• June 13, 2022

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What is a Proxy Server and How Does it Work? - Varonis

What is a Proxy Server and How Does it Work? – Varonis

The actual nuts and bolts of how the internet works are not something people often stop to consider. The problem with that is the inherent danger of data security breaches and identity theft that come along with the cute dog pictures, 24-hour news updates, and great deals online.
But what actually happens when you browse the web? You might be using a proxy server at your office, on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or you could be one of the more tech-savvy who always use a proxy server of some kind or another.
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What’s a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is any machine that translates traffic between networks or protocols. It’s an intermediary server separating end-user clients from the destinations that they browse. Proxy servers provide varying levels of functionality, security, and privacy depending on your use case, needs, or company policy.
If you’re using a proxy server, traffic flows through the proxy server on its way to the address you requested. The request then comes back through that same proxy server (there are exceptions to this rule), and then the proxy server forwards the data received from the website to you.
If that’s all it does, why bother with a proxy server? Why not just go straight from to the website and back?
Modern proxy servers do much more than forward web requests, all in the name of data security and network performance. Proxy servers act as a firewall and web filter, provide shared network connections, and cache data to speed up common requests. A good proxy server keeps users and the internal network protected from the bad stuff that lives out in the wild internet. Lastly, proxy servers can provide a high level of privacy.
How Does a Proxy Server Operate?
Every computer on the internet needs to have a unique Internet Protocol (IP) Address. Think of this IP address as your computer’s street address. Just as the post office knows to deliver your mail to your street address, the internet knows how to send the correct data to the correct computer by the IP address.
A proxy server is basically a computer on the internet with its own IP address that your computer knows. When you send a web request, your request goes to the proxy server first. The proxy server then makes your web request on your behalf, collects the response from the web server, and forwards you the web page data so you can see the page in your browser.
When the proxy server forwards your web requests, it can make changes to the data you send and still get you the information that you expect to see. A proxy server can change your IP address, so the web server doesn’t know exactly where you are in the world. It can encrypt your data, so your data is unreadable in transit. And lastly, a proxy server can block access to certain web pages, based on IP address.
What are Forward Proxies
A forward proxy server sits between the client and an external network. It evaluates the outbound requests and takes action on them before relaying that request to the external resource.
Most proxy services that you’re likely to encounter are forward proxies. Virtual Private Networks and Web content filters are both examples of forward proxies.
What are Reverse Proxies
A reverse proxy server sits between a network and multiple other internal resources. A large website might have dozens of servers that collectively serve requests from a single domain. To accomplish that, client requests would resolve to a machine that would act as a load balancer. The load balancer would then proxy that traffic back to the individual servers.
Some popular open source reverse proxies are:
Varnish
Squid
Why Should You Use a Proxy Server?
There are several reasons organizations and individuals use a proxy server.
To control internet usage of employees and children: Organizations and parents set up proxy servers to control and monitor how their employees or kids use the internet. Most organizations don’t want you looking at specific websites on company time, and they can configure the proxy server to deny access to specific sites, instead redirecting you with a nice note asking you to refrain from looking at said sites on the company network. They can also monitor and log all web requests, so even though they might not block the site, they know how much time you spend cyberloafing.
Bandwidth savings and improved speeds: Organizations can also get better overall network performance with a good proxy server. Proxy servers can cache (save a copy of the website locally) popular websites – so when you ask for, the proxy server will check to see if it has the most recent copy of the site, and then send you the saved copy. What this means is that when hundreds of people hit at the same time from the same proxy server, the proxy server only sends one request to This saves bandwidth for the company and improves the network performance.
Privacy benefits: Individuals and organizations alike use proxy servers to browse the internet more privately. Some proxy servers will change the IP address and other identifying information the web request contains. This means the destination server doesn’t know who actually made the original request, which helps keeps your personal information and browsing habits more private.
