What is a Proxy Server? In Layman’s Terms for the Beginner

Proxy server Proxy

When it comes to anonymization on the Internet, the term “proxy” occasionally comes up. But what is it all about? Even if many users believe that a false name is enough: The Internet is anything but anonymous! The IP address of the Internet connection makes users easily traceable. Cookies also help to identify a computer on the Internet as such – especially if they come from services such as Google or Facebook. However, while cookies can be easily deleted and modern browsers always have an option to reject them in general, disguising the IP address is much more complex. For effective anonymization, it is therefore imperative to disguise the IP address.

IP addresses are also dangerous

IP addresses also have two other disadvantages: Since the Internet is a huge network, an attacker can use the IP address to launch targeted attacks on the router or the PCs behind it. This is technically complex, but by no means impossible. And so-called geoblocking functions prevent certain websites and content from being accessed. Here, too, anonymizing the IP address can help. As a rule, there are three options: The free Tor browser, a paid VPN or even a proxy server. What all three technologies have in common is that they redirect the data traffic via other servers and thus disguise the IP address of the actual user.

How proxy servers work

Proxy servers are the oldest method of making Internet traffic much more anonymous. Internet veterans will remember that in the analog modem age, proxy servers had to be set up by default. These were provider proxies that served one purpose above all: To significantly speed up the then lame Internet traffic by caching data from websites. Hence the name “proxy” from the Latin “proximus”: the one who is close by. If you called up newproxies.org, for example, the proxy server first checked whether it had already saved the page or the download – and then delivered the content to the PC much faster with reduced loading times and signal paths. If the page was not saved, the proxy retrieved the page and then delivered it. A positive side effect was that the accessed web server could not see the IP address of the requesting computer, but only that of the proxy server. The result is anonymization. Until today, proxies work this way.

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Anonymization effect only with free proxies

Of course, the provider proxy is a poor choice when it comes to anonymization, since the provider presumably keeps records of who has accessed what and when. This is why provider proxies are actually no longer relevant in times of fast Internet connections, although they are still in operation in many cases. In terms of anonymization, free proxy servers are more interesting, preferably located abroad: This redirection makes investigative tracing difficult; moreover, such a free proxy knows at best the IP address of its user and nothing else. Thus, it can serve as an anonymization solution: The foreign server retrieves the data for the user, and the user remains anonymous as one of many behind the proxy. The problem with this is that free proxy servers are extremely hard to find.

Why not Tor or VPN?

Now, of course, the question arises as to why proxies are still relevant for this type of anonymization. With VPN and Tor, there are much more elegant solutions. The answer is simple: Tor initially only anonymizes within the Tor browser; redirecting all Internet traffic via the so-called Onion network is technically complex and, above all, slow. VPN services are better positioned here: They anonymize the entire network traffic and are much faster. However, they also come at a cost, and the VPN user knows the personal data of his users, which he may have to hand over to investigating authorities in the worst case. This is exactly where proxy servers come into play: the setup is simple, the anonymization effect great – and the servers are mostly free of charge.

Simplest form of proxy anonymization: proxy services

Technical know-how is not required for the simplest form of proxy use, the so-called web proxy, which anonymizes website calls: There are numerous websites on the net that offer this service, including services such as Anonymouse, HideMe or Webproxy: They have an input field for a URL, which is then called via the provider’s proxy. The user remains invisible to the website in this setting.

Proxy settings exist in every tool and system

In addition: Every operating system and online application has proxy settings, which means that proxy servers can be used without any new software installation. If a proxy is known, it only needs to be set up for the connection or program, and the Internet traffic will run through this proxy server. However, the biggest problem at this point is to find a reliable and fast foreign proxy. It is true that there are various websites on the net that display currently available proxies, so-called proxy lists. However, the proxies displayed here are often slow or unreliable. Unfortunately, this can only be found out by entering the proxy.

Conclusion: Proxies are practical, but hard to find

The bottom line is that free proxy servers are a handy and free way to anonymize Internet traffic. However, there are also tangible disadvantages: The corresponding proxies are usually overloaded and very, very slow. Instead of spending hours looking for working proxies, it is therefore a good idea to use a VPN directly: This may not be cheap, but it offers reliable protection with maximum accessibility and speed.

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