What is a Proxy Server? How Does it Work?

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What is a Proxy Server

The internet works in – kind of – mysterious ways. You never know if there is a looming security breach or identity theft while you are busy looking at cute, seemingly harmless, dog pictures or scrolling through the latest news feed.

In order to avoid such unsuspected security attacks, the best way is to use a proxy server on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while browsing the web. But what is it? Let me explain!

Table of Contents

  • What is a Proxy Server?
  • What is a Shared Proxy?
  • What is a Dedicated Proxy?
  • How does a Proxy Server Work?
  • Types of Proxy Servers:
    • Forward Proxy Server
    • Reverse Proxy Server
    • Open Proxy Server
  • Other Types of Proxy Servers
  • What is the Need for a Proxy Server?
  • Risks of Using a Proxy Server
  • Conclusion

What is a Proxy Server?

A proxy server on the web acts as an intermediary between your system and a website. It separates the IP of users from the websites that they are browsing.

When you open a website, you send a web request with your information, which includes personal data, such as your location, IP address, and browser fingerprints. The online resource provides you with the data that you requested in return for your information. This is a direct connection between the web resources and you, the end-user.

A proxy server, on the other hand, can hide or modify your web request and prevents you from receiving undesirable data by filtering the content on the web resource.

This means that you can surf the internet anonymously, and the information sent to the web resource in the web request will not be your personal information. This is an indirect connection between the online resources and the user.

Proxy servers can prove out to be highly useful as they offer functionality, security, and privacy. The internet traffic goes through the proxy server to the address that you requested. The request comes through the same proxy server, and then it sends you the data that it received from the website.

What is a Shared Proxy?

A shared proxy is a type of proxy server that allows website access to any user without any restriction. Shared proxies are generally free and usually have no limit on the number of users that can access them.

They often, however, get overloaded by hundreds of users for the aforementioned reason. Due to this, the internet connection slows down and can end up in lags and crashes.

Sometimes, users need to wait for minutes before their requested web page loads, which makes browsing the internet a very troublesome task. In addition to this, using a shared proxy is also very risky because the providers have the opportunity to collect and steal your private data.

A shared proxy is many times used in offices, schools, and universities so that the employees and students can have a shared network connection. It is suitable for such places only.

What is a Dedicated Proxy?

A dedicated proxy is a private proxy that allows only one user to browse the internet. With this kind of proxy, a user can anonymously and securely surf the web with a high page load speed.

How Does a Proxy Server Work?

Every computer on the internet has a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. It is like your house address. Just as the post office delivers the mail to your home address, similarly, the internet delivers web data, requested by you, to your computer’s IP address.

A proxy server is like an online computer, which has its own internet protocol address that your computer is aware of. When you use a proxy server, your web request is received by the proxy server first, which then makes the same request to the webserver on your behalf.

After making the request, it forwards the web resource data collected by the webserver to you, and then you are able to view it in your browser.

On forwarding your web requests to the web, the proxy server alters and modifies the data sent by you so that your private information is not shared to the web. Its function is to provide you with the online resource you wish to access without disclosing your personal information to the internet. Also, it encrypts your data so that it becomes indecipherable.

Types of Proxy Servers

There are 3 distinct types of proxy servers depending on the network setup and configuration:

1. Forward Proxy Server

A forward proxy server provides complete administrative control to any organization over the network connections using the proxy.

When a user makes a request in order to gain access to a website or a webpage, the request first has to go through the forward proxy server that decides whether the user is authenticated or allowed to access the particular resource or not.

If the user is allowed, the request goes to the external web server that is not able to view the user’s personal information, like the IP address or the location but is only able to view the request sent from the forward proxy server.

The forward proxy server acts as a shield or firewall that enables the administrators to put restrictions over the local network communications and decide who they want to give access to their resources. This type of proxy server is often found in schools and universities.

2. Reverse Proxy Server

A reverse proxy server works for a website rather than an organization, and that is the major difference between a reverse proxy server and a forward proxy server.

The reverse proxy server decides if the user is allowed to access a website or not. It essentially chooses who is allowed entry to a webpage or to use a web service. This type of proxy provides maximum security and makes it highly difficult for hacking into the internal servers.

Moreover, it also functions as a load balancer since it distributes the data evenly among the internal servers to avoid overloading because of a large number of connection requests. Reverse proxy servers are generally used by internet service providers (ISPs).

3. Open Proxy Server

An open proxy server enables forwarding the requests by users as well as receiving the responses from websites. Open proxy servers hide the web user’s original IP address from the internet, which allows the users to surf the internet completely anonymously.

