What is a Proxy Server?
You may have heard of the word ‘proxy’ before, but do you actually know what a proxy server is or what it does? In this article we explain everything you need to know about proxies, how they work and why they are used. We also look at the difference between proxies and VPNs, and explain why it is much better to use a VPN when unblocking sites or trying to stay private online.
Proxy server: definition
To put it simply, a proxy server is another computer that serves as a portal through which you can access the web, like a middleman between you and the server you are trying to reach. Normally when you access a website, your web browser will connect directly to the server that is hosting the site. When you use a proxy, however, a proxy server will intercept all of your website requests and then will forward this request onto the real server in your place.
Types of Proxy servers
There are several different types of proxies, all with different purposes and functionalities. Some of the most common proxy types are as follows:
- Web Proxy - the most common type of proxy, a web proxy stores a collection of web pages in a local cache in order to access them quickly. If your requested page is not in the cache, a web proxy will access the page from a remote server and then store it in the cache for future requests. This type of proxy is used to improve web performance.
- Transparent Proxy - transparent proxies can be used to unblock basic websites. When using this type of proxy, the websites you access will know that you are accessing via a proxy and will still be able to view your original IP address, which remains viewable to anyone trying to track your online behaviour.
- Anonymous Proxy - an anonymous proxy is like a transparent proxy in that it can be used to unblock simple sites. The difference is that these sites won’t be able to view your original IP. They are pretty easy to detect but do provide some anonymity to their users.
- Distorting Proxy - this proxy type also works in a similar way to a transparent proxy. A distorting proxy, however, provides the websites you are accessing with a false IP address, instead of your original one.
- Reverse Proxy - a reverse proxy also uses caching in order to improve web performance, however this is more for the benefit of servers rather than individual users. Reverse proxies can be used to soften the traffic load on a specific server.
What is a proxy server used for?
Many people use proxy servers in order to hide their IP address and make it look like they are accessing the web from another location. This is because your IP address reveals your geographical location to any website you access, making it easy for them to block you based on where you are in the world. When you use a proxy, your IP address is changed in order to make it look like you are accessing the web from the location of the proxy server instead.
Let’s say, for example, that you are living in Germany and try to watch a YouTube video, only to discover it is blocked in your country. By redirecting your traffic through a proxy server that is based in the US, you should be able unblock and view the video. There are an endless amount of reasons why people turn to proxies as a ‘quick-fix’ for unblocking the web, including overcoming censorship, accessing streaming sites and bypassing restrictions on gaming sites.
Are proxy websites safe to use?
While many of us use proxy websites in order to unblock sites for free, what many people aren’t aware of, is that proxy sites can threaten your online privacy and security. A properly working proxy server takes a lot of money to maintain, so if your proxy provider isn’t charging you anything, you may need to ask where they are making their money from.
One way that proxy sites make money is by storing your data and selling this information to third-parties. In some worse case scenarios, proxy websites have been set up by cyber criminals who hack their server in order to gain access to your credit card details or passwords. In 2015, the popular free proxy service Hola was caught selling its users’ bandwidth. Overall, when you use a proxy websites you are trusting it with sensitive information, if you are unsure whether you should trust the company, then chances are you shouldn’t.
What is the difference between a VPN and proxy server
Despite the fact that people often use the words ‘proxy’ and ‘VPN’ interchangeably, there are some fundamental differences between these two technologies that impact how they can be used. Like proxies, VPNs can be used in order to alter your IP address and unblock websites. Unlike proxies, VPNs provide users with an increased level of privacy and security when accessing the web.This is due to the fact that VPN providers not only exchange your original IP with one from their globally located servers, but they also encrypt all of your online traffic.
"Unlike proxies, VPNs provide users with an increased level of privacy and security when accessing the web."
The benefits of using a VPN instead of a basic proxy
Since VPNs encrypt all of your online traffic they also allow you to browse the web completely anonymously, meaning that nobody, including governments, advertisers, hackers and ISPs, can see what you are doing online. Therefore, VPNs provide you with a layer of protection against snooping and cyber crime that a proxy does not give. This is especially important for people who travel often and make frequent use of unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
Moreover, VPNs are a much more reliable tool when it comes to unblocking websites. VPNs offer higher speeds and also allow you to unblock and stream on sites such as Netflix and the BBC iPlayer. Alternatively, proxy servers are so overwhelmed and filled with ads that the slow speeds allow you to unblock only the most basic of sites. Finally, good VPN providers have servers located all over the world - meaning you have a variety of options when it comes to choosing which country you would like to access the web from.
Why you should use ZenMate as your proxy server
Information is power, so before using a free proxy website as a ‘quick fix’, please educate yourself on the issues surrounding online privacy and security. First and foremost, we are committed to helping build a secure and private internet, free of any restrictions. If you want to be a part of it, download ZenMate now.