From school computer labs to large office networks, organizations use proxies to monitor internet usage. Proxies can filter content, cache websites to speed up responses, and block sites that counter company policy or distract employees from work.
These servers can also boost internet security by encrypting data on the web request and hiding the user’s IP address.
Describe a proxy server
What is a proxy server? A proxy server is an intermediary between your computer and a web server. Your device’s direct Internet connection is bypassed when you connect to a website because your request goes to the proxy server first and then to the web server. The proxy server replaces your device’s IP address with its own, allowing websites to recognize you only by the proxy server’s IP address and masking your identity.
Proxies are a popular tool for both personal and business use. Instead of traditional firewalls and web filters, they can be used to prevent malware, data breaches, and other cyber attacks. They can also be used to encrypt data, preventing hackers from accessing your sensitive information.
Proxy servers can also increase browsing speeds by caching websites, meaning that they save a copy of each page on the proxy’s server and then deliver it to you much faster than sending your request directly to the website each time. It can also help reduce bandwidth costs, improve website speed, and stabilize connections.
They can circumvent content restrictions by changing your location and enabling access to geo-restricted resources. Businesses can block access to certain websites that might be distracting or counterproductive and even control how employees spend their time online.
How Do Proxy Servers Work?
Proxy servers are a middleman between your computer and the websites, networks, and services you access online. Your browser sends a request to the proxy server first, then sends it to the website you wish to access when you request a web page. Your machine receives the response when the proxy server responds to the webpage.
Proxies can also protect your privacy by concealing your computer’s IP address from the websites you visit. Some proxies can even change your IP address to an address associated with another location (e.g., a different country) to allow you to access content otherwise blocked by a website’s geographic restrictions.
In addition, proxies can collect data on the sites you visit and help monitor your network for security threats. They can also cache (save) a copy of frequently visited sites to increase browsing speeds and reduce bandwidth usage. Many companies use proxies to control remote or traveling employees’ access to the company network. Proxies can also be used with VPNs to provide a secure connection and greater control over traffic flow. The controversies surrounding net neutrality have made proxy servers even more critical to users concerned about privacy. With net neutrality protections gone, internet service providers can restrict access to specific websites and services, and proxies can help you work around these restrictions.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Proxy Server?
As a computer network add-on, proxy servers provide an extra layer of security for your business. Proxies act as firewalls and filter internet threats that could infiltrate your company’s systems and devices. Proxies also enhance privacy by masking your IP address and blocking access to websites known for distributing malware, spam, or phishing attacks. Both hardware and software proxies offer this functionality, with the former sitting between your business connections and the Internet. At the same time, the latter sits on your network or resides in the cloud.
Businesses use proxies to block certain content from users, streamline performance, and save bandwidth by caching frequently visited websites. Users can also use a proxy to bypass location restrictions, such as when they want to watch sports or TV online from home but can’t due to their current location.
A private or “forward” proxy also helps keep your business data secure by encrypting web requests. This way, prying eyes can’t read your transactions and prevents people with malicious intent from getting information that could impact your business. Many software proxies can be used for free, while others require a monthly or annual subscription. Paid proxies typically offer better capabilities and scalability to meet your business needs. For example, they may allow you to monitor your business’s peak hours for internet traffic and usage and may come with features like a built-in firewall.
What Are the Drawbacks of Using a Proxy Server?
When computers communicate with web servers, they send a request using their unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. It allows servers to identify the computer and relay information back to it. Proxy servers hide the computer’s IP address and other identifying data to keep users’ online privacy intact.
A proxy server can also compress files and web pages before sending them to the browser to reduce data usage further, making websites load faster. The proxy also caches frequently visited webpages for faster access in the future, boosting network performance and saving bandwidth.
In addition to increased bandwidth and speed, proxy servers can filter out unwanted content for organizations with secure networks. For example, school computer labs often use proxies to block websites that distract or are inappropriate for students. Proxy servers are also popular with employers that want to monitor employee internet use for security or productivity reasons.
Proxies can even provide access to location-restricted websites by making it appear that users are logging on from the same geographic region as the server. However, it’s important to remember that proxies can be hacked, especially free ones with ad-based revenue models. It can lead to malware and other threats infiltrating devices, so only use trusted proxies. Removing net neutrality also means that ISPs can control bandwidth and data traffic, potentially limiting what sites you can and cannot visit.