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What is a Proxy Server, Why We Need It and How to Configure It

A proxy server is an extra link between you and the Internet. A kind of intermediary that separates a person from the site they are visiting. It creates conditions that make the site think the proxy-store is a real person. Just not you. 

Such intermediaries are quite versatile and are used in several scenarios:

  • For privacy. So that sites don’t know who exactly is visiting them.
  • To increase security when going online. Basic attacks will be aimed specifically at proxies.
  • It is also needed to access content that exists only in a certain location.
  • To speed up access to some resources on the Internet.
  • And in order to access blocked pages. Sites, messengers and so on.

All due to the fact that the proxy spoofs the IP address and the traffic passes through an additional server, which can be cached data or have additional data protection mechanisms. 

A little more about the IP address

Since proxy servers are responsible for IP spoofing, it’s worth explaining what it does and why IP spoofing solves the above-described problems with access to sites and services.

  • The IP address tells sites and web applications where you are. Which compromises your privacy and security.
  • It’s also used to block access to content. Often based on physical location.

So people use proxies and hide behind foreign addresses to avoid being blocked and not get as much visibility on the internet. But then again, there are exceptions when the proxy server openly shares user data with the site and is only used to speed up requests.

Types of proxy servers

Indirectly I have already mentioned that proxies come in different types. Often the type of server is comparable to the tasks it performs. But first we will discuss the basic typing of proxies, and then we will talk in more detail about the problems these servers solve. 

Transparent

Such a proxy server doesn’t keep any information from a website it visits. First, it will honestly inform the user that it is a proxy, and second, it will pass the IP address of the user on the other side of the server to the website. This type can be encountered in public institutions, schools.

Anonymous

A more popular type of proxy. Unlike the first one, anonymous proxy also informs the visited site about its proxy-subjectivity, but it does not transmit the client’s private data. That is, it will provide impersonal information for both sides. Admittedly, no one knows how a site that is 100% aware that it is communicating with a proxy will behave. 

Distorting

Such proxies also identify themselves honestly, but they provide fake user data instead of the real user data. In this case, the sites will think it is quite a real person and will behave accordingly. For example, they will provide content that is available only in a particular region.

Private

A variant for paranoiacs. Such proxies regularly change IP addresses, constantly giving fake data and noticeably reducing the chances of web resources to trace the traffic and somehow connect it with the client.

Other subcategories

Proxy servers also differ from each other technically. There are: 

  • HTTP proxies. The most common. They are used for web browsing. But they are not secure, so it is better to choose others.
  • HTTPS. Same as HTTP, only with encryption. You can safely use it to access blocked sites like Pandora or Hulu.
  • SOCKS. A variation of the protocol which works with different types of traffic. More flexible and secure.

Filtering of available resources

A common use case in public networks. With such a server you can monitor the traffic and “filter” it if necessary. It is like a parental control. Only the scale is different. Such a proxy could easily be set up in a large company to keep employees off Twitter while they attend to business. Therefore, when logging into the social network, a warning message may pop up, asking them to get on with their work. Or instead the boss will just record all the time on Facebook, and then deduct it from the salary. The situation is about the same with kids. You can limit their freedom online for the time they do their homework, for example. 

Speeding up the Internet

Proxy servers can store cached copies of sites. That is, when logging on to a particular site you will get the data exactly from the proxy. Most likely, they will load much faster through the proxy, especially when using residential proxies. This happens because the load of a popular site you want to go to will suffer less if a large number of people will go to it through a gateway in the form of a proxy server.

Data compression

Also a very practical scenario. It helps noticeably reduce the amount of traffic you spend. Some proxies have tools that compress all requested content before redirecting it to the end user. The “Turbo mode” in Opera and Yandex browsers works according to this principle. Compression takes place on the proxy server, only it downloads the full version of the media content and takes the entire load. And the client already downloads the same data, only in a lighter form. Therefore, people with limited traffic benefit from it.

Privacy

If there are privacy concerns, you can set up a private or anonymous gateway which will hide all sorts of information about the computer which made the initial request (remove its IP address at least). They are used both by individuals tired of being spied on by advertisers, and by large corporations not willing to put up with spying by competitors, for example. Of course, it is not a panacea, but proxies can solve the most basic privacy problems. It also does not require a lot of resources and time to implement.

Security

A proxy can secure not only your privacy but also protect you from real threats like viruses. It is possible to configure the gateway so that it will not accept requests from malicious resources. And turn the resulting proxy into a kind of mass “anti-virus” through which all employees of the company can be released without worrying that they will run into any serious threat. Of course, it won’t protect users 100%, but it will give a small security boost. And it is expensive, too. Therefore, proxies used specifically for protection are not that rare.