The entire world connects with each other using the Internet. Millions of users are able to locate any other computer in the world in a matter of seconds, depending on the bandwidth and speed of their Internet connectivity. Every Internet user needs to be tech savvy, and that can happen by knowing a few basics about Internet usage; for example, what do you know about your IP address?
What is an IP Address?
The way computers find each other is by using numbers called an “IP address”. IP is an abbreviation that stands for Internet Protocol. Just like every house has a physical address, and every computer has an IP address or shares an IP address with other computers connected to the same network. Everyone knows the physical address of where they live, but not everyone knows what their IP address is. This article explains how to use IP address lookup.
It is important to understand what an IP address is because this information can be used to locate a computer and tell others exactly where you are. With an IP address, you can use it to figure out where you or others are in the physical world, and also to track the activity of your computer and how it was used, where it connected to other computers, and what you did online.
The IP address of a computer is used to create a profile of the users of that computer. Security agencies of major developed countries like the UK and the US have routinely used searches of “metadata” to spy on people. Part of this metadata includes the IP Address. It tells what a computer was looking for and what it did on the Internet.
IP Addresses Used in Spying
Edward Snowden worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States. While doing this work, he became aware that the NSA was spying on American citizens and also on the citizens of other countries. Under American law, spying on U.S. Citizens is a violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, which does not allow “unreasonable searches and seizure of property”.
This part of the Bill of Rights is so dear to American citizens that it is at the heart of the foundation of the United States and was made law in 1792. The law was created to restrain the government from barging into the privacy of its citizens without a just cause. In order for the government or police to invade the privacy of an American citizen, it requires a court order by a judge having proper jurisdiction.
Edward Snowden, as a US governmental employee, directly participated in the massive spying on average citizens, without any legal court supervision. It was clearly a violation of the rights of those being spied on because they were not suspected of any crimes and there was no court order in place to authorize the invasion of privacy.
Edward Snowden is a heroic whistleblower, who risked his life exposing these crimes being committed by the governments involved. He had to seek asylum in Russia to stay out of jail in the US even though the Prism program was a collaborative effort between telecommunication companies and the US government, which allowed the NSA to get copies of emails, Facebook messages, and Skype conversations (including “private” intimate videos not meant to be shared with anyone except the participants involved).
Under the Prism program, the NSA had a person’s IP address, photos or videos, their emails, tracked all their Internet activity and even had their mobile phone number (Facebook requests this for “security” purposes). Without any court ordered warrant, this information was collected and kept about targeted individuals and groups for up to ten years.
What’s My IP address?
Go to this website and your IP address will be shown to you at www.whatsmyip.org. IP addresses are twelve numbers shown in four groups separated by periods such as 123.456.789.012 and if your computer is directly connected to the Internet (not using a proxy server) and is not part of a network, your IP address will show approximately where your computer is physically located.
In order to obtain the exact physical location of any particular computer, ones need to gain access to the Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) records of its users. This information normally would need to be obtained by court order, except it is clearly obvious that government privacy intrusions did not need any court orders whatsoever.
Finding out the IP Address of a Website
Every computer has an IP address, and every website also has an IP address. A global system of Domain Name Servers (DNS) translates the names of the websites into numbers. For example, Google.com has an IP address of 188.8.131.52.
How do we know this? It is very easy to figure it out.
There is a Wikihow showing the steps to find IP addresses. We went to the command prompt and typed in ping google.com. In a few milliseconds, it returned the answer with the IP address of Google. Using the geo-locator at ip-lookup.net, we can find the physical location of the computer from its IP address.
Finding out the IP Address From an Email
All email contains information about where they came from. this information is in an area called “headers”. Normally this is hidden from view because it is only used by the computers to communicate with each other. It is possible to see this information by choosing an option for the email message to show headers.
Then more information about the IP address of who sent the email is revealed and it looks something like this:
Received: by 10.194.240.98 with SMTP id vz2csp269506wjc;
Wed, 4 Feb 2015 05:37:42 -0800 (PST)
X-Received: by 10.107.154.17 with SMTP id c17mr34612412ioe.74.1423057061921;
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 05:37:41 -0800 (PST)
Return-Path: <[email protected]>
Received: from www.writeraccess.com (smtp2.writeraccess.com. [184.108.40.206])
by google.com with ESMTP id xp12si1559711icb.20.2015.02.04.05.37.41
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 05:37:41 -0800 (PST)
Received-SPF: pass (google.com: domain of [email protected] designates 220.127.116.11 as permitted sender) client-ip=18.104.22.168;
Received: from mail pickup service by www.writeraccess.com with Microsoft SMTPSVC;
Wed, 4 Feb 2015 08:37:26 -0500
X-Mailer: Nodemailer (0.6.5; +http://github.com/andris9/nodemailer; pickup)
Date: Wed, 04 Feb 2015 13:37:25 GMT
From: [email protected]
Subject: [WriterAccess] Assignment Approved
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 04 Feb 2015 13:37:26.0158 (UTC) FILETIME=[B68ECAE0:01D0407F]
We can see from this header information that the email coming from [email protected] has the IP address of 22.214.171.124
IP Address Spoofing
Senders of Spam (unwanted emails) have found ways to circumvent this system and even use fraudulent methods to misrepresent where the emails are coming from.
Protecting Privacy When Using the Internet
It is rather sad that the Internet, a network designed to be an open sharing platform, has been abused by governments to create massive spying tools. Of course, criminals will want to hide their illegal activities. Governments want to have the power to find these criminals and it is not easy to find them. However, there is a balance between the complete removal of personal privacy and government or police activities to thwart criminals.
The reason why the US Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures is that without a balanced check on the activities of this nature, the possibility of abuse of the system is extreme. One only needs to look at the historical record of massive state-spying systems that were implemented in China, Germany, or the former Soviet Union to see how really intrusive, unfair, and destructive these systems become when left unchecked.
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to Hide Your IP Address
It is clear that anyone who respects the privacy needs to take active steps to prevent being spied on while using the Internet. The first step is to remove any direct connection between your IP address and your physical location. There are services that provide this and they are effective and inexpensive. However, some of these “privacy” services were created specifically as Internet traps to catch criminals.
For the ordinary person, it is probably a good idea to use one of these services that are NOT based in the country where they live as an extra security measure.