring of your ISP, it would leave you wondering whether there is still something your ISP does not know about you.
In fact, some countries like Australia and the UK require ISPs to maintain logs of their customers’ browsing activity. These logs are then handed over to government agencies even without a warrant. If you’re visiting websites that are not HTTPS-encrypted, your ISP can monitor every single page you visit. If you’re visiting HTTPS websites, on the other hand, your ISP will only be able to see the domain you are visiting and not the individual pages.
3. Your Purchasing Habits
Based on your IP address, the ads that you click on, and other digital footprints, advertisers can gain priceless insights regarding your interests, preferences, desires, and habits. Once they collect this information, they can then create your digital profile with your age, gender, country, education, income, and other metrics. Advertisers can use this profile for their own marketing or sell it to the highest bidder.
How to Protect Your IP Address
The easiest way to hide your IP address and protect your identity is to use a VPN.
A virtual private network or VPN routes your internet connection traffic through a secure server and hides your real IP address. When you connect to the internet using a VPN, the destination website sees the traffic coming from the remote VPN server and not your actual location. The IP address that the receiver website sees is also the IP address of the VPN server.
Aside from hiding your IP address, using a VPN also allows users to access blocked content, bypass restrictions, and torrent safely. A VPN also encrypts your private data to that snoopers and hackers won’t be able to spy on you.