Proxy servers are often misunderstood. Many people have been mislead to believe that if you’re using (or “behind”) a proxy, you immediately become anonymous or invisible. This is simply not true. Before using a proxy, you should be aware of the below facts, which dispel many common misconceptions.
How a Proxy Server Works
In a nutshell, a proxy server is another computer that an end user can connect to over the internet. This computer then relays the user’s instructions to other servers on the internet (for example, fetching a website, email, or other data). In theory, the other servers being contacted by the proxy will only see the proxy server’s information, and not the user’s.
Not All Proxy Servers Make You Anonymous
As mentioned above, a very common and perhaps dangerous misconception about proxies is that they somehow make the user anonymous. This isn’t true, as many low-quality proxy servers can leak information. Furthermore, the proxy server itself could quite easily be collecting all data transferred to and from it.
There are Different Kinds of Proxy Servers
Generally speaking, there are three primary kinds of proxy servers. There are normal proxies, transparent proxies, and reverse proxies. A normal proxy caches information, meaning that if one user fetches a website, this data is stored locally on the proxy and may be sent again to a separate user. A transparent proxy typically is used to filter or monitor users, as it can fetch data but not be detected as a proxy. A reverse proxy is least commonly used by the end user, but is more of a benefit to the web host. These kinds of proxies are used to reduce load on a server by caching information locally.
Not All Proxy Servers are Made Equal
Most publicly available proxies are not guaranteed to be completely secure for the user, assuming the user’s intention is to hide his or her identity, location, or online activities. There are however proxies which, when properly configured, may be able to do this. These are referred to as “anonymous” proxies.
An anonymous proxy can conceal the IP address of the user accessing it. This means that the server from which data is being fetched, such as a website, is unaware of the true user’s information. Additionally, these kinds of proxies are frequently used to circumvent a firewall or censorship (e.g., in a workplace or school setting).
So-called “highly anonymous” proxies often involve more than a single server. These proxies are chained together to further remove the end user from their destination. Real-world examples of these kinds of proxy servers include popular services I2P or TOR.
It’s Possible to Run Your Own Proxy Server
Many individuals, even if they aren’t particularly savvy, can set up their own proxy servers, usually in their home. This is particularly useful for persons who frequently travel, as they can reduce their security risks by connecting to their home proxy server and access the internet that way. This may prevent spying or data theft while traveling.