On average we transfer about 1.145 trillion MB of data over the internet every day. With all this data being transferred, several risks are also present. In today’s world, keeping data safe and secure is essential. A proxy server is a system that’s used to send and receive data online. It stands in place of the client accessing that data. For example, if you wanted to watch a video online but it was not available in your country, you can use a proxy server to watch it. The question remains, what is a proxy server, and how does it work?
Read through this proxy server guide to find out.
What Is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is like a gateway that separates users from the websites they visit. They vary in terms of functionality, privacy, and security, so you can set up a proxy server based on what you want to get out of it.
With a standard internet connection, internet traffic will flow directly from a website to your computer and vice versa. With a proxy server, this traffic will go to the server first, then the server will send it onwards to its destination. Note that this can vary slightly with some proxy servers.
From this, using a proxy server may seem pointless. If you can send traffic directly between your computer and the internet, why bother with another server in the middle?
Proxy servers have a range of functions that go beyond just forwarding web requests. They can act as a web filter or a firewall to increase security. Some proxy servers can cache data to produce better speeds, and provide shared network connections.
The overall purpose of a proxy server is to protect the user as well as their internal network.
How Does a Proxy Server Work?
Every device that’s connected to the internet has a unique IP (internet protocol) address. You could think of this like a street address for a home.
When mail is sent, it arrives at the postal address written on it. Similarly, when data is sent over the internet, it will arrive at the device with the designated IP address. A proxy server will act as an additional device, in that it has its own IP address on the internet.
If you send a web request, it will go from your computer to the proxy server. The server will then send a web request onwards to the destination, and the web server will send a response back. The server then sends this response back to your device, allowing you to see the web data in your browser.
A proxy server can make changes to the data it receives, but will still show you the correct information. It’s here that a proxy server can change your IP address. This way, the web server won’t be able to determine your location.
A proxy server can encrypt data, so if anyone manages to interrupt it in transit, they won’t be able to read it. Proxy servers can also block web requests from certain IP addresses, meaning specific web pages can be blocked.
The Benefits of Using a Proxy Server
Some people use proxy servers in their personal lives to protect their home networks. They’re also popular within organizations to help keep entire businesses more secure. There are several advantages to both of these types of usage.
Control Internet Usage
In the workplace, it’s not uncommon to restrict internet usage in certain ways. With a proxy server, a business can control how employees can access the internet.
This is often to prevent employees from getting distracted or looking at specific websites when they should be working. Rather than showing these websites, a worker will be greeted with a message explaining that a site is blocked.
Parents can do the same thing at home to control what their children can gain access to. There are plenty of things on the internet that aren’t appropriate for kids, so this is a great way to keep them safe.
A proxy server can also keep a log of internet activity. This way, an employer can see how much time their workers are spending on certain sites and the same for parents and their children.
Improved Speed and Bandwidth Savings
It’s a common misconception that using a proxy server will always reduce internet speeds. It’s a reasonable conclusion to make, as all web traffic needs to pass through the server when going out or coming in.
In reality, proxy servers can boost internet speeds by caching data. This means that they will save information locally, so when visiting a website multiple times, it will load from this save rather than through the internet. This is especially helpful if multiple people on the same proxy server are trying to view the same site as the server will only need to send one request.
This will save bandwidth overall, which in turn will increase performance across the entire network.
Increased privacy is one of the main reasons people use proxy servers. Privacy is a huge priority on the internet, and if proper precautions aren’t taken, you have no idea who could be looking at your data and internet activity.
By changing your IP address, a proxy server will ensure no one can pinpoint your exact location. This way no one can be certain of any of your online activity.
Security goes alongside privacy as one of the most crucial elements of internet use. Without a secure network, hackers may be able to view any web requests going into or out of your network. Using a proxy server will help keep your personal details much safer.
A big online security threat is malicious websites. Interacting with these can download malware onto your computer which could affect your entire network. Proxy servers can block such websites, lowering the risk.
For improved functionality, you can implement a VPN (virtual private network) into your system. With this, people can access your network and use your proxy server from a remote location. This is ideal for a business that has people working remotely.
With a VPN you can also ensure your employees can access any resources they need such as email or internal applications. It’s one of the best ways to keep your company data secure while allowing people to access it from elsewhere.
Access to Blocked Resources
While proxy servers are useful for blocking certain websites, they can also help by unblocking others. Many people take advantage of this to access geo-locked content. As you can change your IP address to a specific location, it will make a website think that’s where you are.
This is also helpful in many countries where the government has restrictions in place for certain sites. With a proxy server, you can get around these restrictions to access uncensored content.
Proxy Server Risks
With all these advantages in mind, it’s important to know that there are also some risks associated with using a proxy server. The level of risk will vary depending on the proxy server that you’re using.
Free Server Risks
You may want to opt for a free or a cheap server to save some money. With proxy servers, you generally get what you pay for. This means that a free server will generally be quite lacking.
A free proxy server provider is unlikely to be investing much in encryption or backend hardware. This means you may experience performance and security issues. If you do come across a completely free proxy server, be cautious – some are simply scams to steal credit card details.
Browsing History Log
While a proxy server will prevent other third parties from getting your IP address, the provider themselves will have it. Before using a server you should look into whether they save data such as server logs. It’s also a good idea to check what law enforcement or retention policies they follow.
The whole purpose of using a proxy server is for privacy and security, but if they’re storing your data, it somewhat defeats the point.
Not all proxy servers offer encryption, so this is something you want to check before using one. Without encryption, your data will be far less secure, and if anyone intercepts it they’ll be able to view everything including personal details such as usernames and passwords.
Types of Proxy Servers
There is no “best proxy server” as they can vary in terms of functionality and quality. Knowing what the various types are and how they differ will help you decide which is best for you.
A transparent proxy server is one of the most basic types. It doesn’t hide IP addresses and will still pass yours on to the web server. These serve only to filter out unwanted content. Transparent proxies are easy to set up and are most commonly used by businesses, schools, and public libraries.
An anonymous proxy server will hide your IP, but will still identify itself as a proxy to the web server. This keeps your browsing private and can help reduce the risk of identity theft. It can also stop websites from being able to send you targeted marketing
A distorting proxy server will identify itself as a proxy and will pass along an IP address, but it will be a false one. This is the best type of proxy for getting around location-based restrictions, as you can set your IP to a chosen location.
These are a more advanced type of proxy server, as they will routinely change the IP address they send to a web server. It’s the most private way to browse the internet, as a web server will have a much harder time tracking which traffic belongs to which user.
How to Set up a Proxy Server
Both hardware and software proxy servers are available. Hardware versions will sit between the internet and your network, bridging the two. Software proxy servers are typically hosted on the cloud or by the provider.
To use a software proxy you need to download the relevant software onto any device using it. As discussed above, free versions are very limited. Paid versions usually require a monthly subscription and can often cover plenty of devices, so are more suitable for businesses.
Once you’ve downloaded the software, you need to configure it for each device. The specific process varies depending on the type of device and the operating system that it’s on. Many will have an automatic setup option, but you can also do a custom setup if there are any specific things you want to configure.
For a detailed guide on the features of different proxy servers, you should be able to get all the information you need from the provider’s website.
Should You Be Using a Proxy Server
So you’re no longer wondering “what is a proxy server?” but you may still be trying to figure out which one you should use. There are plenty of choices available, so you need to look at what the various options offer, and compare them to your own needs.
At My Software Bee, we compare different software proxies to help you decide which is best for your network. When trying to make a decision you want to think about things like country coverage, number of IP addresses, and pricing.
If you want more proxy server tips, or you have any other questions, click here to contact us today.