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Proxy servers explained

The word "proxy" can have different meanings when we talk about computers. It's like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Tor, which help you stay private while browsing the Internet. Websites also use proxy servers to handle lots of visitors at the same time. Because there are different types of web proxies, it can be confusing for many people.

What is a proxy server?

When people talk about a "proxy," they usually mean a service that can be set up in their web browser between the user and their Internet Service Provider (ISP). When you connect to a proxy server, all your internet activity goes through that server instead of directly to the website you want to visit. It's like having a middleman between you and the internet.

You can set up different applications on your computer to use a proxy. For web browsing, HTTP proxies are commonly used. When you use an HTTP proxy, your computer tells the web proxy or server to get web pages for you instead of doing it directly.

Proxies are different from VPNs because they don't create a secure tunnel for all your network activity. They just sit between your computer and the things you want to access. While you can set up an HTTP proxy for your whole computer on some operating systems, other types of internet activity won't be affected by proxy settings.

How does a proxy server work?

Every computer connected to the internet has a unique Internet Protocol (IP) Address, which is like its street address. Proxies act as a middleman between you and the resource you want to access. When you use a proxy, it makes the request on your behalf to the server and returns the result to you. The proxy server can modify the data you send and still give you the expected information. It can change your own IP address, so the web servers don't know your exact location. Additionally, a proxy server can decline access to specific web pages based on IP addresses.

VPN vs. Proxy server

The main difference between a proxy and a Virtual Private Network (VPN) lies in their functionalities and how they handle your internet traffic.

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your device and the internet. When you make a request through a proxy, it forwards the request to the destination website on your behalf and returns the response to you. Proxies can change your IP addresses, provide caching benefits, and control access to specific websites. However, proxies usually do not encrypt your internet traffic, meaning the data is not protected from potential eavesdropping.

On the other hand, a VPN creates a secure and encrypted connection between your device and a remote server operated by the VPN provider. All of your internet traffic is routed through this encrypted tunnel, making it difficult for anyone to intercept or view your data. VPNs provide a higher level of privacy and security compared to proxies. They can mask your IP address, encrypt your data, and offer anonymity by making it challenging to trace your online activities back to your device.

While both proxies and VPNs can change your IP address and provide some level of privacy, VPNs offer a more comprehensive solution by encrypting your entire internet connection and ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of your data. They are commonly used for secure remote access to corporate networks, bypassing censorship or geolocation restrictions, and protecting sensitive information while using public Wi-Fi networks.

Why use proxy servers?

There are multiple reasons why organizations and individuals use proxy IP addresses:

Privacy Protection: Proxy servers are used by individuals and organizations to browse the internet more privately. Some proxies change the IP address and other identifying information, making it harder for the destination server to trace the original request and enhancing personal privacy.

Internet Usage Control: Proxy servers are set up by organizations and parents to manage and monitor internet usage. They can block access to specific websites or track web requests to discourage inappropriate usage during work or by children.

Bandwidth Savings and Faster Speeds: A good proxy server can enhance network performance by caching popular websites locally. This means that when multiple users request the same site, the proxy server only needs to make a single request, saving bandwidth and improving overall speed.

Enhanced Security: Proxy servers offer security benefits in addition to privacy. They can encrypt web requests to prevent unauthorized access and protect transactions. Proxy servers can also block access to known malware sites. Combining a proxy server with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides a secure connection for remote users to access company resources while maintaining control and data protection.

What are the risks of using proxy servers?

It's important to exercise caution when selecting a proxy server, as there are certain risks that can outweigh the potential benefits:

Free Proxy Server Risks: The saying "you get what you pay for" applies to free proxy server services. Free services usually lack investment in robust hardware and encryption. As a result, you may encounter performance issues and potential data security problems. Be extremely careful if you come across a completely "free" web proxy server anywhere, as some may have malicious intent.

Browsing History Log: Proxy servers can store your original IP address and web request information locally, which may be unencrypted. It's important to check if your proxy server logs and retains this data, as well as their policies regarding cooperation with law enforcement. If your intention is to use a proxy server for privacy, but the provider is logging and selling your data, you may not receive the expected privacy benefits.

Lack of Encryption: Using a proxy server without encryption renders it virtually ineffective. Without encryption, your requests are sent as plain text, making it easy for anyone listening to intercept usernames, passwords, and other sensitive account information. Ensure that the proxy server you choose provides robust encryption capabilities to safeguard your data.

What are the proxy servers types?

Proxy servers' work can vary in functionality, so it's crucial to understand their capabilities and ensure they align with your needs. Here are different types of proxy servers and their characteristics:

Transparent Proxy: This type of proxy server informs websites that it is a proxy and still shares your IP address, revealing your identity to the web server. Transparent proxies are commonly used by businesses, public libraries, and schools for content filtering purposes.

Anonymous Proxy Server: Anonymous proxy identifies itself as a proxy but doesn't disclose your IP address to the website. It helps protect against identity theft and maintains privacy in browsing habits. It can also prevent websites from serving targeted marketing content based on your location. However, anonymous browsing is not completely guaranteed.

High Anonymity Proxy: High anonymity proxy servers regularly change the IP address they present to the web server, making it challenging to track your traffic. They offer a high level of privacy and security, with the Tor Network being an example of such a proxy. It provides the most private and secure means to browse the internet.

Understanding the different types of proxy servers allows you to select the one that best suits your requirements for privacy, security, and bypassing content restrictions.

In conclusion, understanding the role of proxies is essential for maximizing your online experience. Proxies serve as intermediaries between your device and the resources you access on the internet. They offer various benefits, such as control over internet usage, bandwidth savings, enhanced privacy, improved security, and access to blocked content.  

However, it is crucial to be cautious when choosing a proxy server. Free proxy services may come with risks, including performance issues and potential data security concerns. You can learn more about how to determine the quality of proxies in our article on how to test proxies.GoProxies can help your business grow by providing the best service based on your service needs.

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