Even though globalization is in the air, you might notice that the Internet doesn’t look the same when you come to a foreign country. Some of your favorite streaming services can be blocked, or you might not be able to connect to your social media account or even check your mailbox. So what is proxy has to do with it all? Let’s find out.
What is Proxy and Who Needs it?
A proxy is a server that acts as a getaway between the Internet and a user. Basically, it separates you from the websites you browse and changes your IP address in the process. It can cover various functions depending on your or company’s policy, needs, or use case. Modern proxies have much more complex functionality than just forwarding simple user requests. A good, reliable proxy protects its users from potentially harmful staff from the Internet, caches, and stores data to ensure that the users are getting what they want faster, serves as a firewall, and so on.
Simply put, your computer is like a house and your unique IP – that’s your address. Your request is like an envelope with an address, and that’s how the Internet knows where to send the response to your request. But when you’re using a proxy server, it changes your IP address, so nobody (or almost nobody) can find your exact location. It can change the information a bit, but in the end, you will still get the response, accompanied by an increased level of safety. Additionally, proxy encrypts your data, and not a single person can read it in transition and block access to specific webpages according to your IP. Later we are going to talk when it might come in handy. A proxy is not limited to one user at a time. That’s why companies are heavily utilizing them as a part of their cybersecurity infrastructure.
We indicated several groups who would benefit from using a proxy:
- Parents: Proxy can block selected websites and enable parents to monitor how their children use the Internet.
- Companies: If the employer doesn’t want its employees to enter a specific website during working hours, they can configure the proxy to deny URLs access. Many companies block social media platforms like Facebook. The proxy also can improve overall performance since it will cache the data, and you will get the most recent copy of the website without waiting for every single line of code to be uploaded. It is great for organizations with many users to use the same website simultaneously because a proxy will send only one request to a website instead of sending hundreds of submissions.
- Individuals: If you are concerned about your privacy and security – proxy is something to consider. A proxy will encrypt your outcoming and incoming data to make sure that nobody sees your transactions. You can also forbid access for known malware websites, thanks to your proxy. Getting access to blocked resources is another perk of using a proxy server. For instance, if your favorite game blacked out, you can continue watching through a proxy server since it can connect you from a different location.
However, whether or not you need a proxy should depend on your needs. For example, if you’re an individual who is looking for a way to mask an IP address, a VPN will do it for you. And yes, those are not the same. We will discuss the difference later in this article.
Why Use a Proxy in 2020?
There are multiple reasons why you might need to use a proxy today. We emphasized the most common use cases and grouped them so that you can see what is relevant for you.
Increased security: A proxy does two crucial things for your safety. First, it encrypts the requests, so you don’t have to worry about hackers intercepting your data. And the second thing is it blocks known malware sites to protect your hardware from harmful software that can infect.
Parental and employees control: In the era of great risk exposure, companies almost have to monitor their employees’ activity. With the help of a proxy, companies can block access to specific domains (usually social media), monitor and log all actions, and web requests.
Blocked content accessibility: By changing the IP address, a proxy gives you an ability to access the banned content by certain countries or corporate firewalls.
Increased speed and connectivity: Because proxies would cache the frequently used websites, your requests will be handled faster. Commonly, employees from one company will access all the same websites during the day. A proxy will send out only one request to the web instead of many, and that is also speeding up the response time.
Those are the most prominent reasons why companies and individuals care to use proxies. However, the perks of its usages are not limited by that. Among others, proxy will get cookies and ads blocked every time and remove traces of your previous searches.
What Is The Difference Between Proxy and VPN?
Going through the description and things a proxy can do, you might be confused about the difference between Proxy and VPN. Fair enough. Both of them pursue one goal – better protection and anonymity of the connection while users are browsing the web, which can be dangerous. And both of them make your traffic appear as if it comes from a different location. That’s all they have in common.
A proxy is more of a simple getaway between you and the Internet. Some of the proxies don’t even provide encryption. That’s why if you’re looking for strong protection, pick the modern version. Another thing about proxies is that they are configured on an application-by-application basis, not computer-wide. That means that you can be sure that you’re safe when you’re using Chrome, for example, but when you switch back and forth between applications, there might be some blind spots that are still vulnerable to hackers.
Experts say that proxies are good enough for masking your ID and some other intermediary tasks, but when it comes to more complex assignments – that’s not the place where they shine. But that’s OK since proxies have other business to attend to, like stopping employees from attending websites and speeding up the company’s online operation.
