What can people tell from my IP address?

People can tell very little from your IP address. For example, they cannot tell who or where you are. How much they can tell varies a great deal.

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What exactly can someone tell from your IP address and what can they do with it? Can they find personal details or my precise geographical location?

It’s typically very easy to find out your IP address or the IP address of someone with whom you are communicating somehow on the internet.

Unfortunately, many people believe that with an IP address, it’s possible to find out all sorts of information about the person at that connected computer.

That’s simply not the case.

Exactly how much it does expose about you specifically depends on your ISP and how their (and your) network is configured.

The very short answer? Not much.

Finding an IP address

Visit my article What’s my IP address? and I’ll show you your IP address and a few other bits of information that web servers get whenever you visit any web page on the internet.

Many (though not all) email services will include the IP address of the machine on which email originated in the normally hidden email header information. (As I said, not all, and even for those that do, it’s often not on all messages. If it’s not there, it’s not there.)

If you make a point-to-point connection with an instant message program (typically during a file transfer), a peer-to-peer communications program (for example Skype, depending on how the connection is made), then your IP address is also available to the computer with which yours is communicating.

The very nature of how the internet works dictates that when two computers talk to each other, they must know each other’s IP addresses.

But once you’ve received an IP address, what can you tell about it?

Domains and reverse DNS

The Global InternetSome IP addresses are easy; they’re static (unchanging) and have a DNS name associated with them. For example, in a Windows Command Shell, enter the following command:

ping -a 67.225.235.59

That’s my quick-and-easy way to do what’s called a “reverse DNS lookup”. Normally, DNS maps names (like “askleo.com”) to IP addresses (like 67.225.235.59). In this case, it does the reverse and reports the official domain name associated with that IP address:

Pinging lw3.pugetsoundsoftware.com [67.225.235.59] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from 67.225.235.59: bytes=32 time=94ms TTL=44

That’s the official1 domain name of the server that today houses askleo.com.

Knowing the domain name, you can then do a “whois” lookup. One of my favorites is that provided by domaintools.com. For example,

http://whois.domaintools.com/askleo.com

Will tell you that askleo.com is owned by some guy named Leo Notenboom with a mailing address in Woodinville, Washington.2 You’ll get the same information looking up pugetsoundsoftware.com as well, it’s that same guy. Smile

There also exist services, typically referred to as private registration, which essentially replace all the public registration information with that of a third party, so as to keep even the basic registration information hidden.

What if the ping doesn’t work or doesn’t return a domain name? Then, things get less precise.

IP address ownership

The important thing to realize is that you do not own your IP address – your ISP or service provider does. Thus, all public information about that IP address will in all likelihood refer only to them.

We can use domaintools.com again to perform a “whois” lookup on an IP address we care about:

http://whois.domaintools.com/67.225.235.59

The information that results will tell you that the IP address in the example above is owned by LiquidWeb – the hosting provider I use for askleo.com.

If the IP address is owned by an overseas provider, the information may direct you to a whois provider specifically for the overseas region in which that provider is located.

Geolocating

There are services that will attempt to tell you where on the planet an IP address is located.

There are two extremely important things to know about these “geo-location” services:

  • They typically locate the endpoint of your ISP’s distribution equipment. What that means is the closest that they often get is the location of your ISP’s router – which could be next door, or it could be many miles away, depending on exactly how your ISP has configured their network, and where their equipment resides.
  • Geo-location services are notoriously inaccurate. Depending on which service is used, my home IP address has been located as “Woodinville” (the postal region
    which encompasses 18 square miles and some 10,000 residential addresses), Seattle (roughly 10 miles from my house), Portland, Oregon (150 miles) and even southern California (close to 1000 miles).

As you can see, occasionally geolocation of an IP address can get close – perhaps identifying the city in which an IP address might be located, but its accuracy is always seriously suspect.

Getting more details


Other people cannot find your name and physical address from your IP address, and you can’t find it from theirs.
Everything I’ve described above – reverse DNS, whois lookups, geolocation – is all based on public information or publicly available services.

