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IP Address Privacy

The Internet Protocol Address, or IP address, is an address everyone must have when they connect to the Internet.  It is like the post office, if they didn’t have an address they could not deliver any mail.  the same with an Internet router who is sending packets from your computer to some other computer on the Internet.  IP addresses are allocated to Internet Service providers around the world.

Is you IP address private?  The answer can be complicated.  Normally an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like AOL or Comcast has a record of all customers and what IP address was assigned.  If the information is requested by the Police or the courts it is normally available for a certain amount of time.  It depends on where you live whether this information is private.  Court cases in New Jersey say it is private, in Toronto courts say it is not and it often depends on the specific circumstances.  The identity of subscriber can normally be traced back to the subscriber much like a phone number can be traced.

Is an IP address “personally identifiable information?”  The answer to this can complicated and it depends on a number of factors.  The simplest thing to do is to do a “reverse lookup” to see if the site comes back to a domain name.  For instance, the ip address of this web site would be “privacy.net” so the owner can easily be identified as the registered owner of privacy.net.  It could also come back as “whatever.comcast.net”

A user can go through a “proxy” to hide their IP address.  A proxy sits between the user and the Internet and makes all the request for the user.  This hides the user’s IP address much like a PO box hides a street address.  A proxy can also be used to circumvent web filters.

See the Privacy.net Analyzer to investigate your IP or Network-Tools.com to run tests on any IP address.

there is also the Tor network and the “Onion Router.”  This works via Peer-to-peer connects in such a way as to try to hide who is actually sending or receiving packets.  However, it may be possible to defeat the privacy protections in a number of complicated ways.  Again, it depends on the specific circumstances.  Using TOR may also trigger alarm bells.  For instance, some financial services (such as Mt Gox Bitcoin Exchange) may ban you if your account is accessed via Tor.  There are also claims that tracking a package via the Post office via Tor will cause the package to be searched for illegal items.

1 comment to IP Address Privacy

  • Devon Fields

    Regarding Tor, yes this is a valuable randomization service.
    However, as you said “Using TOR may also trigger alarm bells”.
    The usual response to this is to get more people to use Tor to make yourself more of a needle in a larger haystack.

    An important note is that the N.S.A.:
    a) IS recording all IPs that perform web searches related to TAILS ( A Tor-dedicated Live OS ) – ironically the best response to this would to be to either perform the search through Tor, or to use Startpage, a search-engine that does not record searches or IPs and does not record any data and therefor cannot supply data in the event of a government data request.
    b) Communicate with the Tor Bridges email addresses – in this event again use Tor and a disposable email
    c) The N.S.A. is running Tor servers (bridges/nodes) so the security is not absolute. Also, recently an attack was performed on the Tor network which successfully identified some user’s IPs and searches ( in vagaries only ) See the Tor Project site about this attack.

    So Tor is a very important project and should be used, but it should be used carefully with FULL compliance with their privacy guide. Also, the anonymity is the best you can currently access but there are issues. When running Tor you should either use TAILS, or run it through a virtual machine on a computer with a powerful firewall.

    An example: One of the last times I used Tor I noticed an IP trying to access my computer. I performed a Whois on the address and it was the Department of Defense, specifically the DNIC which offers servers for “the intelligence community” aka the NSA/FBI.
    I was not accessing Hidden Services or performing suspicious activities.
    I blocked the address and then paid attention to addresses trying to access my computer. I should note I did ( and still do when using Tor ) find a number of IPs belonging to the provider Voxility. Upon analysis I found that Voxility has come up in court cases related to government surveillance. (Also, the founder has NSA as one of his “interests” on Facebook). I would be suspicious of this provider until proven otherwise as they may be hosting servers for the government surveillance programs.

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