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Every day, people use proxy servers to enhance their privacy as they surf the internet. But what is a proxy server, and how do people use it with their web browsing?
Let’s take a look into what proxy servers are, why people use them, and how you might be able to use them yourself.
What Is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is a special kind of server dedicated to acting as a middle man. It works by sitting between you and the website you want to visit. Instead of visiting a website yourself, you tell the proxy server to connect to it for you. The proxy server connects to it, gets the data from it, then relays the data back to you.
This is like hiring a messenger to deliver mail to someone. If you don’t want your recipient to know the letter is from you, you can give it to a third party who delivers it on your behalf. That way, you can get the message sent and not worry about revealing who you are.
What Is a Proxy Server Used For?
By using a middle-man to browse the internet, you can hide your identity from the websites you visit. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you could use a proxy server to prevent websites from learning your location.
Websites can tell where you’re connecting from via your IP address. If a website blacklisted your country, it can identify you’re connecting from it via your IP address and block you.
As a result, proxy servers are an excellent option for people who want to visit websites which have country restrictions, typically due to rights agreements. For example, you can watch TV shows on BBC iPlayer, using a proxy server located in the UK and connecting to iPlayer through it.
When iPlayer checks your geographical location, it sees the proxy server’s IP instead of your own. It recognizes the proxy server as a UK-based source and permits the server to access its data. This data is passed onto you, allowing you to watch Doctor Who no matter where you are!
Proxy servers are more than just a way to hide, however. Due to their “middle-man” nature, proxy servers can also monitor connections going out to the internet. As a result, it allows businesses to ensure their employees aren’t looking at bad things that go against company policy.
A proxy server can sit between the employees and the internet, watching the connections. Every time a worker wants to visit a website, it goes through the proxy server which checks to ensure everything is fine. If the employee is found to be browsing a blacklisted site, the proxy server redirects the user to a webpage informing the user that they can’t access it.
What Proxies Can’t Do
Hide Browsing History
Proxy servers only affect the connection you’re on; therefore, it doesn’t alter anything on your computer or browser. As such, while proxy servers are great at hiding your identity from websites, it doesn’t hide your browsing history on your browser.
Everything you visit will still get logged in your history, so be sure to employ your browser’s private browsing feature if you want to do some secret gift shopping.
Protect Your Data From Your ISP
Unlike a VPN service, a proxy server doesn’t hide your browsing habits from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). While the sites you visit won’t be able to identify you, your data has to go through your ISP to reach the proxy server. As a result, proxy servers are a poor choice if you want privacy from a prying ISP.
Encrypt the Data You Send and Receive
Because nothing changes between your computer and the proxy server, this means all data sent to the proxy server doesn’t go through any extra encryption, unlike a VPN. Therefore, proxy servers aren’t a solution for protecting your data from prying eyes over unsecured connections.
See our comparison of proxies and VPNs for more info on the differences.
Are Proxy Servers Safe?
Just like a messenger, proxy servers are a great way to mask the identity of the original sender; however, you have to choose your proxy server carefully.
Much like how an untrustworthy messenger can take a peek at any messages you send, a malicious proxy server can analyze the communications as they come through. They may even transmit malware to your PC as you use it!
It’s best to use a trusted, perhaps paid, proxy server service when using them. While you’ll find many free proxy servers available, using these free proxy servers comes with a set of risks which is unsuitable for performing sensitive tasks.
Making a Personal Proxy Server
Of course, one way to avoid using a public proxy server is to make your own. Consequently, you know exactly how it’s run, who’s using it, and what to expect from it.
It’s no easy feat, but if you’re skilled enough, it’s entirely possible to create your own online proxy server. You could even rent a server overseas, and access content restricted to that country from the comfort of your own home!
Other Ways to Hide Your Identity
Proxy servers are useful for hiding your location, but they’re not the only way. Any service that masks your home IP address is useful for hiding yourself. These methods range from using a public Wi-Fi connection in a cafe to utilizing a VPN server in a different country.
There are many ways you can use a “fake” IP address to mask yourself, so be sure to read into them and pick out the ones that suit your needs best.
Surfing Better With Web Proxies
While they’re not a perfect solution to all your privacy concerns, proxy servers can be a great aid if you want to perform simple tasks. There are even free servers out there you can use; however, you should act with caution and ensure you’re not connecting to a malicious one!
Ready to use a proxy server for yourself? Here are the best web proxies on the internet.