How to Find Out Where an Internet IP Address Comes From

The Internet can be a dangerous place. One problem is that anybody can pretend to be somebody else. Or a hacker can break into an account and steal the owner’s identity. That means that there are times when you want to know the origin of an Internet IP address. In this tip I’ll discuss how to use the “Whois” tool to get information about an IP.

Using the “Whois” service

The general method of obtaining information about an IP is a service that goes by the name of “Whois”. The actual person and address that is using an IP is not generally available and usually “Whois” will show only the location of the Internet service provider or a geographical area.

However, this geographical information provides clues that can be useful. If a Chinese IP is using your Gmail account and you live in America, that would be significant (unless you are traveling in China, of course). If an email from Great Aunt Matilda, who lives in Idaho, is sent with an IP from Kazakhstan, then some alarm bells should go off. Generally, any IP from an Internet service provider that doesn’t match expectations could be a warning sign and give you notice to take preventative measures.

Online “Whois”

There are many web sites that provide free “Whois” searches on IPs. One recommendation  that comes from the best freeware list is dnsstuff.com

Personally, I have been recommending whatismyisp.com for many years. This site will often pinpoint the geographical location of an IP to a rather small area. Try it on your own IP and see how close it gets. Whatismyip.com will automatically detect your own IP.

“Whois” Freeware programs that run on your own computer

If you would prefer to search IP addresses from your own PC, there are also programs that you can run locally. One that I have used is from the well-known freeware programmer Karen Kenworthy. It is called “Karen’s Whois” and can be downloaded here. It works in Windows XP, Vista, and 7. The figure below shows an IP search using the program.

Karen's Whois

More information: If you are not familiar with what an IP is, try this article for an easily understood explanation.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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