And they are as far as you can go, at least without help.

Most notably missing from all the information above?

Your name and address.3

Other people cannot find your name and physical address from your IP address, and you can’t find it from theirs.

Not without help.

We’ve seen that using a whois lookup on an IP address will tell you the ISP that owns it. It’s that ISP that can then tell you who, exactly, that IP address is connected to.

Note that while they can tell you, that doesn’t mean that they will. That information is typically regarded as private and ISPs are reluctant to divulge it, no matter how desperate your plea.

What they can and do respond to, however, are court orders. 4 If your situation merits the involvement of law enforcement, if laws have been broken and it is worth their effort to look into it, then a properly issued warrant or order from the court will get the information.

And you know what? Even that may not be enough.

An IP address is not a computer

IP Address


An IP address, short for Internet Protocol Address, is a number used to identify a device connected to a TCP/IP network like the internet. In IP version 4 (IPv4) an address is a 32 bit number typically displayed as
... continue reading »

Chances are you have more than one computer at home. In fact, chances are you have a router that allows those several computers or other internet-connected devices to share your single connection to the internet.

They, in turn, share the single IP address you’ve been assigned on the internet.

The IP address alone cannot be used to specifically identify a specific device behind your router.

Now, in many cases, that may seem inconsequential. An IP address might lead to a home, and it doesn’t matter which computer was used; you pretty much know at that point who owns the home and the computers therein.

There are two very important exceptions:

  • Sharing your connection, intentionally or otherwise. The classic case that you’ve probably heard of is an unsecured wireless access point being used – without permission – by a nearby neighbor. That neighbor’s activity would appear coming from your IP address.
  • Businesses, large and small, often share a single or limited number of internet IP addresses among dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of different computers on their internal network. In the extreme case, while the internet IP address might be seen as being located in a city housing, the company headquarters, or IT center, the network behind the internet-facing router could span many cities or even countries.

In cases such as these, you would need the assistance of the local network administrator to identify a specific machine, if that’s even possible.

At home, where you’re the network administrator, it’s important to simply realize that the actions of all computers sharing your internet connection will be associated with your IP address.

Bottom line

I hear often from individuals who have an IP address and they desperately want to identify who is at that IP address.

As we’ve seen by now, it’s not that simple and it’s just not realistically possible.

Unless of course you have the assistance of law-enforcement.

As someone with an IP address that identifies our connection to the internet, that should reassure you (unless, of course, you’re doing things you shouldn’t).

If you’re someone being harassed or otherwise wronged by someone whose IP address you were able to identify, it can be frustrating – but realize that the hoops you might have to jump through are the very same hoops that protect you as well.

This is an update to an article originally posted : February 28, 2005

Footnotes and references

1: “Official” in the sense that it’s the domain name that I chose to have associated with that IP address for reverse IP address look-ups. There’s no requirement that there be one at all, and the choice of which domain to associate with an IP address like this is up to the network administrator for that IP address.

2: Note that I use a P.O.Box not my home address. The infamous Mat Honan account hack used exactly this technique to learn his home address and thereby, the billing address of his credit card.

3: Unless you made that information public by registering a domain name with your name and physical address, and then pointing that domain to an IP address that is connected to your physical address.

4: First, I’m not a lawyer and this is in no way legal advice. Second, all of this assumes that your country has a court system. I’m speaking mostly of how I understand things to operate in the United States. The requirements (if any) in other countries may be very different.

There are 88 comments:

  1. ganesh Reply

    for example i got a mail hw can i determine from which ip addess i hav got the mail
    not only mail even a from yahoo msngr .

  2. Leo Reply

    Depending on yoru mail program, you would look at the full email header which will tell you what IP address the mail was sent from.

    As for Instant Messaging programs like Yahoo … I’m not aware of a way.

