What is a Proxy Server and How Does it Protect You on the Internet?
If you have ever dealt with the topic of privacy on the Internet, you have certainly come across one or the other proxy server. Especially in times of espionage by authorities like the NSA, the issue of privacy and cyber security is becoming more and more important.
In this article I will explain what a proxy server is and why you should use one. Then there’s a step-by-step guide on how to easily set up a proxy server.
What is a proxy server?
In order for you to understand what a proxy server is, we should first explain how the Internet works.
Every time you visit a website, your laptop sends a request to a server on the Internet. The request contains a lot of information about you and your laptop, such as your IP address. The server replies and sends the website back to you. The same applies to smartphones and all other devices that communicate over the Internet. They are also very famous for being used over at the pirate bay that people use to download movies and games for free.
This is where the proxy server comes in. You can imagine the proxy as a kind of waiter. If you are in a fancy restaurant, the waiter will bring you the drinks. You don’t serve yourself at the bar.
This is how the proxy works.
Your laptop first communicates with the proxy and it then asks for the desired website on the Internet. Your laptop will assume the identity and IP address of the proxy server.
Why should you use a proxy?
The most important advantage in advance: A proxy conceals the IP address and thus enables anonymous surfing on the Internet. This can also be explained very well with our restaurant example.
After the waiter has received your order, he goes to the kitchen and informs the cook about the ordered food. However, the cook himself doesn’t know for whom he is preparing the food. He only knows the waiter.
- A proxy server is also an excellent way to avoid geoblocking. For example, if you encounter country-specific content locks on Netflix or Youtube, you can easily bypass them with a new IP address. Mauricio explains exactly how this works in our Practice Guide to Geoblocking.
- In addition to the anonymous web address and the activation of blocked content, such a server has another decisive advantage: the caching of content. A cache is a buffer within the proxy server where the server stores the content you have already accessed.
- So if you click on a website often, it will no longer be downloaded from the Internet, but sent directly from the proxy memory to you. You can surf faster, because the server shortens the response time.
- Even if the server you want to reach with your request is offline, you won’t notice it in the first place, because the proxy has sent the cached data to you. This is how you reach websites, even if they are offline.
- But caching also has some disadvantages. Among other things, it could happen that outdated data is in the cache of the server, which is then sent to you. It can also happen that the proxy stores your IP address. This would of course be counterproductive and would not provide more privacy and protection on the Internet.
- Therefore: the more proxy servers, the better. If you have more than one proxy server connected to your destination, the probability that your IP address can be traced back to you decreases. This is the very principle on which the Tor network is based.
VPN, Tor or Proxy: What protects better?
VPN, Tor and Proxy are technologies that protect your true identity on the Internet and provide more privacy. They differ significantly in the way they do it.
With all three solutions your internet speed will be reduced, because you have switched further technical components between you and the internet. Communication will then take longer. This is the price you have to pay for more privacy on the net.
With a proxy, however, it can happen that pages that you often use are loaded faster due to the cache functionality that we discussed above.
Proxy vs. VPN
You should know one thing first: A proxy is a server that is connected to the Internet, just like any other server. It is not installed on your laptop, like a VPN or a Tor browser.
You can only download software that can help you set up your proxy. However, you’ve already seen above that it’s not difficult to set up a proxy server under Windows 10, which is why we don’t think such software is necessary.
There are many websites on the net that provide proxy servers for free. You should, however, think carefully about which server you should switch between you and the Internet, since the proxy could also store all information about you and your use. If you want to surf anonymously, a VPN might be the better solution.
Proxy vs. Tor
Now let’s get to a term you’ve already read a few times in this article: the Tor browser. The abbreviation Tor stands for “The Onion Router” and this system was originally developed by the U.S. military to keep U.S. government communications secret during special operations. Today, the Tor Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting online privacy. The development from a military secret weapon to an anonymization tool for all internet users is of course remarkable, the whole story is linked above.
A proxy server is a quick and easy way to hide your IP address and surf the Internet with a cover. However, if you want more privacy and data protection on the net, you should buy a VPN or Tor browser.
If you’re still not sure which of the three technologies is right for you, you can take a look at our detailed comparison article on VPN, Tor and Proxy.
Have you ever used a proxy? Which server did you choose and why? Let us know in the comments!
This article has been published in accordance with Socialnomics’s disclosure policy.