Few people ever really think about how the internet actually works. This is one thing that makes people more vulnerable to data security breaches and identity theft as they innocently browse the internet and check their emails.
When you are interacting with the internet, you may be using a server at your office. You could be on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or even a proxy server of some kind. In this post, we will cover exactly what that final option actually means.
What is a proxy server?
Proxy servers function as gateways between the user and the worldwide web. They are intermediaries that separate you from the website you are looking at. Depending on the proxy server you use, you will get varying levels of:
If you are on a proxy server, internet traffic must flow through that server before it reaches the requested address. Subsequently, the request is returned via that proxy server (in most cases) before the server then forwards that data to you.
Today, proxy servers can function as a firewall and web filter. They can also provide shared network connections and cache data in order to expedite common requests. A high-quality proxy server offers protection for the internal network from the dangers of the internet, and they can make your browsing very private.
How do proxy servers work?
Every computer must have a unique IP address to connect to the internet. This is what the internet needs to identify where to send the data you request when you browse. A proxy server is, essentially, another computer with its own IP address that your computer knows. Every request you send goes through the proxy server so that it can make that request on your behalf, then it collects the response and forwards the web data back to you.
When forwarding this data, the proxy server can make changes to the data you send and still ensure you get the information you expect. The web will not be able to tell where you are in the world, and the proxy server can encrypt data so that no-one can intercept it in transit. It can also be used to block access to certain web pages on the basis of their IP address.
What are the benefits of using a proxy server?
The use of proxy servers offers a number of benefits to both individuals and organisations.
It Controls the Internet Usage of Children and Employees
Set up proxy servers to monitor and limit the use of the internet in a household or company. This enables you to block specific websites that are irrelevant to company operations or inappropriate for use at home. Meanwhile, all web requests are logged so you can access the records to view people’s activity.
It Can Save Bandwidth and Improve Internet Speeds
The cache of a proxy server can help improve overall network performance. The server will send you the most recent version of a frequented site so that it doesn’t have to be loaded from scratch on every visit, saving valuable time and bandwidth.
With advanced encryption and the blocking of known malware sites, proxy servers can offer good security. You can even pair your proxy server with a VPN so that remote users always use the company proxy. This will ensure all users have access to your organisation’s resources in a secure, safe way.
By hiding your personal IP address, proxy servers enable you to browse the internet with greater privacy. The destination server can be prevented from knowing who made the original request, ensuring your personal information and browsing habits are kept private.
Are there any risks to using proxy servers?
There are some reasons to be cautious when using proxy servers. There are a few risks that can negate the potential benefits. These include:
- Free proxy servers, with ad-based revenue models, are often lacking in backend hardware and encryption. They could even be scams themselves.
- Proxy servers may log your browsing history, so be aware of data retention and law enforcement cooperation policies they have. Some vendors may even log and sell your private data.
- If you use a proxy server that lacks encryption, you may as well not be using a proxy server at all.
What are the common types of proxy servers?
Different proxy servers work in slightly different ways. You need to know the functionality of different options to be able to choose the best one for you.
- Transparent Proxy: This lets websites know that it is a proxy server and will still pass on your IP address. This is often used for content filtering in places like school and libraries.
- Distorting Proxy: This passes along a false IP address but still identifies itself as a proxy. This disguises your location to help get around content restrictions.
- Anonymous Proxy: This type will identify itself as a proxy as well, but it won’t pass along any IP address to websites. This protects against identity threats and provides maximum privacy, and could also help get around location-based restrictions.
- High Anonymity Proxy: With this type, the proxy server will periodically change the IP address it presents to the web server. This makes it difficult to track the browsing history of the user, offering a high level of privacy and security.
There is a lot of talk about proxy servers in the news with controversies about Net Neutrality and censorship. With ISPs able to dictate which websites you are and are not permitted to see, Net neutrality laws are viewed as becoming overly restrictive in some territories. Proxy servers are emerging as a good way to get around ISP restrictions.
Besides this, proxy servers are a good way to protect against cyber-attacks and data breaches. These are important considerations for modern businesses and individuals, so proxy servers are definitely worth considering as part of a proactive approach to cybersecurity.
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