  3. Brice Reply

    Hi,
    I realize there are many different ways to check someone’s IP address. Is there any way to find out if someone else has been checking yours, looking it up in any way, or using it to look up info. in any way? Thanks.

  4. sandra Reply

    hello. thanks for your insightful article. i’m doing some research on internet security & have some questions. is there a way for people ot get your ip from a website you visit (not someone who manages the site but someone else, especially for sites like online journals or thefacebook.com where people can read other people’s accounts)? also is there a way, if someone knows your ip address, to use it to find other websites you visited, especially ones where you may have filled out personaly identifiable info? thank you

  5. Leo Reply

    As you say, the site admins know all – for example I know the IP address from which you made that post. But barring stupidity on the server admin’s part, the answer to your question is no, you cannot find the ip addresses of other site visitors. Now, stupidity would include making the server logs, which contain that information, visible somehow, or actually posting the IP on web pages. (Like, for example, if this comment form actually published the IP address from which each comment had come from. It does not, but it could.) Fortunately, in general, that’s not the case, and your IP is not visible/accessible.

    So the answer to the other question is also no… you cannot generally find out where people have visitted based on their IP address alone. It would require information from the servers, or information that was left on the PC that was used.

  6. Chadillac Reply

    hey can some find my exact adress from my IP or can i find someone exact adress from an IP?

  7. ravi Reply

    hello i have one question that is how can i read email headers of mails that r in my inbox is there any way to find out ip of anybody without reading email headers

  8. Leo Reply

    How you view your email headers will depend on the email program you use. If they’re not visible, most have some way to get at them.

  9. starboy Reply

    thanx for ur article
    but i always find my pc to go slow
    how can i find the ip address of the various computers connected to my pc
    plz help

  10. Mike Reply

    How can I get the IP address from someone else website? Someone is making a joke at work and gotta know were that web comes from, and I need to get their IP to know their address, not sure

  11. Leo Reply

    Depends on what you mean by “from someone else’s website”. If you want the IP address of the website (like, say, this one) then in a command shell:

    ping ask-leo.com

    where ask-leo.com is replaced with the domain name of the website who’s IP address you want.

    If you want the IP address of someone who *posted* on a website (like you just did here), then you cannot get the IP address without the help of the owner of the website you’re talking about.

  12. Sharon Reply

    Can someone find out my actual email address from my IP address without help of ISP

  13. jack Reply

    Hi,

    Is there a program to determine all the ip address of the people i have chat in yahoo messenger? Or to be more specific I just wanna find a way how to get the IP address of the people whom I chat or emailed?

    I’m not a spammer, I was just amazed because I chatted with someone in the Internet and we emailed each other, in a matter of seconds he was able to tell me what time is it in my place and my location as well as Internet Service Provider. Our only means of communication is Yahoo Messenger and Yahoo mail.

    I would really appreciate a help on this one.

    Thanks in advance!

  14. Concern Parent Reply

    Dear Leo,
    My daughter made her on site at piczo and there is one using this particular IP address saying bad stuff. Im just wondering if I will be able to find out this particular IP address but the problem is that this particular IP address have the same IP address who are defending my daughter.

  15. Leo Reply

    Yep. It’s likely that the IP address represents a router or corporate firewall (or even AOL’s firewall), so that perhaps several, or even thousands of different users and computers all share the same IP address.

  16. Heather Reply

    I own an online store and sell on auction sites. People send me their orders via email so I am able to obtain their ip address using the headers. What I want to know is can I use this information to verify that the address they provide for shipping of the items they purchase? Some people will send me their shipping address and it will end up being a false address, can I do a who is to verify that they are sending the email from the same Country State and City as the shipping address they provided??? Thanks Heather

  17. Leo Reply

    Not really. In some cases it will work, or at least get close. But, for example, an AOL user’s IP address will probably point you at the location of AOL’s world headquarters, not the user’s location. Other ISPs may also often work that way. So when things don’t match, which will happen frequently, it doesn’t neccessarily mean something’s wrong with yout customer.

