What is a Proxy Server?
- by Susith Nonis
- in Security
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What is a Proxy Server?
What happens when you browse the web? You type an address on your browser and within few seconds (even less) you get the page you wanted. Without your knowledge, you might have used a proxy server to access the internet.
A proxy server is an intermediary server which separates you from the website you want to access. When using a proxy server, the internet traffic initiated from you will flow through the proxy server to the destination. The destination website will send the results back to you through the proxy server (this doesn’t happen all the time). If being an intermediator is all the proxy does, why use it in the first place? Proxy servers provide different levels of security, functions and privacy depending on what you need. Modern proxy servers act as a firewall and web filter. It also caches data which in turn, increases the speed of the common requests.
How does it work?
All the computers connected to the internet have one thing in common. All these devices have an IP address. A proxy server also has its own IP address which is known by your device. When you send a request to access a website, the request first goes to the proxy server and then it goes to the site you requested. When it comes back, it comes down the same path through the proxy to you. The web server will change your IP when sending the request to the website but will still get you the details you requested. This is done so that the web server won’t know where you are in the world. A proxy server can encrypt your data so it will be useless if intercepted and also has the ability to block access to certain sites.
Why use a proxy server?
Improve speed and save bandwidth. A proxy server caches popular websites, so when you ask for a website (e.g. www.monovm.com), the proxy server will send you the most recent copy of the site. This is important because if 50 people were to request a website from the same proxy server, then it will send one request to the site and send copies of the site to the requested people. This increases the speed and also saves bandwidth since one request is enough to give the data to 50 people.
Improve Security. You can configure your proxy server to encrypt web requests, block known malware sites through the proxy and its possible to use the proxy server and a VPN (virtual private network) joint together so that all access to the internet will go through the proxy server. This method is used mostly in organizations to have control, verify and provide a secure connection for the users.
Control internet usage. Organizations (also parents) set up proxy servers to monitor how the employees use the internet. Companies don’t want you to go looking at specific websites during working hours, so they can restrict access to these sites (Facebook, YouTube, Torrent sites, etc.). It's also possible to monitor and log all web requests, so they might not block the site but they will know how much time you spend on those sites.
Privacy. The most common reason to use a proxy server is for privacy. Some proxy servers will change your IP address and other identifying information when sending web requests which will help keep your personal information and browsing more secure.
Access blocked sites. Proxy servers can be used to access websites which are restricted by governments and organizations. If some site is blocked within your region, you can access it using a proxy server, making it look to the site as if you are accessing it from a different location. Since the proxy server changes the IP address, you can use an IP from a location where the site you request is not blocked.
Proxy servers have a lot of functionalities. Nowadays the most important asset is data and protecting it should be a number one priority for all internet users. Using a proxy server will give you the privacy you need but there’s always two sides to a story. This can be used to protect personal data, or it could be used for cybercrimes. Make sure that the proxy you are using is a trusted, respectable one as they can take your browsing data and sell it to partner companies, thus invading your privacy directly.