There’s a wealth of information available online about proxy servers in comparison to VPNs, and what the downsides of using a proxy server are. With all of the information out there, it can be difficult to figure out whether using a proxy server is the right move when there are so many other tools out there for online privacy. We’ve detailed exactly what a proxy server is, when it might be of use to you and, for the sake of fairness, when it might not.
What Is A Proxy Server?
A proxy server often referred to simply as a ‘proxy’, is a server in the form of a computer, software system or application, that acts as a gateway. This gateway is usually between an endpoint device like a computer and a large-scale network like the internet itself. A proxy can also act as an intermediary between the internet and a group of computers that make up a local network.
How Does A Proxy Server Work?
As an intermediary between an endpoint and a network, proxy servers take the requests being passed between these two points and perform them on the requester’s behalf.
To put it simply, if a computer is using a proxy server to access a page on the internet, the proxy will carry out the request for the webpage on the computer’s behalf. The proxy can do this in one of two ways:
- The proxy could analyze locally stored data to see if it can find its own, cached version of the webpage. If the proxy finds the cached page, then it can return this result to the computer without having to forward the request via the internet.
- If the proxy does not have the web page in its local cache, then it will direct the request to the internet. Because the proxy is a gateway between the computer and the internet, it will not have to use the computer’s IP address to request the page, instead, it will use its own. Once the proxy finds the page, this result will then be returned back to the computer.
This all sounds like a lengthy process, but for the most part, a user is unlikely to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes – in the example given, it would seem as if the webpage were being accessed as normal.
The Advantages Of Using A Proxy Server
Now that you know what a proxy is and how it works, what are the benefits of using one?
The Advantages Of Using A Proxy Server
One of the main reasons many people use proxy servers is to keep their IP addresses hidden. Because the proxy acts as an intermediary between your device and a webpage you’re accessing, the website will not be able to log your actual IP address and instead will log that of the proxy’s. This gives you a certain amount of anonymity whilst browsing the internet.
If you’re unsure as to why keeping your IP address anonymous might benefit you, it’s important to remember that an IP address, in the wrong hands, could give a cybercriminal a lot more information about you than you would want. Determined hackers are potentially able to harvest information such as which country you’re in, the city that you live in and even your street address and postal code. Something as simple a security breach for a website you’ve visited could be enough to put your data in the hands of a hacker.
They Provide An Extra Layer Of Protection From Malicious Websites
Proxies can also be used to filter access to the internet. As an example, they could be used to restrict access to certain types of websites for educational establishments or even workplaces. In the same way, they can also be used to prevent access to websites that are known to be malicious and contain viruses, malware or even phishing links – thus preventing people from accidentally or unwittingly accessing them.
They Can Allow You Access To Restricted Content
These days, a lot of online services and content can be geo-restricted, most likely due to copyright laws. Because the proxy provides these sites with its own IP address, rather than yours, it is possible to bypass the geo-restrictions.
A proxy server may also allow you to bypass network restrictions that have been put in place to prevent you from accessing certain types of sites or content (e.g. accessing social media sites on your workplace internet).
They Can Reduce A Website’s Loading Time
Thanks to a proxy server’s ability to cache data, once it has accessed a webpage it has the ability to store that version of it and display it quickly to a user whenever they next request it. The only hindrance to this is that the page has to have been visited before, and there is also a risk that the most up to date version of that page is not being provided.
The Disadvantages Of Using A Proxy Server
Despite all these pros of using a proxy server, they do have their limitations too. Whilst a proxy server might be able to keep your IP address anonymous from external onlookers, the proxy provider will be able to see your IP address. Because of this, you should choose your proxy provider wisely.
Your cybersecurity shouldn’t begin and end with a proxy server – a decent proxy-provider should at least be using an SSL certificate to encrypt your data. However, SSL certificates are not as secure as they might sound, due to the threat of attacks known as SSL stripping. As part of the strip, an attacker can downgrade a site from HTTPS to HTTP unbeknownst to the user, thus stripping it of its encryption certificate and exposing any data you’re sharing with the site.
Proxy servers certainly have their benefits, and for the intermittent use, they are a simple yet effective tool. However, if you’re looking for long-term anonymity and data protection, it’s likely that more comprehensive tools – such as Virtual Private Networks or encrypted browsers like Tor – will be more appropriate.
If you are interested in even more technology-related articles and information from us here at Bit Rebels then we have a lot to choose from.