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What Is a Proxy Server and What Is it Used For?

proxyIf you are interested in internet security, you have probably heard of a proxy server. But what does a proxy server do and why would someone want to use one? Understanding  how proxy servers work can greatly improve your ability to make good decisions regarding your cybersecurity. As it can be a tool to protect your information online. While there are many benefits to using a proxy server, there are also some drawbacks.

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The Proxy Server in Basic Terms

A proxy server stands between a local computer or a local network of computers and a wider network such as the internet. Without a proxy server your data travels the following route: When you enter a website in your address bar, the information goes from your computer through your internet service provider’s (ISP) router first. Then it continues to the internet where it is directed to the site you want to reach. With a proxy server, the path to the website is a little different.

With a typical proxy server you enter the website you wish to go to in the address bar as usual. The information goes from your computer or local network to the proxy server next. The proxy server checks to see if you have been to this website before. If you have, the proxy server checks to see if the website has changed since you last visited the site. If no change has occurred, the proxy server responds with the information you would have received last time you visited the site. This makes the response faster and uses less bandwidth.

If you have not visited the site before, or the site has changed, the proxy server then forwards your request to the website. The website responds by sending the information directly to the proxy server, which then forwards that information to you. The proxy saves a copy of the website in case you need to reference the website again. It should be noted many proxy servers are configured to not store information that passes through them.

Proxy-explained-illustration

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Benefits of Using a Proxy Server

Using a Proxy server can have several benefits. Below you will read how a proxy can influence your connection speed, pose restrictions on your employees, hide your IP address, and bypass other proxies.

Speed

Because the proxy server typically keeps a file of the websites you visit, this can speed up your browsing immensely. This also reduces the amount of bandwidth used as you don’t have to redownload pages that have already been accessed. Proxy servers can also be used to scan websites for malicious code. This way it provides a layer of security between the local computer or network and the harmful code on the website.

Pose Restrictions

Proxy servers provide the ability to blacklist certain websites so that you cannot access those sites through the proxy server. For example, a school or company might use a proxy so students or employees cannot go on YouTube or Facebook. Information about which computer on a network searched for specific information or accessed a certain site can also be logged on the proxy server. All traffic through the proxy server can be logged and analyzed by the people in control like your boss or ISP.

Hide Your IP Address

The website receives the request from the proxy server, not from the user’s computer itself. This way the proxy servers provide the ability to hide a user’s IP address. Hiding your IP provides you with greater security because you can surf anonymously. Moreover, websites won’t be able to track your behavior. Additionally, a proxy server can help you access restricted content. For instance, if a certain content isn’t available to you because of your geographical location, a proxy can change your virtual location. Thus, enabling you to access the content.

Bypass Another Proxy

Finally, a proxy server can be used to bypass the restrictions of another proxy server. A company or a government can block certain content through their proxy servers. By connecting to this website through your own proxy server you can bypass those restrictions. The information passes through your proxy server to you, rather than directly through the limiting proxy.

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Business Use of Proxy Servers

Businesses often employ proxy servers for greater security, to improve speed, and o be able to view how employees use the internet. If one employee visits Google today, the proxy server will send the next employee visiting Google to the page already in memory. For commonly visited websites, this can greatly improve speed and reduce the bandwidth needed by the company. Should an employee visit a website with malicious code, the proxy server can scan for the code and prevent the virus from reaching the company’s network.

Businesses can also restrict an employee’s ability to visit social media sites, adult websites, or popular time-wasting websites. Additionally, the company can keep track of the amount of time spent on any given website. This way the company can see that you have been shopping for shoes on Amazon while you should have been working. Moreover, they can also see whether you procrastinated during your lunch hour or during office hours.

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Private Use of Proxy Servers

There is a growing concern about the security of personal information online. For this reason, many people choose to use a proxy server for security. They also take advantage of the many other benefits of surfing the internet through a proxy. For example, it can help you to unblock the American Netflix content. The limiting proxy server only sees that you are accessing your proxy server, not the information you are accessing through your proxy.

A Proxy for Security Reasons

A proxy server scans for potentially harmful code. This way private users can lower the chance of infection for their computers. This added level of security often prevents viruses from reaching your computer in the first place, greatly reducing your risk of infection. A proxy server does not protect you against all types of malware. If you want to have the most complete protection it would be wise to use a VPN in combination with a good virusscanner. Essentially, a VPN uses the same rerouting system in your internet traffic. However, it also encrypts all of your traffic, making it a safer option. An example of a great VPN is ExpressVPN, which is part of our list of the best premium VPN providers.

A Proxy for Online Anonimity

There are growing concerns about companies tracking personal information across websites. Using a proxy server can help mask your identity online. With a proxy you provide less information about yourself to website tracking software. If you are someone who prefers not to receive advertisements targeted to your behavior online, a proxy server protects your privacy on a basic level.

A Proxy to Unblock Content

netflixFinally, streaming video sites such as Netflix and Hulu restrict their content to certain geographic locations. Attempt to access a video on the BBC iPlayer from the United States and an error message appears on the screen, informing you the service only works in the UK. However, if you access a proxy server located in another country, you can unblock restricted content.

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Potential Drawbacks of Using a Proxy Server

Private users of proxy servers are typically concerned with keeping their browsing habits private and securing their personal information online. The proxy server has the ability to log all information the user accesses through the proxy. If you want to prevent this, we advise you to look for a VPN, instead of a proxy, that also does not log user information. However, it is important to work with trusted companies only. Some VPNs have promised they will not log private information. However, later on people discovered that they logged information after all.

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Final Thoughts

A proxy will improve the speed of your internet connection for frequently visited sites. Moreover, it can help you get around geographical or other restrictions on websites. Finally, it gives you the chance to browse somewhat anonymously. However, the protection isn’t as strong as with, for instance, a VPN. Moreover, they probably log user information. This threatens your privacy greatly. For this reason a VPN might suit your needs better. Armed with this information, you can make an informed choice on when and how to use a proxy server to benefit you online.