Can your IP address give away your identity?

Does that mere fact that you have an IP address mean that your identity is out there for the taking?

identity theft

Can hackers, stalkers, criminals, and other Internet users track you down by your Internet Protocol (IP) address? According to the courts, several analysts, and IT professionals, the answer is both yes and no. An IP address by itself can identify a specific access device, but not who’s using it or exactly where you are. However, by combining IP address with other types of information, it is possible to get pretty specific. For example, it’s possible to narrow down IP addresses to a general geographic area. (Read the story version.)

identity theft

Dont mess with Doe

In this example, John Doe has a professional website, which collects and stores the IP addresses of visitors who interact with the site. An angry, anonymous individual left a libelous comment on his site, which can be deleted, but the damage is already done. A lawsuit for libel is very expensive and time-consuming. So Doe decides to locate the individual himself and attempt to resolve the issue. From the IP address alone, Doe can collect the following information:

Country: United States

Region: California

City: Mountain View

Postal Code: 94043

Latitude/Longitude: 37.419201 / -122.057404

Area Code: 650

ISP: YouTube

Organization: YouTube

Host Name: cache.google.com

identity theft

Doe knows YouTube

Now Doe knows that this person is in Mountain View, Calif., and works for YouTube, a Google-owned subsidiary. If Doe knows anyone in the Mountain View area who works for YouTube, he has likely found the culprit. If Doe doesn't know anyone, he can call YouTube and provide them with the time, date, URL, and message and then ask them to check their logs for the name of the individual.

identity theft

Contacting the conman

John Smith is looking for an independent contractor who conned his elderly parents (took the money, then left town without doing the work). They paid him in cash, so they only knew his first name was Calvin and his business name was Q's Construction. Calvin originally communicated with them through email, which he had already cancelled. But Smith reviewed the headers of the emails and found the man's ISP. With a little more Internet research, Smith located the conman's full and current contact information and then got his parent's money back.

identity theft

Back at you

Another way to locate individuals is through their websites. If all you have is an IP address, you can type http://plus the IP address on the command line in any browser and, if the site is still active, it appears on your screen. For example, if you type http://65.214.57.165 (then press ENTER), Network World's current home page appears on your screen.

WHOIS

WHOIS

If the site has no contact page, email address, or phone number (like many of the scam sites), you can locate the contact information through the WHOIS function (unless the site has the Who Is service blocked, which is not free). Just type Who Is in the search box of your favorite browser and select one of the Who Is services. The service prompts for the website name (some allow you to enter just an IP address, making the previous step from slide 5 unnecessary) and a long stream of data appears:

The Tor Project

The Tor Project

The Tor Project is a free, anonymous online network.

How Tor Works

How Tor Works

Tor creates a random path to the destination server via both encrypted and unencrypted links.

More Tor

More Tor

In order to avoid using the same path, the next time the same visitor accesses the site, the Tor client selects a second random path.

identity theft

VPN services can protect your privacy and identity

Various VPN services offer encrypted tunnels, IP cloaking, and firewalls, which provide a safe way to access sites on the Web.

identity theft

Protecting you

Online anonymity services can protect your privacy and identity.