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What Is IP Mapping?

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Without a VPN (virtual private network) or other privacy tools like Incognito Mode searches, your Internet activity and general geolocations are available for public consumption. Cybercriminals can use your IP address to track your online movements, pinpoint your physical location, and hack into your device’s operating systems.

IP mapping is one method these bad actors can use to determine the exact location of your device. So what exactly is IP mapping? How can it be used beneficially? How do you protect yourself from hackers who use this method to launch attacks against you?

Let’s take a look.

IP addresses and the definition of IP mapping

The copious amount of technological concepts and methodologies that allow us to rely on an increasingly online world can seem overwhelming and confusing at times. However, most of the tech knowledge we need to keep ourselves safe on the Internet is easy to understand once tech terms are explained.

For example, IP mapping impacts every aspect of our online experiences, but sounds super complex and possibly nefarious. However, this tool is inextricably linked to our access to all online content and resources and is relatively easy to use. IP mapping uses our IP addresses to allow us to transfer and receive data on the Internet.  

How IP addresses work

Without IP (Internet protocol) addresses, none of us would have access to the Internet. An IP address is a series of numbers that act as a device identifier. If we didn’t have IP addresses, our computers would work similarly to a snail mail letter addressed to Sally Smith, USA — our data would never reach its intended destination.

Every smart device is assigned an IP address by their Internet service carrier — this also your LAN (local area network) to identify your device as a member of the network, and allows data to be transferred from and onto your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Internet needs a designated space to send the data you request, or a chaotic pile of information would build in an online abyss, no one would be able to use the Internet, and servers would crash. IP addresses help to ensure smart devices can communicate and receive communication.

Definition of IP mapping

IP mapping is a method that allows servers to associate and link IP addresses with specific devices on a network. This process bridges the gap between the digital world (via IP addresses) to the physical world (smart devices), and finds the geographical location of your device. 

IP mapping is essential to allow data (via data packets) to travel across the Internet and find their home in a designated device. 

Think of IP mapping like a digital map to enhance your online security. It allows you to know if you’re visiting a sketchy online “neighborhood,” and helps you to ascertain the geographical location of website servers and email senders alike. 

Example of the security of IP mapping

For example, if you receive an email claiming to be from a local charity fundraiser, IP mapping tools allow you to research any links sent in the email, and the IP address of the sender. If this process reveals that the email was sent from a small, far away country, you can block the sender without ever opening the suspicious link (which could be malware).

Just as you may look for ways to increase your home’s security or avoid relocating to an area known for burglaries, you can use cybersecurity tools to avoid potentially harmful websites and email addresses. IP mapping gives you the tools to better protect yourself online and avoid those shady neighborhoods

How IP mapping works 

IP mapping may make sense in theory, but how does it actually work? In order to map an IP address, you need to use ARP (Address Resolution Protocol). ARP is a network technology that works similarly to the postal service — it translates IP addresses into MAC addresses to ensure data reaches its intended destinations.

Here’s how to map an IP address using ARP:

  • ARP request: Network devices can only communicate with one another after an ARP request asks: What device has this IP address? This request allows automatic IP mapping, and will map shared IPs along with dedicated IPs. 
  • ARP response: Your device then responds to the ARP request with its unique hardware identifier, or MAC (Media Access Control) address. A MAC address identifies the hardware within a LAN and ensures your device can communicate within your network, whereas your IP address identifies your device globally.
  • IP Mapping: ARP then creates an IP mapping file where it stores all the IP addresses on the network. IP mapping files contain two columns of IP addresses that are then associated with their corresponding MAC addresses. This also helps network administrators discern whether there are dormant IP addresses that can be reassigned.

Why do IP addresses need to be mapped to MAC addresses?

IP addresses must be mapped to the MAC addresses of physical hardware as data packets need both addresses to reach an intended destination. Without the mapped connection between both, data would just get lost in an online blackhole.

While IP addresses can change via VPNs and other cybersecurity tools, MAC addresses are always static — each piece of technological hardware you purchase comes with a preassigned MAC. For a real world example, your MAC address is similar to your permanent physical address, while your IP address is like a temporary college address.

 IP mapping is essential for network administrators to track and manage devices on a network.

IP mapping and cybersecurity

Sadly, cybercriminals can use IP mapping to carry out evil plans. However, this process is necessary to protect your online presence, too. Some of the ways that IP mapping can enhance your cybersecurity include:

  • Access control: Mapping IP addresses to MAC addresses allows network administrators to manage access control. They can implement policies to grant or restrict access to specific devices and increase network security.
  • Collection of threat intelligence: IP mapping allows a network to keep record of the viable hacker threats it may receive through unknown IP addresses. For example, if an unknown IP pops up on a daily basis in an IP mapping file, strategic plans can be made to thwart the hacker behind the IP address.
  • Device identification: Often in a LAN (especially in a business environment), devices share IP addresses via network address translation (NAT). IP mapping ensures each device sharing an IP remains easily distinguishable.
  • Efficient data routing: IP mapping allows data packets to be efficiently and seamlessly routed to their destination.
  • Intrusion detection: IP mapping monitors network traffic and can identify suspicious activities, thereby making it more difficult for hackers to infiltrate your network.
  • Network security: IP mapping assists in alerting network administrators to unauthorized devices that attempt to gain access to a network. Network security wouldn’t be able to identify threats without this process.
ARP (Address Resolution Protocol)

IP address mapping tools 

Luckily, there are a wide array of IP mapping tools available that helps ease the process for even the least technologically capable among us. Some of the tools to help in IP mapping include:

  • ARP commands: If your network utilizes ARP, your network administrator can view and manipulate an ARP table. For example, if you hit “arp-a” as a Windows command, the ARP table becomes visible. Thus, if you need to delete, add, or block an IP address from accessing your network, you can do so directly from the ARP table.
  • Network monitoring tools: Network monitoring tools provide advanced analysis of data packets and the IP addresses sending and receiving them. These tools can send your network administrator detailed information about IP to MAC mappings, detect protocols, and provide network statistics. Some of the most popular network monitoring tools include Wireshark, Microsoft Message Analyzer, and NetworkMiner
  • Network management software: IP mapping is often included in network management software packages. These tools allow IP mapping to be automated and monitor your network in real-time. Some network management software packages that include IP mapping are Datadog, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Visio.

IP mapping benefits both network administrators and users by bridging the gap between the physical and online worlds. It allows data to move easily and securely across networks. In a constantly-evolving online world, it helps to understand the processes and measures that can keep your cybersecurity strong.

Visit the What Is My IP Address homepage for more privacy and security tools, and be sure to check out our blog for cybersecurity tips and trends.  

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