What is a proxy server? A proxy server is a useful way to hide your true identity without much hassle.
Let’s break down proxy servers and how they work.
What Is a Proxy Server?
First, what does “proxy” mean, and why do we want a server to act as one? A “proxy” is when someone acts on your behalf. For example, if you legally nominate someone to vote on your behalf, they become your proxy.
In the tech world, proxies work the same. Have you ever wanted to visit a web page, but it blocked you because of your geographical location? Perhaps the website streams media which is only licensed to one country, or the website or service is banned in that nation, such as VPNs in China.
If you want to view a webpage but it’s blocked, you may send a link to a friend overseas to see if they can access it. After all, if they’re in another country, they may have luck accessing the website.
A proxy server is like your friend in this example. If you want to access a blocked site, you can find a proxy server in another country, connect to it, and tell it to visit the blocked websites.
How Does a Proxy Server Work?
Proxy servers achieve this by acting as the middle man for your connection. When you send data to a website via the proxy server, the server takes your request and sends it to its destination. Likewise, when your website sends you information, it sends it to the proxy server, which then sends it over to you.
As such, the website doesn’t “see” you while you browse it. All it sees is a server asking it for information, and then giving that server what it asks for. If the server is located within a country that the website allows, it has no problems with talking to it.
The key here is that the proxy server is acting in your stead without the website knowing. It’s like spying on someone by asking the target’s friend to wear a secret camera, microphone, and earpiece. You can command the friend to ask about specific things, then hear what the target replies with. When done correctly, the target believes he’s only talking to his friend; not you.
Are They Safe to Use?
Proxy servers are good at disguising your location from the website you’re visiting. However, that doesn’t mean you can trust the proxy server itself!
There’s an old saying that “if you’re getting something for free, you’re the product.” Proxy servers embody this rule. If you search for a free proxy server online, be careful. There’s a good chance that the proxy server will record everything you do online, particularly if you’ve installed any of their software. Once they have your data, it can be sold off to anyone. You become little more than a dollar sign.
If you do use a free public proxy server, don’t send any personal information. However, if you have no other option, only use an HTTPS connection when using a proxy. HTTPS connections encrypt the data it sends to the website so in theory, the proxy server can’t read what you’re sending. You’ll know if you have an HTTPS connection by looking to the left of the website URL. Here’s what it looks like:
Also, some proxy servers will use the connection to show you ads laced with malware. Sometimes this is deliberately, and sometimes it’s the web host not screening the ads properly. This means you may end up downloading more than just the webpages you asked for!
Alternatives to Using Proxy Websites
If you like the sound of proxy servers, there are alternate ways to use them without needing to search for a proxy server website every time.
Use a Proxy Server Supported Search Engine
Some search engines like Startpage have a useful proxy server feature. When you perform a search, the search engine gives you all the results alongside a proxy server link. If you click the proxy link, it will automatically start a proxy server connection and use it to get your search results.
Usually, this proxy feature is supported by search engines that value your privacy. As such, this feature is best used if you want to protect your identity while searching the web, without needing to plug in the results into a proxy server.
Use a VPN
A VPN can perform the same role as a proxy server, but you get some additional extras too. For one, all of your data between your computer and the VPN’s server is encrypted. This allows you to hide your traffic from spying eyes, such as firewalls or public Wi-Fi connections.
VPNs also give you a selection of servers to choose from. This gives you greater control over which country you want to connect from. It saves a lot of time searching the web for a suitable proxy server and makes it quick and easy to skirt around pesky geo-blocks.
Most of the best VPNs available use a paid subscription model. As such, a lot of avid VPN fans recommend paid plans over a free VPN.
Use the Tor Browser
If you’re all about anonymity, why use just one proxy server? When you launch the Tor Browser, it automatically finds three servers on the Tor network. When you browse the web, Tor routes your data through these servers before it reaches your destination website.
To stop these servers from monitoring you, your computer encrypts your data with three layers. Each server is given a decrypting key for one layer but is not allowed to touch the other layers. When your data passes through the servers, each one strips a layer and sends it down the chain. As such, no one server has all the information on who sent the data or where it’s going to.
Unfortunately, in order to preserve integrity, the three servers are selected randomly. This means you can’t customize what country you connect to the internet from. As a result, it’s best not to use the Tor browser to get around geo-blocks. It is, however, a fantastic tool if you’re interested in preserving privacy.
Using Proxy Servers Safely
Proxy servers are a VPN alternative and can be a useful tool when used correctly. It’s best not to use proxy servers to perform sensitive actions and keep your antivirus active to stop any malware. If this sounds like too much hassle, there are alternatives that do a similar job.