If region restrictions have denied you access to a website, you’ve probably used a proxy server to circumvent it. While they’re useful at skirting around these blocks, free proxy servers’ level of security has much to be desired.
Let’s explore some reasons why you should skip free proxy servers.
What Is a Proxy Server?
To understand why you shouldn’t use free proxy servers, we must first break down what they are and why people use them.
People use proxy servers when they want to hide their location. When you connect to a website, it can detect what country you’re from via your IP address. If you’re connecting to a site with region restrictions and your country isn’t allowed to view the website, it will block you from visiting it.
The key is to use an IP address from a country that isn’t blocked. The best way to do that is to “piggy-back” off of a computer or server that’s in a whitelisted country. That way, you can circumvent the restriction and visit the website. This is where proxy servers come in.
If a Canadian user wanted to view a website restricted to the US, they can find a proxy server located in the US and tell it to visit the website. The website sees the server’s location instead of the user’s, so it gives the proxy server its contents. The proxy server then hands the data it received to the user.
Why Are Free Servers Bad?
There are many free proxy server sites on the internet, each one giving you a range of countries to choose from. All they ask of you is the address of the site you want to visit, and they’ll load it up. It sounds too good to be true, and a lot of the time, it is!
Despite this seemingly generous service, the old adage rings true here; “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” As such, you may find free proxy servers aren’t as great as you imagined. Here are five reasons why you should stay away.
1. Most Free Proxy Servers Don’t Use HTTPS
Christian Haschek did a scan on some free proxy servers to see if they passed basic security tests. He discovered that 79% of them didn’t allow HTTPS connection. This is a huge security problem and something that everyone should take to heart when using a free proxy server.
The lack of HTTPS means your connection to the server is not encrypted. Someone monitoring the connection could easily see the data you’re sending as it travels through the network. This makes proxy services a very poor choice for doing anything that requires privacy, such as entering your login details into a website.
If you want to keep your data safe, try our article on how to get Chrome to alert you when your connection isn’t secure.
2. It Could Monitor Your Connection
In his article, Haschek goes on to theorize that the reason free proxy websites dislike using HTTPS is that they themselves want to monitor you. This isn’t a far-fetched theory, as hackers have set up proxy servers in the past for this very reason.
When you use a free proxy website, you’re trusting that the owners have set it up out of the kindness of their heart and won’t use it as a honeypot to glean sensitive information. There’s no way to know what the server owners installed on their hardware to monitor you, so it’s not worth taking the gamble!
3. A Proxy Server Can Contain Malicious Malware
The server may not be the cleanest option for viruses and malware. By trusting your connection to a proxy server, you’re hoping that it won’t abuse the connection to infect your PC.
Even worse, a free proxy owner may infect you by complete accident! Due to their service being free, some owners rely on ad revenue to keep the lights on. They’ll inject advertisements into the content they show you in the hope that you’ll click them and help pay for the server.
Unfortunately, some malware authors use advertisements as a vehicle for their programs, and prey on websites with lax advertising checks to display them. This is called malvertising, and you can learn more in our guide to malvertising.
If the owners haven’t been diligent with what ads they show, they may accidentally show you ads laced with malware. They likely won’t even know this is happening until your computer has been infected!
4. It Could Steal Cookies
When you log into a server, your computer creates a small file called a cookie. This stores your login data, so you don’t have to keep logging in every time you visit the site. This is normally a very useful feature, but when a proxy server is between you and the website, there’s a chance the owners of the server can steal the cookies as they’re being made.
Once they have the login cookies from your browsing session, they could use them to impersonate you online. How much damage they could do depends on what sites you visited on the proxy server. If you visited very sensitive sites, you might be in a lot of trouble!
5. The Service Is Poor
After you put your privacy on the line and take a gamble on a free proxy server, you’ll probably find it wasn’t worth it! Free proxies found on the internet are typically very slow, both due to lack of funding and because so many other people are using them.
With all the problems that free proxies can bring, the service they provide doesn’t live up to the risks.
How Can I Protect Myself?
If free proxy servers are a good example of “you get what you pay for,” a good VPN service is on the opposite end of that spectrum. By paying for a quality VPN, you can browse anonymously without risking your information being stolen. You can learn more about how they work in our guide to VPN connections.
Just be sure to stay away from free VPNs, as these often have the same issues as free proxy servers!
Cautious Use of Free Proxy Servers
If you really have to use a free web proxy, never submit any personal information across it. It’s best to imagine a hacker reading every piece of information you send over a free proxy server. If this makes you uneasy about using the server, it’s best to stay well away!
It’s also a good idea to install browser extensions that help protect against malvertising. You can also install a well-regarded antivirus solution to stop any ad-based infections from taking hold. We discussed how to do this in our article about protecting yourself from malvertising.
Keeping Your Data Safe
Free proxies are a convenient way to skip around country restrictions on the internet. The non-existent price tag, however, means that proxy server owners feel more obligated to make a profit off of you and your details. If you can, always avoid using a free proxy server, and use a VPN if you want consistent security.
If you like the sound of a VPN, why not read about the best VPNs picked out by Reddit?