  18. wu Reply

    Could you help? I have brought Paessler Router Traffic Grapher (PRTG) which cost a lot of money. It helps me monitor my website to see if its up or down as I’m using the very unprodictable piczo.com. How can I get the IP address for my website (www.wu-mings-den.piczo.com). When I go to enter a site it usually says “finding site/connecting site or connecting to [example 131.43.454.4]” but it doesn’t tell me any more. I need to know the IP address or the DNS name, what is a DNS name?

  19. Leo Reply

    JJ: It’s hard to say if it actually happened, but depending on how the PM software was written it would certainly be possible to get your IP.

    I also don’t understand how you can have an IP from both the phone company and AOL. If you’re connected to the internet you should have only one IP.

  20. Brian Reply

    What are the scenarios for two computers to have the same IP address when accessing web sites and reading articles. (these people are supposedly from two different citys)

  21. Kev Reply

    Is there any site where i can just enter the IP address, and it will display the Home Address and Phone Number, if it can find it for this address? i dont need state and city.

  22. Leo Reply

    No. That information cannot be determined from an IP address with out the help of the ISP owning that IP address. This help is difficult to obtain.

  23. Leo Reply

    No, internet addresses must be unique. If you are behind a router, your machine may have the same ip address as anothe rmachine elsewhere behind a router, but you’d never see it. The addresses on the internet musy be unique.

  24. James Reply

    How can you determine someones IP address when using MSN Messanger?

  25. L.A. Woman Reply

    I came across a website that discouraged against posting slanderous comments about a famous person stating that sometimes their lawyer would call up and request the IP address of the poster.

    Is this a ‘scare tactic’ or can they really tell who posted comments based on their IP address?

  26. Leo Reply

    It’s both. For example there was an IP address reported with your comment here (68.x.x.x) and from that I can see you’re on adelphia.net. But to go any futher I’d need adelphia.net’s help – which I cannot get, but I believe law enforcement can.

  27. torres Reply

    i wanted to know if it is possible to find out a i.p address by using the phicical address of where the computer is located

  28. Foudre Reply

    You see,I am trying to play a really old peice of software over the internet. It connects using direct IP addresses. It works fine over a closed network using local Ip adresses. but can i like combine the local and the foreign IP’s into one. like using the foreign ip first, then add the local as an extension to it. Is what i’m asking possible

  29. Leo Reply

    No way to know without knowing how the game works. But probably not.

  30. sweetbaby Reply

    you can trace the IP address of the sender of that bomb threat using the email itself,there would be an option in the email content to show all heading instead of just the name and email address of that person then what you have to do is to go to apnic.net to check the server of that IP,if your bro matches the IP,then your bro could be convicted, but if not,then he’s free…

  31. Egon Freeman Reply

    “And that leads to my final point: use a router or a firewall.”

    Perhaps we should settle for “use a firewall, and maybe a router”. Why? Well – in case of hardware routers, they should have at least basic firewalls installed; in case of software routers (like Windows Server systems), not using a firewall is like saying that you want to be cracked by any o’ n00b.

    All in all, the machine that is DIRECTLY connected to the internet MUST have a firewall, PERIOD. It doesn’t matter if it’s hardware or software – without a firewall it’s just as vulnerable.

    By the way, Leo – dunno if aynone has previously suggested this (and I believe someone somewhere has, must have) – the site is a great resource to educate the less-technical family members. ^__^ I’m not really a technician just yet (still learning to become one), but I do get a fair load of admin and programming work daily, so I’m so deep in all that and I realized that sometimes I just can’t “dumben” my explanation far enough for ‘normal’ people to understand… ;-)

  32. brandon Reply

    By sharing photos on MSN (by sending a file), can the person on the other end find your IP address if the photos you are sending are from websites/other people or emails sent to you. But all of these photos have been saved on your computer? thanks for the help!

