A proxy server is often compared to a VPN, among other tools used for online privacy. Thanks to the world wide web and the wealth of information available, you shouldn’t struggle much to get information about proxy servers as well as their pros and cons. Many people however struggle when tasked to choose between a proxy server and a VPN – considering their similarity in functionality. To help you understand better, we will discuss what a proxy server is, how it can be used, the benefits of having one, and the cons too.
Proxy Server: Definition
A proxy server can be termed as a gateway (e.g. a software system, application, or computer) that connects an endpoint device (e.g. computer, smartphone) and a vast network (e.g. the internet.). It can also be used as the linking point between a group of computers on a local network and the internet. There are many different types of proxies like a rotating proxy, which helps speed up online tasks by assigning a new IP address from a proxy pool. It is only through this intermediary that these computers can connect to a more extensive network or the internet.
How Do Proxy Servers Work?
Just as the name suggests, a proxy server takes requests initiated by a user on one point and performs the requests on the user’s behalf. To put it in simpler words, When a user (behind a proxy server) initiates a search online or wishes to access a webpage, the proxy server performs the request on the user’s computer itself. This is unlike connecting to the internet directly, whereby the computer initiates the requests exposing its unique IP address. A proxy server can work in two ways:
- The proxy server will analyze data stored locally to find a cached version of the webpage requested. If available, the cached version of the website is returned as a result, to the computer that initiated the search. All this is done without necessarily forwarding the request to the internet.
- If the webpage isn’t available locally in a cache, the proxy server initiates the request directly to the internet (on behalf of the computer). This way, only the proxy server’s IP address is used to make the request and not the computer. The proxy server will then receive the results which are then forwarded them to the computer. This leaves the computer protected from the world wide web. This is more like a middle man in a transaction.
Although the two processes may seem lengthy, all this happens within a split second. The user is less likely to notice any difference.
Advantages Of A Proxy Server
- Makes You Anonymous Online
Many people use proxy servers to help mask their public addresses. This way, anyone trying to capture data from your computer will find it harder to track you. With the proxy server acting as an intermediary, anyone that tries to access your computer or device won’t have any access, but will instead log into the proxy itself. This thus helps give you a sense of anonymity and security when surfing online.
Most people don’t mind about their online security and the need to be anonymous for that matter. What they don’t know is that a malicious person can use their public IP address to mine their personal information. In the wrong hands, your personal data can be used to commit a crime or even worse, result in identity theft. Seasoned hackers might also be able to mine your credit information and other details that could help them gain access to your bank records and accounts. These are some of the reasons people use encrypted connections through VPNs or proxy servers – for the extra layer of protection.
- Proxy Servers Provide An Extra Layer Of Protection
Proxy servers can be configured to block access to sites and web pages known to contain malicious code in the form of malware, phishing links, and viruses. The proxy servers can also be used to restrict access only to websites allowed by an institution, workplace, or an organization. This, therefore, prevents unauthorised access to pages or sites that could land a user in trouble online.
- Unblock Restricted Content and Services
One of the ideas behind a proxy server is to unblock content in geo-restricted sites. Many websites and content providers today restrict content to specific geographical areas. This makes it almost impossible for anyone outside the area to access such services. Thanks to a proxy server, you might be able to access such content regardless of your location.
In addition to unlocking content, you can use a proxy server to bypass restrictions imposed by an ISP or institution. Most institutions and companies block access to social media. A proxy server might help you unblock these with ease.
- Faster Page Loading Speeds
A proxy server also works by caching data from the websites you access. Should you wish to come back to the site, the server will return the request faster than it would if it had to connect to the internet again. This means faster loading speeds for such a website. The only caveat with this is that you need to have accessed the site before to allow the proxy server to cache it. There is however a risk of accessing an outdated version of the website through the server.
Disadvantages Of A Proxy Server
- The proxy provider might keep track of your online activity
Although a proxy server might come in handy in masking your public IP address, some providers might still be able to see and monitor your activity online. For this reason, it would be advisable to research on a proxy provider before using their service.
- Your connection might not be encrypted
Although most proxy servers will provide you with some level of anonymity, many of these do not encrypt your connection. Most providers only use an SSL certificate to encrypt data passing through their servers. This isn’t however enough considering attackers today can use SSL stripping to decrypt such connections. Although the page might show SSL encryption on your site, your data might not be as secure when going through the proxy server. Consider investing in a proxy server that encrypts all connections.
Although simple, a proxy server is a useful tool if looking for a quick solution for online anonymity and safety. Although there are numerous benefits of using one, it shouldn’t be the ultimate solution if what you need is long-term data protection and anonymity. You are much safer with more complex and comprehensive tools such as encrypted browsers (Tor) and Virtual Private Networks.