Every time you access a website or connect to someone online, your online session assigns your computer an address and shares it with the counterparty you are connecting to.
Why is that done? Whether you are browsing through a website, streaming a song or chatting on your favorite messaging application, you need to have an address. By having an address, the counterparty knows how to send information back to your computer. And that address is called your public IP address.
Without an IP address, you would not be able to perform any online activities and other online parties would not be able to reach you. This is the way your personal device connects and communicates with the world.
- What is an IP address?
- What is a Proxy Server?
- Types Of Proxy Servers
- Legitimate Advantages of using a Proxy
- Proxies For Home Use
- Proxies For Business Use
- Proxies For Travel Use
- Disadvantages of Using a Proxy
- Wrapping Up
What is an IP address?
Just like every house has its unique number so does your computer have an IP (internet protocol) address that identifies your computer or other personal devices to the internet. An example of an IP address is 184.108.40.206.
Your internet service provider assigns you an IP address each time you connect to the Internet. This IP address is either dynamic and changes each time you make a new connection with your device or static and remains the same until you ask your internet service provider (ISP) to change it.
Most people are happy with how all of this works and would not bother or care to make any kind of changes. The actual mechanism of how the Internet works is not something that people often consider. However, there are a few things about public IP addresses that could legitimately bother some people:
- Your IP address indicates where you are in the world, sometimes down to street level.
- Your IP can be used by websites to deny you access to their content.
- Knowing your IP we can furthermore identify more information about your computer and you.
Taking a look at the below simple script, we can already identify the following information:
Hence you can see there are many legitimate reasons why this could be a concern. Luckily there are a few ways to get around that reality, and one of them is to use a proxy service. With the help of a proxy you can mask your real public IP and by doing so you will appear as if you are coming from a completely different. You can change the location to be anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately though, this is also how dubious online crime perpetrators are able to hide what they are doing and get away uncaught.
What is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server acts as a mediator between you and the internet. Proxy is an intermediary server, a bridge that connects the users and their end destination.
By using a proxy server, internet traffic first flows through the proxy server and then to the address you requested. The request then comes back through the same proxy server, and then the proxy server forwards the received data back to you.
Modern proxy servers do much more than just forward web requests though. Proxy servers can act as firewalls and web filters, provide shared network connections and cache data to speed up your requests. A good proxy server protects users and the internal network from the bad things that live on the wild Internet.
There are many legitimate reasons why some people decide to use a proxy – and why you might be interested in using one too:
- Your employer blocks access to social media or other websites, and you want to circumvent these restrictions.
- A school or local library blocks access to certain websites and a student wants to get around that.
- You’re traveling abroad, and technology set up in the country you’re in prevents you from connecting to a website in your home country.
- You want to surf online or post comments on websites, but you do not want your IP address to be identified or your identity to be traceable.
You can see how proxy technology is actually very useful. However, because of the high level of privacy that proxy servers provide, the technology is often being misused by people with bad intentions.
Types Of Proxy Servers
Not all proxy servers function in the same way. It is important to understand exactly what kind of features you get from a certain proxy server and to ensure that the proxy server is appropriate for your use case.
A transparent proxy will reveal to the counterparty that it is a proxy server and will pass your IP address along to the webserver as well. Companies, public libraries, and schools often use transparent proxies for content filtering and for additional benefits such as speeding up the connection.
There are different types of anonymous proxies.
A regular anonymous proxy will identify itself as a proxy, but it will not share your IP address. This can help prevent identity theft and keep your surfing habits private. You can also prevent a website from delivering targeted marketing content to you based on your location and device you are using.
High anonymity proxy servers periodically change the IP address they present to the web server, making it very difficult to keep track of what traffic belongs to whom. Proxies with high anonymity are the most private and secure way to surf the Internet.
A distorting proxy server passes a wrong IP address while identifying itself correctly as a proxified connection to the counterparty. This serves similar purposes to the anonymous proxy, but by passing a false IP address you can make it appear to come from a different location to circumvent content restrictions.
Legitimate Advantages of using a Proxy
Proxies For Home Use
Hide Your IP
Your IP address can tell someone a lot about yourself, such as what country and city you come from. Clever cybercriminals can go to even greater lengths and use your IP address to find out who your ISP is, what your zip code is, and even what street you live on. And then dig deeper from there.