VPN comes to play when you need your data to be encrypted. That’s essential for public places like cafés. When you connect to a public WIFI, you can’t be sure that your data will remain untouchable. A VPN client establishes a secure tunnel with the VPN server, and it encrypts all the traffic that comes out of your computer. VPNs are also of great help when you’re traveling to countries with strong censorship. Bear in mind that VPNs are generally more pricey than proxies.
Both VPN and proxy servers have their downfalls, so you should choose wisely, depending on your current needs.
Paid vs. Free Proxies
Proxies are undoubtedly a great way to secure your or your company’s privacy. However, there are so many of them that it’s getting tough to choose one that is right for you. And the user immediately thinks, but there are free options, why shouldn’t I go for them? Even though using a free proxy is better than not using anything at all, there are tons of essential features that free VPNs are missing.
- Data collection: The reason you want to use a proxy is to remain private. Many free proxies collect your data and sell it, which basically defeats the purpose of using the service,
- Limitations: Free proxies frequently limit their services that you can use. The amounts vary from provider to provider, but if you’re planning to stream shows or dealing with large amounts of traffic, it will not work for you.
- Ads: Remember that proxy providers are not charitable organizations, so they need to make money somehow. Since they are not charging their users for the services, they will slow down the connection speed or even sell your data. Some of them are so annoying and uncomfortable that you feel almost forced to purchase the paid option just to get rid of them.
- Slow servers: Paid proxy services have a strong network of servers that gives you a great variety to choose from. That becomes especially important when you are out of the country and need to get to a specific content that is banned in a country you are at. Governments, gambling websites, and others can block IP addresses, and when you’re using a free proxy, the likelihood of all their IPs being blocked is very high. On top of that, you might need in a virtual queue for your turn to connect to the server. That slows down your traffic. And the capacity of free proxy servers is limited, so you may experience a slower Internet connection while using it.
- Encryption efficiency: most proxy servers are supposed to use the latest encryption techniques To withstand hackers’ attacks since cybercriminals are getting more and more sophisticated at their thing. Unfortunately, free proxy servers s don’t have the resources to keep their encryption up-to-date.
- Customer service: If you have to figure something out about your proxy, you are left on your own when using a free proxy service. The only help that you can hope for is the FAQ section on the provider’s site.
As you see, free proxies are flawed, and some popular services are not even that expensive. So if you value your privacy and security, maybe it worth spending a bit more?
Is Using Proxy Legal?
By definition, there is no reason for proxies to be illegal. They have traditionally been used to connect users from outside the given network and protect the computers from malicious software and hackers’ attacks. Let’s say you are away from the US but need to access certain free content for users from within the US. A proxy will simply treat you like you’re requesting access from within the country. There is a considerable debate regarding whether this type of activity is deceitful or illicit. With that being said, no law would forbid your access to Netflix or Hulu by utilizing proxy or VPN.
However, every decent VPN or proxy provider will warn you that it is necessary to check the third party’s policy before accessing any geographically restricted content. Otherwise, you’re risking to be prosecuted by the streaming company (or whoever’s website are you are entering).
Pros and Cons of Using a Proxy Server
So far, we’ve talked about the advantages of using a proxy. Among others, it:
- Unblocks geographically restricted content and services
- Provides an additional layer of protection from malicious software
- Speeds up page loading by caching the frequently used websites
- Makes you anonymous online
- Tracks the employees’ online activity and blocks unwanted sites
So totally worth it, right? It seems like it, but you also need to be aware of the proxy’s disadvantages.
- Even though proxies are designed to hide your IP from the public, some proxy providers still would be able to track your online activity. That is why you need to research the provider and its track record before signing up for their services.
- Not all of the proxies are armed with robust encryption tools, and they would only use an SSL certificate to protect your traffic. In today’s reality, that’s not enough. That is another reason to conduct thorough research before purchasing a product since proxies don’t encrypt requests whatsoever.
What Types of Proxy Exist and Which one to Choose?
Not all of the proxies were created equal. There is no saying that one is better than another. But you need to understand their differences to pick the best option to cover your needs.
Transparent Proxy: When this type of proxy reaches out to the website, the website will understand that it is a proxy. It won’t change your IP address. Transparent proxies are used by companies and schools to restrict access to certain websites. They are pretty straight-forward and easy to set up.
Anonymous Proxy: This one will also identify itself as a proxy. However, it won’t hand over your IP address. It is good for preventing identity theft and keeping your browsing history private. It is also used to avoid marketing targeted by your location.
Distorting Proxy: This one is very much like an anonymous proxy. It still identifies itself as a proxy. However, it hides its identity by producing a fake IP address.
