Proxy servers communicate with other servers on the web on behalf of your computer. These third-party middlemen provide a variety of services by acting as intermediaries between your own device and the rest of the Internet, but they are best known for their privacy advantages. By default, your browser loads media (such as a web site) by requesting specific information directly from the server. In its simplest terms, a proxy forwards this request from your computer to the web server and then relays the data back to your device, while the web server only sees the proxy’s IP address instead of your own.
Because the proxy server is a separate entity from the client’s computer, people put them to work to provide a number of services in addition to sending and retrieving data. Traditionally, organizations and corporations have used caching proxies to save and deliver frequently-requested information for faster loading times. Due to the rise in privacy and security concerns, individuals are increasingly turning to proxies for use on their own computers. As consumers demand higher quality and more user-friendly proxy servers, expect their use among personal devices to become even more widespread in coming years.
Common Proxy Types
The standard type of proxy most people refer to when they say “proxy” is a forward proxy, performing exactly the sort of services described above. A forward proxy is a popular solution for internal networks. With a forward proxy, several clients can access the Internet through a single entry point, making it easier to implement robust security solutions between the Internet and the internal network.
But what if, instead of protecting the clients on an internal network, you were more interested in protecting several servers while allowing clients in the outside world to access them remotely? A reverse proxy does exactly this: rather than acting on behalf of the clients to access other servers, the reverse proxy accepts requests from outside users and forwards them to its client servers. Once again the single point of access is beneficial for security, as only the servers are the ones being protected in this scenario.
Users acting independently, outside of any institutional network or intranet, will most likely encounter a web proxy if they use a search engine to find proxy services. The most basic web proxy looks similar to any other search engine. The user simply enters the URL they hope to access and the web proxy returns the website behind the ghosted IP. Individuals generally want to use these services to mask their IP address for several reasons: protecting privacy, circumventing web filters, or accessing geoblocked content (that is, content that is only available in certain parts of the world). Although web proxies are convenient because they require no software installation or technical know-how, they can also provide security risks and slow return speeds to unaware users. Those looking for a suitable web proxy should seek out reputable providers like Proxy Server that meet their specific requirements.
Myths (& Risks)
Although proxy servers are rising in popularity, there are still many misconceptions about the services they offer and the people who use them. A popular myth is that users need a high degree of technical skill in order to use a proxy server. In fact, proxy providers around the world have stepped up to create user-friendly experiences so that everybody can protect their identity and privacy, whether they are shopping online or trying to stream their favorite media.
Another misconception sees proxy users as part of a dark and frightening criminal underground. The reality is that hackers and identity thieves use popular mainstream services to attack their targets every day. With the increase in these online security risks, identity protection is becoming as highly sought-after by the general market as any other everyday security measure (such as locks on your door and passwords on your computer).
However, as with any popular service, there are real-world risks put forth by those hoping to take advantage of proxy servers’ renewed popularity. An unsuspecting user might search for a free web proxy to stream videos not available in their country, only to fall victim to a malicious proxy that collects data from its clients. How do you know whether the proxy you located is authentic, with your best interests at heart? Are there more sophisticated options available? Read on in our daily series to find out!