Yes and no. But mostly no.
This is perhaps one of the most common questions or comments I get. Unfortunately, people’s expectations have been colored – often dramatically – by popular television shows and movies.
Unfortunately, this is real life – which isn’t nearly as easy or exciting.
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Publicly available information
ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, is the canonical place to start. It’s this organization that actually organizes IP address assignments in the U.S. They provide a “who is” (often just referred to as whois, without the space) search, which will look up the owner of an IP address or refer you to the equivalent service in another country, if appropriate.
DomainTools.com is another one that includes a whois service that will look up both domain names (like “askleo.com”) and IP addresses, so you can see who owns them.
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. PlotIP is an interesting service that will also perform a whois lookup and return information about the IP address, including a map of where the service believes the IP address is located.
The problem with public information
In all of these cases, and other similar services, the information retrieved is not about the current user of the IP address, but the owner of the IP address.
In other words, the information that you get relates only to the ISP or hosting company that has allocated that IP address to one of its customers.
Typically, the information returned will include the name, address, and phone number of the ISP. In the case of attempts to determine location, the information is at best an approximation, and either represents the location of the ISP’s headquarters or the location of one of the ISP’s distribution points.
In a practical sense, it is never the location of the actual person who is using that IP address.
Getting more detail
The ISP knows more. In fact, I’d venture to say that the ISP probably knows all. They know to whom the IP address was assigned. For dynamic IP addresses, I’m sure that they know or can find out who it was allocated to, when it was allocated, and for how long it was used.
But there’s a problem that gets in the way of getting that information from the ISP.
Face it: you wouldn’t want your ISP to just hand out your private information to anyone who walked up with some kind of story claiming they needed it. The same is hopefully true for any and all ISPs – privacy matters.
ISPs will turn over that information to law enforcement when the right requests are made and paperwork presented. In the U.S., that’s typically in the form of a court order. In that case, the ISP will provide the information to the police – not to you. The police can then take the appropriate steps based on your reasons for going this far in the first place.
So can I get it or not?
Can you get a name an address from an IP? Yes … if you are the police and have the legal backing to go get it.
Otherwise, no. If you’re a regular person just trying to track something down on your own, that information is simply not available. The same privacy policies and restrictions that protect you protect everyone.