  33. raine Reply

    Hello Leo,

    I have a stalker who knows a lot about me, I suspect it’s one of my friends due to the information this ‘person’ seems to be spouting off on e-mails.
    I’ve located some info via WHOIS, but I need to know the general location where the computer is located to tell who is the person. I am not sure what a Windows XP Command Shell is, or how to use it on my computer. I’m not familiar with this area of expertise!!
    I want to know who this person is so I can see if i can/want to take legal action etc. Please help me!

    thank you!

  34. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    The whois information is typically the best you can do. Using that you should be able to contact the ISP and have them help you further – but you’ll probably need to involve law enforcement to get them to pay attention to you.

  35. Annie Reply

    Hey Leo,,,Love the site. I have a slight problem, I’ve been banned from a forum and I want to get back in it. I’ve been reading about hiding ur ip address, there are tons of programs u can use but I’m not sure they work. Can u tell me if there is a way to change or hide ur ip address without having to purchase anything. thank u so much.

  36. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    You can’t change your IP address, but you can use an anonymizing service. Google “anonymous web surf” and you’ll get several such services.

  37. Charles Reply

    Leo, how can I tell the actual owner or home location of an IP address?

  38. Leo Notenboom Reply

    Charles: contact the ISP that whois.arin.net tells you owns that IP address. Be sure to have a court order giving you permission, though, since they won’t give that information without a reason.

  39. amr Reply

    Leo, how can I tell the actual owner or home location of an IP address?

  40. Leo Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    No, You cannot.

    as I keep saying, you can get the location of the ISP, and that’s as
    close as you can get. You CANNOT further determine the actual location
    of the IP address without the ISP’s help.

    Leo
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    =61o7
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  41. Daniel Reply

    i can tell you this….

    Country : United States (US)
    Region: CA California
    City : Cupertino
    Longitude: 37.3042
    Latitude : -122.0946
    Postal Code: 95014
    DMA Code: 807
    Area Code: 408

    So basically youve just given out your home adress…….

  42. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
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    Again, I say: No.

    First of all: who’s IP address was that supposed to be? Certainly not any of
    mine … it’s 100′s of miles off.

    Second, in all likelihood you’ve just geo-located their ISP, not the user.

    Leo
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  43. popipop Reply

    Leo A. Notenboom, i have read lots of your articles about how people cannot get much from your ip address.

    Then how do you explain this: someone from youtube found my ip address through my youtube account (i had never posted any information about me not my name or city or anything and i used a separate email account for my yt account). So once they had my ip address they somehow found my myspace!! Even though i had separate emails for both myspace and youtube, and i hadn’t communicated through email with the person.

    So how did he do that? I understand that it is very hard to get an ip address through yt but how then did he find my myspace? And is it possible he could also find out my email?

  44. Ross Reply

    Hi, Got a guy who has scammed me out of a lot of money. I have spoke to him on MSN and have our convo saved. Any idea of how i can track his location etc.
    Any help will be appreciated.
    Thanks
    Ross

  45. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Contact the authorities. There’s nothing you can do on your own.

    Thanks,

    Leo

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  46. Joanna Reply

    I was able to find the exact location of a computer through an IP address. There were some anonyomous postings on my website that were derogatory in nature. I got the IP from the posting, plugged it into geobites.com and found the longitude and latitude of the location of the computer. Then went to a site that converted longitude and latitude into a general location and was able to use a gps instrument and find the offending house.

  47. Remi Reply

    The gov’t has a Do Not Call Registry but nothing protects my privacy, i.e. my ip is shown all over with the State, City, the browser and the wireless company I use. I think this is an invasion of privacy. Is there anything I can do? Thank you.

    • Connie Delaney Reply

      Remi,
      The Do Not Call registry is for your phone number. It won’t do anything to protect your IP address. The internet is, by definition, an open source. In order for computers to be able to communicate with each other online they have to share certain information. So it is not reasonable to expect complete privacy through that medium.

