What is a proxy?
A proxy is an entity that is located in between the client (you) and the server (the website you want to access) and allows you to safely surf the web. It connects on your behalf to a given website.
How does it work?
For example, when you want to access a website, the proxy will act as a server on your side and as a client on the website side. In other words, the proxy is the middleman between you and the website giving you security and protection. When you go on a website, you probably don’t know it, but the proxy is handling all the requests.
Remember when you were a kid, your mother would ask you to go to the supermarket and buy 5 apples. You would go to the store, buy those 5 apples, come back home and give them to your mother.
In this scenario, you were acting as a proxy between your mother and the supermarket.
Benefits of proxies
- Security: As per its definition, the proxy acts as a messenger between the user and the website. In the dire situation where the website is fraudulent or infected by a malware, the threat will not be propagated to your machine as it will be blocked by the proxy server.
- Privacy: While using a proxy, you will be anonymous on the web. Your real IP address will be hidden. No websites will be able to see it.
- Bypass Restriction: We all have had the issue with geo-restricted content… If you use a proxy, you will not be bothered by that kind of problem as you will be anonymous.
- Control: Using a proxy can allow the administrator to perform content filtering. For instance, in case you have young children at home, you can block specific websites.
- Instability: As you do not connect directly to the webpage, if the proxy server gets shut down or has an issue, you might be disconnected from time to time.
- Reduced speed: The user is not accessing the website, the proxy accesses it for the client. This little step might slow down your browsing.
- Control: Having a proxy allows for more control in a positive way as we have explained above but also in a more negative aspect: the administrator has access to all the web requests that are going through the proxy server. It can therefore block websites and know what you look for on the web while at work.
- Manipulation: If a malicious user accesses the proxy server, it might manipulate the data you receive. In other words, the data that you obtain from the proxy server could not be the actual answer from the webpage
Proxies VS VPN
After explaining what proxies are in the last few paragraphs, it seems like they are very similar to Virtual Private Networks.
In both systems, your traffic and web requests are rerouted using a server, and both can help you access restricted to specific regions. However, the main difference is that VPN encrypts your traffic and requests: this means that you stay anonymous while browsing online.
Therefore, if you want to be anonymous, encrypted, and hide the content of your web requests, a VPN is the better option; but if you only want to be anonymous, using a proxy is a simple option.
Fortinet. “What Is a Proxy Server? How It Works & How to Use It.” Fortinet, http://www.fortinet.com/resources/cyberglossary/proxy-server.
Belcic, Ivan. “What Is a Proxy Server.” Avast, 11 Mar. 2020, http://www.avast.com/c-what-is-a-proxy-server.