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June 16, 2023updated 19 Jul 2023 5:53pm

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server is a firewall between the user and the internet, but why is it useful?

By Tech Monitor Staff

When browsing the web, there are multiple factors to keep in mind. From the Internet Protocol (IP) address, which can identify one’s location, to the actual device used. However, one of the most vital elements of this connection is a proxy server.

It is convenient to picture the server as an intermediary between the user’s device and the actual web, and they exist for a very specific reason: security. Whether hiding the IP address is the main concern or providing free browsing to whomever is connected, a proxy server makes sure that nothing dangerous or illegal happens when consulting the internet.

Web Application Firewall Concept - WAF - Firewall that Filters and Monitors HTTP Traffic Between Web Applications and the Internet - 3D illustration
A proxy server acts as a firewall to ensure more security when browsing the web / Image: Shutterstock

But what is a proxy server, exactly? And what different kinds are there?

What is a proxy server?

A Proxy server has the role of a medium between a local network like a phone or computer and the Internet. In short, it separates the users from the websites they consult. A client connects to a proxy server and requests a connection, file or other resource available on a different network. Then, the server connects to the other network to provide the resource or serves the resource from a cache.

By bouncing off the information requested and sent between the user and the server, one could argue that a proxy server is not necessary. However, it ensures a safe and protected connection between the client and the server, also hiding the identification of the client’s IP address when the request is sent. Proxy servers are like a filter, which acts like a firewall for unwanted or dangerous requests.

How does a proxy server work?

Every computer and device which has a working Internet connection has a unique IP address, which acts like an identifying number. A proxy server has its IP address too, assuming the role of an independent computer which receives requests through the web before sending them out to find information. Such a server simply asks the web for the information on your behalf, appearing in the form of a web page.

A proxy server, however, re-routes the data you requested by slightly changing your information, such as your IP address, so that the specific website does not know the user’s exact location. In case of a cyberattack, the hackers would only be able to see the proxy server’s IP address rather than the direct user, helping to prevent personal data, password and file leaks.

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Depending on the type of proxy servers, the function and modus operandi can slightly vary.

What is an example of a proxy server?

There are 12 main types of proxy servers: forward, transparent, anonymous, high anonymity, distorting, data centre, residential, public, shared, secure sockets layer (SSL), rotating and reverse proxy. Each one of them has specific characteristics based on the user’s needs.

For instance, a forward proxy aims to gather and send data back to a group of users belonging to the same internal network, such as a business. A transparent proxy is also indicated for corporations, but only if the objective is to not make the users notice they are using one. It mirrors a home computer, offering a smooth and seamless user experience. However, this kind of proxy is also very prone to security threats and cybercrime.

As the name suggests, a distorting proxy looks like a normal proxy to a website, but it hides its true features, including its IP address, which gets changed to an incorrect one. This kind of server is helpful for those who do not want to be located while browsing the web, since the technology randomises the user’s location and the proxy’s identifying factors. The disadvantage of a distorting proxy is, however, that it is blocked by several websites for security reasons.

Lastly, public proxys are often found in big establishments like hotels and airports and they are available to everyone free of charge. While the users do have access to its IP address, the server hides their identities. Since it is free, it is likely to get overloaded and, therefore, slow the connection down.

Read more: Broadcom’s $61bn VMware acquisition gets provisional UK CMA clearance



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