What Does a Proxy Do and Why is it Important?

Posted by Vectro 21 February 2010

Proxies act as intermediaries between you and servers that you visit. They have a wide range of uses. The most common ones are explained here.

The Path Data Travels

Typical Connection to a Web Site:

‘You’ –> ‘Web Site’

Connection to a Web Site Through a Proxy:

‘You’ –> ‘Proxy’ –> ‘Web Site’

Unblocking Web Sites

This can help you visit web sites that your school, work or country blocks. Some countries unfairly restrict access to various resources. Proxies are perfect for the citizens of the world to exercise basic free access to information and free speech.

Surfing the Web Anonymously

The other function proxies serve is to hide your real location online. Every computer on the net has a unique IP address. Proxies can mask these addresses. Try using one yourself to hide your IP address.

Using Encryption For Enhanced Security

In most cases, your connection to a proxy is ‘in the clear’ without any protection, just like most connections from point A to point B over the Internet. For this reason, proxies are not always as anonymous as they seem. Most web-based proxies do not offer an SSL encryption feature. Try using an encrypted proxy for yourself.

DNS Requests

Even using an encrypted web-based proxy which has SSL enabled, your Internet Service Provider can still see that you visited a proxy. This is because your DNS requests are visible. DNS is the ‘Domain Name System’. DNS converts complicated network addresses to simple domain names like .com, .net, .org, etc. Whenever you go somewhere online via the domain name, that request is logged. It is possible to use an advanced proxy which utilizes a type of encrypted tunnel called SSH (Secure SHell). This will ‘tunnel’ the Firefox browser through SSH. Once you do this, Firefox has a setting to hide your DNS requests. It takes some setting up, but is well worth it. Try an SSH tunnel for yourself, it is one of the safest ways to browse the web. Unlike the other types, you can use your web browser like normal without having to visit a special site first.

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