What Is an IP Address?

IP address stands for internet protocol address; it is an identifying number that is associated with a specific computer or computer network. When connected to the internet, the IP address allows the computers to send and receive information.

Key Takeaways

  • An internet protocol (IP) address allows computers to send and receive information.
  • There are four types of IP addresses: public, private, static, and dynamic.
  • An IP address allows information to be sent and received by the correct parties, which means they can also be used to track down a user's physical location.

How an IP Address Works

An IP address allows computers to send and receive data over the internet. Most IP addresses are purely numerical, but as internet usage grows, letters have been added to some addresses.

There are four different types of IP addresses: public, private, static, and dynamic. While the public and private are indicative of the location of the network—private being used inside a network while the public is used outside of a network—static and dynamic indicate permanency.

A static IP address is one that was manually created, as opposed to having been assigned. A static address also does not change, whereas a dynamic IP address has been assigned by a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server and is subject to change. Dynamic IP addresses are the most common type of internet protocol addresses. Dynamic IP addresses are only active for a certain amount of time, after which they expire. The computer will either automatically request a new lease, or the computer may receive a new IP address.

An IP address can be compared to a Social Security Number (SSN) since each one is completely unique to the computer or user it is assigned to. The creation of these numbers allows routers to identify where they are sending information on the internet. They also make sure that the correct devices are receiving what is being sent. Much like the post office needs a mailing address to deliver a package, a router needs an IP address to deliver to the web address requested.

Example of an IP Address

The dark web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed by conventional search engines. The dark web has an illegal online black market where criminals can deal illegal and illicit goods. Many of these exchanges take place using the online cryptocurrency bitcoin, which makes it harder for the authorities to track and capture people participating in these transactions.

In 2018, after a yearlong government operation, agents working with the Department of Homeland Security posed as weapons dealers in order to gain access to the computers of suspects who were trying to purchase weapons illegally. This allowed them to gain access to IP addresses, which they used to track down the geographical locations of additional suspects who were using the dark web.

This isn’t the first time IP addresses have led to arrests. In 2012, police used IP addresses to track down and arrest members of the hacking group Lulzsec. Using warrants to obtain information from the Internet Service Provider (ISP), law enforcement personal were able to track down the physical addresses of the hackers and arrest them for their illegal internet activity.