Introduction to Proxy Servers

Article (PSA-0008)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Member/Manager
Company: Problem Solving Applications, LLC
Titled: Introduction to Proxy Servers
Original release date: April 17, 2018

Introduction to Proxy Servers

You may not know it, but every time you visit a website or connect with someone online, your internet connection gives your “computer address” to the site or person you’re connecting with.

This is done so the site or person knows how to get the requested information back to your computer. This “computer address” is technically known as your public Internet Protocol address or simply your “public IP address”.

Without a public IP address, you wouldn’t be able to do any online activity and other people and services online wouldn’t be able to reach you either. IP addresses are how the online world connects to one another.

Where does your IP address come from?

Your public IP address comes from your Internet Service Provider or ISP. In our area the most common ISP’s are Suddenlink, AT&T, 101Netlink, or Frontiernet. Whoever you pay for Internet service is responsible for assigning your public IP address, as well as for your Internet connection. Your smart device also uses an IP address when you’re browsing the web or using an app.

Most of us are happy to ignore the details of how all of this Internet stuff works, but there are a few concepts and security concerns about public IP addresses that we should be aware of as responsible Internet citizens. For example:

  • Your IP address identifies where you are in the world.
  • It links your name and home address to your IP address. Your name and information are used to purchase the Internet service, and the service provider gives you your public IP address thereby creating a direct link to you.

  • Many people are not comfortable with their personal information being so readily available on the Internet. If it bothers you as well, there are a few things you can do to make it more difficult to directly link your public IP to your other personal information. A solid first step is to use a proxy service or proxy server.

    So what is a “proxy server”?

    The word proxy means “substitute.” In computer networks, a proxy server is a server that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from other servers. It works like this: a client (you) are using a web browser to visit the support website, and your browser is setup to use a proxy server. After you type into your browser address bar, the request is sent to the proxy server. The proxy server then sends the request on to my server where is hosted. The homepage of my website is returned to the proxy server which then returns my homepage to your browser for viewing. This results in my website seeing the proxy server as the visitor, not you.

    What Are The Benefits?

    Now that you know the basics of how a proxy service or proxy server works, let’s see what the benefits are for you.

    Proxy servers can hide your IP address (if they are set to do this), can send a different user agent so that your browser is not identified and can block cookies or accept them but not pass them to your PC or device. Therefore, when using a proxy server, you can be a lot more anonymous than when using a direct connection to the Internet.

    Proxy servers may also have a role in improving security, especially when used in business networks. They can be set to block access to malicious websites that distribute malware and they can also provide encryption services so that your data is not easily mined by third-parties.

    Fair Warning

    Using proxy servers is not all about benefits and good stuff. They can pose problems as well, such as:

  • When using unencrypted connections, the proxy server can alter the responses you receive, both in good and bad ways. For example, an infected or malicious proxy server can be used to load malware into your browser or redirect you to a phishing website.
  • A proxy can alter the requests you make to a website or service on the Internet to generate results that meet someone else’s intentions.
  • A proxy server monitors and logs your activity. Therefore, it stores lots of information about you that can be used for identification at a later date.
  • Depending on how it was configured, a proxy server can provide unencrypted data where encrypted data was previously provided by the website or service you are using. This can expose you to network sniffing and having others monitor what you are doing on the Internet.

  • Conclusion

    As you can see, proxy servers can be very beneficial, but if not careful, they can also be problematic. It all depends on how they are configured, how they are secured and by whom they are administered. A proxy server may provide all the benefits mentioned above or none of them. It all depends on how it was set up and why it was set up.

    If you are thinking about utilizing a proxy service or proxy server, I would encourage you to contact your IT guy (or gal) for their input. “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors”.

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