IP Addresses: What is Thier Purpose?

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/28/2007 | Internet
An IP address (Internet Protocol address) is a unique number that is assigned to each computer or other electronic device that is connected to the Internet. The express purpose of an IP address is to identify each individual machine that is online. It can be compared to a street address or phone number. Particular electronic devices use these unique numbers to communicate with each other through a network. The typical IP address is configured in this manner:

Thanks to IP addresses, your computer can be easily identified in particular situations. For example, most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have a database in which they store each of their client's IP addresses.

This practice, however, begs the question: If your IP address can be identified? how is your privacy protected? Do ISPs infringe on your personal rights and invade your privacy in this manner? There are many who regard it as an invasion of privacy, and thus consider the use of IP addresses to identify individual computers is morally and constitutionally wrong.

On the other hand, IP addresses qualify as a necessary evil because not only do they identify each unique computer, but can also track certain activities that are being carried out on the internet. In this sense, they help prevent or even stop incidences of cyber-crime.

The spread of computer viruses is a case in point. They present an increasingly large problem to the internet community. These viruses can and do inflict irreversible damage to computer systems, and ruin hard drives on which important data has been stored. Through the use of IP addresses, the origin of a given computer virus can be easily tracked and the person who wrote and released the virus script can be brought to justice.

Another useful use to which IP addresses are put is in the creation and use of wikis. These are websites that can be directly changed or edited by anyone. Wikipedia is the most popular of the existing wikis. Without the use of IP addresses, wikis would never exist. Given the fact that anyone can delete or edit an article on a wiki, vandalism would otherwise be a huge problem. However, by tracking made possible by IP addresses, a wiki administrator can block a certain IP address from accessing and editing any material on the wiki.

IP addresses have become an essential tool for the operation and security of today's Internet community. They provide a means of identification among computer users, and a means by which to track events and incidences that occur on online networks. We sacrifice a measure of anonymity for the security that IP addresses afford us.