Unlike dedicated proxies, they do not require authentication. That is why open proxy servers can be infected by malware and other viruses relatively easily.

Other Types of Proxy Servers

There are certainly other kinds of proxy servers that are discussed as follows:

  • Transparent Proxy: This is kind of a proxy server that comes clean to websites and tells them blatantly that it is a proxy server. It also reveals your IP address and identifies you to the web browser. Transparent proxy servers are often used by businesses, organizations, schools, and universities.
  • Anonymous Proxy: This is a type of proxy that will reveal itself as a proxy server, but it will not share your IP address to the website. This helps prevent identity theft and ensures the privacy of the user.
    An anonymous proxy also comes in handy when you wish to avoid seeing targeted marketing content depending on your location. For instance, some websites know that you live in a certain state, so they show you news stories and ads that are relevant to your particular location.
    Using this proxy server will thwart these marketing efforts of any website because your location will be anonymous to them.
  • Distorting Proxy: The distorting proxy shares a false IP address of your computer, or device, to a website and identifies itself as a proxy as well. This allows the user to appear to be from a different location.
    It helps to get around restrictions on content on any web resource. This proxy server mainly functions similarly to the anonymous proxy server.
  • High Anonymity Proxy: A high anonymity proxy server changes the IP address sent to the website periodically so that it becomes hard for the website to monitor traffic on their website. An example of a high anonymity proxy is the TOR Network, which is the best proxy server available on the internet in terms of security.

What is the Need for a Proxy Server?

Since most of the work in today’s time occurs through the Internet, either directly or indirectly, there are several reasons why a proxy server should come in handy:

  1. Added privacy: The number one reason why people use a proxy server is that it allows them to browse the web without having to worry about their privacy. A proxy server hides the personal information of the user, like the IP address and location, which makes the user anonymous in the eyes of the internet.
    Thus, a proxy server provides security and privacy on the internet, which is essential for many internet users.
  2. Ability to access any website: Sometimes, a user is unable to access a website due to various kinds of restrictions placed by the website or by the government. These restrictions can be due to the user’s location or the user’s age.
    In such instances, having a proxy server can prove to be really useful. Since it hides the IP address and the location of the user, they can easily bypass any restriction on any website.
  3. Increased security: A proxy server provides added privacy, which allows the user to keep their data private and not let anyone on the internet have access to their personal information.
    This increases the security of their private data, like their credit card information or their home address, or anything which can be used and manipulated by hackers and online frauds.
  4. Internet usage control: Through the use of a proxy server, organizations and parents can control the internet usage of employees and children. Proxy servers enable them to keep tabs on and monitor their internet usage.
    Many companies do not want their employees to waste their work time on social media or other websites, so they can block the access of their employees to such sites through a proxy server.
    The same goes for parents who may not want their children to have access to particular websites. Rather than blocking, proxy servers can also be used to monitor the time spent by users on specific websites.
  5. Better bandwidth performance: Using a proxy server can make your browsing experience much improved as it improves the speed and saves you bandwidth. It reduces the loading time of the websites that you have previously visited because it displays their cached versions.

Risks of Using a Proxy Server

Although there are numerous benefits of using proxy servers when browsing the web, the user, however, still needs to be cautious when choosing a proxy server. There are certain risks associated with proxy servers that can negate all of their advantages, including:

1. Risks of Using a Free Proxy Server

A user should always be cautious when using any service online that is free of cost, especially when it comes to a proxy server.

If the proxy server is charging you no money at all for providing security and privacy, then it is an indication that the provider is not investing enough in backend hardware or encryption.

As such, the user is likely to face data security, performance, and privacy issues. They can even steal your credit card information. So one should be careful when using a free proxy server.

2. Browsing History Log

It is true that a proxy server hides your private data from the web, but the proxy server itself has access to your personal information, including your original IP address and web request information.

You must check whether the proxy server that you are using logs and saves your private data. You should also check whether they follow all terms, conditions, and policies set by the government and lawmakers for proxy servers.

It is not unlikely that the proxy server is saving and selling your data, which is a security breach and, not to mention, going against its purpose of protecting your privacy.

3. No Encryption

A proxy server must provide encryption to your data, and you must check whether your proxy server provides that or not. If your proxy server does not provide encryption, then there is no point in using it to hide your personal information because it can be easily accessed by any hacker. All your usernames and passwords are nowhere near safe at all.

Conclusion

Proxy servers are efficient at securing your online data along with giving you much-needed privacy regarding your web activities. They are used by millions of users worldwide to bypass geographical restrictions for accessing a website or using a web service.

They also protect users from cyber-attacks and data breaches, which is extremely useful for those who conduct a lot of their businesses and transactions online.

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