Utilizing a proxy for personal use not only changes your IP address, but also encrypts your internet browsing sessions and ensures that you are safe and secure.
Access Restricted Content
Regrettably, a lot of online content is actually hidden behind geographical restrictions – mainly due to network and copyright regulations.
But because a proxy server hides your IP address, websites can’t prevent you from accessing that content because of your changed geographical location.
You can also use a proxy server to circumvent network restrictions at work or school – restrictions that would prevent you from accessing certain types of online content.
Reduced Load Times
This is due to the fact that proxy servers can cache data. Basically, as soon as they access certain web pages, they save them for later. If a cached page is requested, they can display it to the user much faster.
However, please remember that this only happens if the proxy server already has the web page you requested in its local cache. If it does not, it must request it from the Internet, in which case you may not experience faster loading times.
Block Malicious Websites
Another practical advantage of a proxy server is that the administrator can block users from accessing websites that could be dangerous.
This may sound counterintuitive at first, but keep this in mind: If the administrator knows that a particular web site contains adware or phishing links, he can prevent proxy users from accessing that site, either accidentally or unknowingly.
It’s also possible that if you end up on a malicious website, the malware it contains would infect the proxy instead of your device. Remember, however, that this is not a guarantee.
Proxies For Business Use
Anonymous Competitor Research
Your competitors know when you visit their website. Based on your IP address, they may even send you to a dummy website to keep you in the dark about what they are doing or offering. With a private and anonymous proxy you can make sure that you can see your competitors and know that they can’t see you.
Bypass Restricted Functionality
When you encounter certain functionality limitations on websites, they use your IP address and cookies to block you. Sometimes you can circumvent such website restrictions with a proxy and cookie clearing. With randomly rotating IP addresses, you can get a new IP address so you can continue your research.
Post Content Anonymously
When posting to websites, you can choose to be anonymous so that you can post your content as if you were an unknown user. A private proxy will mask your IP address so that the website and users don’t know where you’re coming from.
Proxies For Travel Use
Protect Your Wireless Connection
Every time you connect to the Internet through a hotspot or public wifi, all of your internet surfing can be intercepted and seen by unknown people. With packet sniffing software, criminals may be able to see everything you transmit over a WiFi connection. With a proxy connection, your internet surfing is protected by setting up a secure tunnel that encrypts all of your browser traffic so that it cannot be intercepted or read.
Stop The Evil Twin
If you connect via a public Wifi, you could actually connect to a deceptive fake hotspot. These hotspots, known as evil twins, route all your traffic through their connection and allow them to log all your Internet communications. With a secure proxy tunnel, you can connect directly through an evil twin and protect your internet surfing.
Safely Connect from an Unfamiliar Location
When you accept the terms and conditions of your hotel, airport or café, you will usually be informed that the connection is not secure. Even if you connect your laptop as a guest on a foreign network, you have no idea who is monitoring your connection. With a proxy or vpn service, every browser session can be secured so that no one can intercept your connection and monitor you.
Disadvantages of Using a Proxy
Despite all the nice-sounding technical terms you have heard about proxies, it has its own negative aspects.
First of all, there is the data storage system that most proxy service providers install. There is no denying that this feature has made it much easier to search for content from the Internet and other external sources.
However, the disadvantage of this system is that the proxy server may not be able to distinguish between what you want to store and what you may not want it to store. This may as well be intentional. As a result, your passwords and other private data may also be stored by the server.
There are several malicious or corrupted proxies that, instead of giving you the desired results, download malware and harmful data to your computer. This can seriously damage your server and not only deprive you of the right information, but also steal your personal data, if you enter it anywhere when connected to such a proxy.
You should also consider that your employer, ISP and other networks may have objections to the use of a proxy. Just because you can, does not mean you should. And in some cases, websites will blacklist IP addresses that they suspect or know to be from a proxy.
We can see that proxies are a wonderful tool when it comes to participating in research-based activities. The diverse and broad categories of proxies available have made it really easy for people to bypass firewalls and other barriers that prevent them from accessing the resources they want.
Proxies are however also what online scammers apply in their various endeavors to hide what they are doing. Either to gain access to a location they were not supposed to access, pretend to be someone else, access your bank account with your IP or open a fake paypal, for example.
There are of course many more things a hacker needs to have and understand to do such things. But by understanding the concepts of how they hide behind a proxy, we can start to understand the basics of their operations.