  48. maritza Reply

    hi leo
    can u perhaps tell me, our it guys blocked our networks internet, now i want to use my s3 as a modem. the network shows internet access, but i cant go on the internet. is there some settings that i must change on my pc or what.
    thanx
    maritza

    • Leo Reply

      Not really enough to go on. I assume you mean a Galaxy S3 – to use it for internet for your PC you’ll need to configure it for tethering, or to operate as a wifi hotspot, depending on the phone and PC. More importantly, though, is that what you can and cannot do with the phone and HOW you would do it are controlled by your mobile provider. I would have you contact them for assistance.

  49. Deb Reply

    My dell computer had problems. Called dell, they referred me to another company to fix my problems. $200, 7 hours on the phone with someone who’s English drove me nuts, I thought my problem was history. A couple months later, I get a message someone is using my ip address. Soon after, the company who sold me their repair (including changing my ip address), calls, my computer has been compromised I am in great danger of someone accessing my files and destroying my computer. They want me to spend another $200 and buy Windows 7. From the beginning I felt I was being scammed. Do you think I am?

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      You can assume anybody who phones you and tells you your computer has been compromised or your registry needs to be repaired is trying to scam you. Unless they have hacked your system, they would have no way of knowing these things. As for the initial support that you originated, if you really went to the Dell website or phoned a number that came with your computer, you can normally assume that they would have referred you to a legitimate support site. To be sure you are on a real Dell page, it would be of the format http://www.dell.com, support.dell.com or (anything).dell.com, where .dell. comes right before the com (or ca, co.uk, fr, de etc. depending on which country’s site you are trying to contact).

  50. Anni Reply

    I use statcounter.com — it was telling me that I was getting a lot of traffic to our tiny family blog from Mountain View, CA and Paulo Alto, CA (and it gave me iP addresses).

    I was concerned as we don’t know anyone there so I wondered if some weirdo was stalking us
    but, when I followed a comment by one of the other people here and used geobytes.com — both the IP addresses that I entered gave me C-Springs (family there) and N. Carolina (friends there).

    So,
    1) Is statcounter.com good to use? (in your opinion!)
    2) is it possible that since those CA locations just happen to be where all the giant internet providers come from that that’s why they are showing – even though perhaps the IP addresses are actually in other states?

    Expert advice please!!!

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Just a guess, but Google is in Mountain View, CA. So maybe Google was indexing your blog, or your blog came up in the search results for something else. You can do a WhoIs search on the IP and see if it’s Google of Yahoo or something like those which is accessing your blog.

    • Leo Reply

      I have no experience with statcounter, so I can’t say for certain. And as the article discusses, it’s difficult to know with certainty what the IP addresses reflected.

  51. Deb Reply

    Today a friend called, she was warned her computer was about to crash! She also owns a Dell. Dell had referred her a fix it site about 1 1/2 years ago. Again, English was a second language and it cost her $100. Have others had this problem recently? My friend declined further work on her computer.

  52. sunil sharma Reply

    Is someone by knowing my fb ip address ,they can misuse my fb account ??

  53. symantec Reply

    Hi Leo,
    Is there a way I can determine an IP’s DDNS hostname? I have tried reverse DNS lookup but doesnt return any information that will give me the DDNS hostname.

  54. Nichole Reply

    Hi Leo,
    Is there a way to find out what IP address was used when someone posted a negative review about my business online? Am I able to hire someone to help me find this? I truly believe this is an act of defamation, and I’d like to confirm where this originated from. Any tips would be appreciated! Thanks!

      • Nichole Reply

        Thanks, Mark. It was posted as a Google review. How do I get a court order?

        • Mark Jacobs Reply

          I might be wrong, but don’t think the police get involved with civil cases. You’d probably have to contact a lawyer. The is could get very expensive.

  55. Diane Reply

    Not sure if I’m in the right place or not but here goes…

    I think my son is using my computer for porn but he uses the InPrivate browsing tool. How can I find out for sure (w/o asking – already tried that). I’m not very computer savvy so any ‘baby steps’ would be appreciated. Thanks! Also

    PS – Please reply only here and not my email.

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