If you’re looking for ways to bypass a website’s geo-restriction or if you’ve ever had to access your company’s data while abroad, then you’ve most likely heard about proxies. They are a very powerful tool for online communications, but if you don’t have a technical background, they can be a little confusing. Let’s talk a bit about them to better understand how they work and find ways you can use them to your benefit, which are surely more than a few.
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An Insight on Proxies
In short terms, a proxy is a bridging connection established between you (your internet-enabled device) and a remote server. For example, if you’re accessing your company’s local database while you’re on a business trip using a corporate VPN, you’re actually establishing a connection between your PC and a VPN server. This server will then serve as a very secure bridge between you and your company’s database servers.
In fact, all VPN connections can be considered proxies, with the added feature of better privacy and data security. Put even simpler, proxies are connections that serve as a tunnel for communications between two devices. In the presence of a proxy server, the ends of a communication don’t reach each other directly. Instead, they send requests to the proxy server for any resources they may need from the other end and the server is then responsible for fetching them and forwarding them to the receiving end.
There are several kinds of proxies, but they all share the same principle. And just as there are types of proxies, there are usages for them. They can do a lot more than fetching corporate files for you. For instance, if the proxy server is located in a place different than your location, the receiving end of the connection will receive the requests you make as if they had been made from the proxy server’s location instead of yours.
This has a lot of potential usages. For instance, you could unblock geo-restricted content from websites such as YouTube or most streaming services. You could be in Japan and watch series on Hulu (a US-only streaming service) if you wanted to, all you’d need is a proxy with servers in the US. Hiding your real location is a controversial feature of proxies because it can be used for illicit activities.
Cybercriminals are known to use VPNs to hide their trace online. For example, the Tor Browser, famous for being the main tool used to access the dark web, relies on a network of proxies to hide its users’ identity. Some websites of the dark web are used for criminal activities such as drug and arms trafficking, to say the least. And this is possible thanks to the fact that users can’t be traced thanks to the large arrangement of proxy servers that is the Tor Network.
Types of Proxies
Going a bit to the technical side, let’s discuss the different kinds of proxies there are based on the way they work:
#1 Forward Proxies
These are the most common type of proxies. We already described it, it consists of a server that forwards the requests of ‘the client’ to another server, called the target, to allow communication between the two. On this kind of communication, the client indicates to the proxy server the resources that will be fetched as well as the target server it’s supposed to connect to. Almost all proxies work like this, most of the following types are just variations of this type.
#2 Anonymous Proxies
This one’s a type of forwarding proxy that hides the client’s IP address so that the target server can’t identify the origin of the connection. The proxy still identifies itself, but the user is kept anonymous at all times.
#3 Distorting Proxies
This is the type of proxy that a clever person hiding from someone else would use. They identify themselves as a proxy to the target server, but instead of just hiding the clients’ IP address, they display an erroneous one to deceive the target if it tries to trace the connection back to its origin.
#4 Elite Proxies
Elite proxies are the kind of proxy offered by most paid VPN services. They hide their users’ IP address and, on top of that, they don’t identify themselves as a proxy to the target server. This is used to fool them into thinking it is the proxy server that’s making the request. With these, most geo-restrictions can be bypassed without much trouble.
#5 Reverse Proxies
As their name suggests it, these work in the opposite way forward proxies do. A reverse proxy identifies to the client-server as an ordinary server, like the target, but it still does all the work of a proxy. All requests made by the client are forwarded to the target server and fetched back to the user as if they were delivered by the original server.
Reverse proxies are commonly used by highly requested services to evenly distribute user requests between several target servers to reduce their load. This reduces the stress on the system and reduces response times from the part of content providers. It shouldn’t be surprising that big companies like Google and Facebook use these kinds of proxies to reduce the stress of their servers and deliver content more quickly. Whenever you’re connecting to one of their sites, you’re most likely communicating with a reverse proxy hiding its true ID.
How to Use a Proxy
There are three main ways in which you can use a proxy to navigate. First, we have proxy sites, which let you use their proxy servers mostly for free. They don’t usually provide you with any security features like encryption or anonymity, but they get the job done if you want to bypass a firewall at work or change your IP.
Another way is by using a private service, such as a VPN or a browser extension. These are usually paid services but they don’t tend to cost much. These usually provide you with some security options to better guard your privacy. They’re pretty much the most solid option. Finally, you can also set up your own proxy server if you have the right tools and knowledge, but this is a very complicated thing to do. We don’t recommend this if you’re not experienced in computer networks.
Advice for Proxy Users
If you’ve effectively understood the way proxies work, then you should be aware of the things we’re about to discuss. You may have several reasons to adopt a proxy. Particularly if you plan to do it for security reasons, you should be aware of two things.
First, that even if a proxy like a VPN provides you with anonymity and encryption, all your data still has to go through the proxy server to reach its destination. This means that if your goal is to protect your privacy, then you have to trust the proxy server you’re using. If your proxy service provider is not trustworthy, you might end up in a situation that’s worse than using the internet unprotected. Ill-intentioned proxy services might end up recording your navigation session and doing whatever they want with it. This is the main reason why free VPNs aren’t recommended but you can use paid TorGuard. Because some of the free VPNs have been recorded selling their users’ navigation data to advertisers to finance their services.
The second thing you have to be careful with is the fact that using proxies for illicit activities doesn’t put you out of the radar. Even if they claim to ensure your anonymity, a decent company won’t put their business at risk to protect your identity if a police warrant comes knocking at their door. The best way to avoid having troubles with this is by staying on the legal side of things.
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