What is a Proxy?

One of the most common ways of circumventing a network is by using a proxy server. A proxy server is an intermediate node between the user and a site.

It’s like a vegetable strainer. Proxy servers allow water to pass through but make sure your broccoli doesn’t fall into the sink.

In addition to bypassing locks, some proxy servers ensure visitor’s anonymity. Your personal information remains safe since your real IP address won’t be logged by the website.

Using a proxy is like wearing a mask. Websites can’t know that you visited them. Instead of your IP, the site sees the proxy’s IP.

If you’re concerned about anonymity using a proxy is one of the finest methods to keep your privacy.

Or, maybe you’re someone who finds themselves IP banned from a site. Simply connect to a proxy server and you’ll be able to visit the site once again.

How Does a Proxy Work?: The Nuts and Bolts

Every computer has a unique IP address, which is akin to a name tag. The IP address enables websites to identify you. It tells them your country and region, your internet service provider, and some information about the personal computer you’re using.

Proxy servers are also assigned unique IP addresses. When you connect to a proxy you’re taking on the identity of the proxy’s unique IP address. While your unique IP remains hidden.

To connect to a proxy you need to configure a few settings in your browser. These settings dictate how you send requests to a site.

Once connected, every time you access a web page your computer will first contact the proxy server. And the proxy server will contact the website. That’s the middleman handoff that proxies take care of.

After connecting to the proxy all subsequent network connections will be made to the IP address of the proxy server.

Types of Proxy Servers: Shapes and Sizes

Here are the major types of proxy servers:

  • HTTP Proxies are designed to work with web pages. Websites will see that you’re accessing their site through a proxy. The data of the transmitted traffic is sent to the server. HTTP proxies are only used for browsing the web.
  • SOCKS Connection is intended for any applications that are running on an external server. For example, you can configure ICQ, IRC or an email client to run through a proxy server. Keep in mind that you need to set up a separate connection for each.
  • CGI stands apart. These proxy servers do not require a browser configuration. And they allow you to open a website, or other resources, directly through the CGI site. That means your anonymity is guaranteed to be safe. This method is also one of the easiest to get running. You don’t need technical knowledge.

It may seem like it would be much faster to use free proxy servers. You can find many lists of free proxy servers through a simple Google search. Although, not everything is a simple as it might seem.

There is no guarantee that a free proxy server will maintain your anonymity. Nor can you determine just how anonymous the server makes you. Even still, free proxy servers rarely offer high speed and a stable connection.

The worst part? Free proxy servers typically don’t remain hidden from a competent system admin. So what happens? Those free proxy servers end up on a blacklist.

All these issues clearly lead to numerous inconveniences. If you want to use a proxy frequently, and with reliability, you’re better off with a paid proxy server.

Such servers are typically inexpensive. And the number of blacklists a paid proxy server is likely to be on should be minimal.
Keep one thing in mind when using a proxy server: network anonymity and an anonymizer are not the same things. It’s much more difficult to maintain your security when connected to a network that confuses addresses.

And no proxy server will make you completely anonymous. They simply complicate the process of uncovering your identity. Still, hackers are less likely to jump through multiple anonymous networks to attack you when there are plenty of unsecured connections to go after.

Benefits of Using a Proxy

Why do people use proxy servers? What benefits do you get when using them?

Let’s break it down:

  • Proxy servers are supported by the majority of web browsers.
  • Convenient traffic accounting and filtering (when integrated with antivirus software).
  • The ability to work with minimal rights on any operating system.
  • Significant increase in security since other protocols cannot access your network.

For the reasons mentioned proxy servers prevail in enterprises.

And this is despite the growth of relatively inexpensive hardware routers with the NAT function. But that’s because routers are not able to provide adequate control over your internet connection. Nor are they great at content filtering.

Hence, why so many people have turned to proxy servers.

After all, good proxy servers enable you to access any resource no matter where you are. Meaning you can stream Netflix outside the home. Which is great for travelers.

Or, if you have a corporate network using a proxy makes controlling traffic much easier. This is especially true if you’re extra-cautious about data leakage. Because when you connect to a proxy server you don’t reveal personal information nor are you transmitting data directly from your device.

But, remember, a proxy server will not protect from any criminal activities. Or any organization interested in monitoring online interactions, e.g. the government.

Risks of Using a Proxy

Many anonymous proxy servers are designed to track the activity of their users. So while they claim to be protecting you, they’re still collecting information about you.

Therefore, it’s best to avoid questionable proxies, especially free servers.

Remember, when you connect through your ISP to a website, or server, only that node can track your activities.

With a provider, your anonymity is guaranteed… to a point.

If a proxy provider works with government agencies your activity monitored in the interest of national security.

Then again it’s not just governments that spy on the data users transmit. Third-party organizations do as well, for their own purposes: often for advertising.

The main function of proxy servers is to filter information. To act as a buffer.

But an organization that provides anonymous proxy services can capture any user information that’s transmitted. This information can be linked to your account for further identity tracking.

Also, previously captured viewing patterns may allow snoopers to paint a picture of your online activity.

What’s the lesson?

Use a proxy with caution. Choose only proven service providers that provide the best security at an affordable price.

Proxy vs. VPN

Here is the difference between a proxy server and a VPN:

  • VPNs works on the top of the main Internet connection. All programs on the device are connected to the Internet via a virtual private network.
    A proxy can be configured individually for a specific application. The proxy does not affect the connection between other programs.
  • The VPN connection is more secure because of different methods of encryptions. On top, there are additional IP and DNS protections in place.
    The proxy connection is usually protected with encryption of HTTPS traffic.

When using a premium VPN service you don’t have to worry about information leakage. All network traffic is securely encrypted and your real IP address is hidden. You can find out which VPNs you can use from our list of the best VPNs.

Hence why VPN services are often more expensive than proxy servers.

But wait? What’s the difference between a VPN and VPS?

A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a place to host your website. It gives you root-level access to the server while maintaining hardware sharing. Meanwhile, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to securely and anonymously surf the Internet.

VPNs and proxies serve a similar purpose. But they use different implementation mechanisms.

If you just want to access information that has geographic limitations then a proxy is what you need.

If you need full access to confidentiality and traffic encryption on top of what a proxy can offer, then the best solution will be using a VPN.

Published by

Jamie Cambell

Ethical Hacker. Ph.D., M.S. in Computer Science at University of California, Berkeley. Technology enthusiast and also a part-time gamer. My goal is liberating the Internet.

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