High Anonymity Proxy: This type of proxy periodically changes the IP address so that it is nearly impossible to track which traffic belongs to who. High Anonymity Proxies are considered to be one of the safest ways to browse the Internet.
Data Center Proxy: These proxies are not associated with the internet service provider but are managed by a separate corporation through a data center. That’s an excellent option for those seeking a quick response time without overpaying.
Residential Proxy gives you an IP address that belongs to an actual physical device. They are used for protection against unwanted ads from competitors. Residential proxies are more trustworthy and quite pricey, so you need to understand if investment fits the need.
Public Proxy is accessible for a broad public free of charge. It will hide your identity, and it’s a great option for those on a budget. But it only works if you’re willing to sacrifice the speed (and, sometimes, security).
Can Proxy Hide Your IP?
You might think that if you’re not a criminal and not trying to upload anything terrible, you don’t need to hide your IP or identity. But on the contrary, there are a million reasons you might want to use a proxy not to do something terrible but to protect yourself from something bad.
Most of the proxies will hide your IP in their unique way. However, if you’d look at the previous section describing types of proxies, you’ll see that certain proxies are simply not tailored for this purpose. So if you are looking for your IP to be hidden, choose wisely, and be aware of shady providers that will not help you remain anonymous but sell your data instead. Many would say that a VPN is a much better solution for IP anonymity, but it all depends, and sometimes buying an expensive VPN is overkill.
How to Know if a Proxy is Compatible With my Software or Hardware?
As we all use various operating systems, browsers, and hardware, it is only logical to check if the chosen proxy is compatible with all of that.
In the majority of cases, if you’d ask if a proxy compatible with your computer, the answer will be “yes.” But specific settings are right to be aware of that can make your online presence more efficient. I get it, those settings might be overwhelming at first, but they’re worth discovering.
HTTP vs SOCKS4 vs SOCKS5
That’s the most common and vital compatibility issue – types of connections that a proxy can use. SOCKS is usually the default type of connection that sits between you and, let’s say, Google. SOCKS5 includes authentication, and that’s what differs it from SOCKS4. With SOCKS or SOCKS5, you can access any website using any protocols.
HTTP is more limited since it’s more specialized, but it is the most widespread. It processes requests from like applications, interprets data, and saves tons of time while web scraping.
HTTPS is similar to HTTP, but with added security and support of SSL connection.
Basically, any proxy can work for you with the right settings and configuration, and you need to consider your needs since various protocols give you different advantages.
To find your current port, you will want to go to your browser settings’ connection settings window. The port number will be in the port box next to the proxy section.
Setting up the proxy can differ depending on the browser you’re using, but providers generally give pretty good instructions to follow while setting for each browser.
IP location is another thing to consider. If you’re trying to log in to a foreign website, you usually would just be forwarded to your country’s website version. Many websites would also block foreign IPs, so check which IP the company will provide and if there is a possibility to choose.
It is often overlooked that if the IP address is coming from a data center, it can be blocked by many e-commerce organizations. The IP addresses from residential neighborhoods look more like their typical users.
Suppose you just scrolled through the whole section. In that case, it’s not a problem since all of the decent proxy providers have a compatibility chart on their websites stating platforms, environments, and operating systems they work with.
Can Proxy Guarantee 100% Anonymity?
You might be doing something illegal, hide from large entities like Google or Facebook, or simply don’t want to be associated with your browsing habits. Whatever your reasons for using proxy are – anonymity is something we all pursue.
But you shouldn’t think that hiding behind a proxy will make you completely untraceable. Read the Silk Road website’s story – all of its users thought they were safe and sound.
There are different levels of anonymity with proxies. Get back to the types of proxies section to get the information in more detail. Some of them would pretty much just forward the information they receive (e.g., transparent proxy), and they don’t provide any privacy whatsoever. Others will provide more anonymity by masking your IP, but the end source will still know that you’re a proxy connection.
If you are looking for a high level of protection, you might need something like a residential proxy that emulates real connections and doesn’t “tell” the website that it’s proxy. Bear in mind that it sometimes still acts like one.
Do Proxy Providers Log My Activity on the Internet?
It all depends on the provider and the type of proxy you use. That’s one of the reasons you shouldn’t give in to the temptation to get a free proxy. They know too much about you, and you never know what they are going to do with this information.
What Is The Average Cost of Proxy in 2020
I wouldn’t put an average price as a single number because proxies have a dramatic difference in price for different purposes. Depending on your needs, for individual use, prepare to pay anywhere from $5 to several hundred per month.