Improved security: Proxy servers provide security benefits on top of the privacy benefits. You can configure your proxy server to encrypt your web requests to keep prying eyes from reading your transactions. You can also prevent known malware sites from any access through the proxy server. Additionally, organizations can couple their proxy server with a Virtual Private Network (VPN), so remote users always access the internet through the company proxy. A VPN is a direct connection to the company network that companies provide to external or remote users. By using a VPN, the company can control and verify that their users have access to the resources (email, internal data) they need, while also providing a secure connection for the user to protect the company data.
Get access to blocked resources: Proxy servers allow users to circumvent content restrictions imposed by companies or governments. Is the local sportsball team’s game blacked out online? Log into a proxy server on the other side of the country and watch from there. The proxy server makes it look like you are in California, but you actually live in North Carolina. Several governments around the world closely monitor and restrict access to the internet, and proxy servers offer their citizens access to an uncensored internet.
Now that you have an idea about why organizations and individuals use a proxy server, take a look at the risks below.
Proxy Server Risks
You do need to be cautious when you choose a proxy server: a few common risks can negate any of the potential benefits:
Free proxy server risks
You know the old saying “you get what you pay for? ” Well, using one of the many free proxy server services can be quite risky, even the services using ad-based revenue models.
Free usually means they aren’t investing heavily in backend hardware or encryption. You’ll likely see performance issues and potential data security issues. If you ever find a completely “free” proxy server, tread very carefully. Some of those are just looking to steal your credit card numbers.
Browsing history log
The proxy server has your original IP address and web request information possibly unencrypted, saved locally. Make sure to check if your proxy server logs and saves that data – and what kind of retention or law enforcement cooperation policies they follow.
If you expect to use a proxy server for privacy, but the vendor is just logging and selling your data you might not be receiving the expected value for the service.
No encryption
If you use a proxy server without encryption, you might as well not use a proxy server. No encryption means you are sending your requests as plain text. Anyone who is listening will be able to pull usernames and passwords and account information really easily. Make sure whatever proxy server you use provides full encryption capability.
Types of Proxy Servers
Not all proxy servers work the same way. It’s important to understand exactly what functionality you’re getting from the proxy server, and ensure that the proxy server meets your use case.
Transparent Proxy
A transparent proxy tells websites that it is a proxy server and it will still pass along your IP address, identifying you to the web server. Businesses, public libraries, and schools often use transparent proxies for content filtering: they’re easy to set up both client and server side.
Anonymous Proxy
An anonymous proxy will identify itself as a proxy, but it won’t pass your IP address to the website – this helps prevent identity theft and keep your browsing habits private. They can also prevent a website from serving you targeted marketing content based on your location. For example, if knows you live in Raleigh, NC, they will show you news stories they feel are relevant to Raleigh, NC. Browsing anonymously will prevent a website from using some ad targeting techniques, but is not a 100% guarantee.
Distorting proxy
A distorting proxy server passes along a false IP address for you while identifying itself as a proxy. This serves similar purposes as the anonymous proxy, but by passing a false IP address, you can appear to be from a different location to get around content restrictions.
High Anonymity proxy
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 who. High anonymity proxies, like the TOR Network, is the most private and secure way to read the internet.
Proxy servers are a hot item in the news these days with the controversies around Net Neutrality and censorship. By removing net neutrality protections in the United States, Internet Service Providers (ISP) are now able to control your bandwidth and internet traffic. ISPs can potentially tell you what sites you can and cannot see. While there’s a great amount of uncertainty around what is going to happen with Net Neutrality, it’s possible that proxy servers will provide some ability to work around an ISPs restrictions.
Varonis analyzes data from proxy servers to protect you from data breaches and cyber attacks. The addition of proxy data gives more context to better analyze user behavior trends for abnormalities. You can get an alert on that suspicious activity with actionable intelligence to investigate and deal with the incident.
For example, a user accessing GDPR data might not be significant on its own. But if they access GDPR data and then try to upload it to an external website, it could be an exfiltration attempt and potential data breach. Without the context provided by file system monitoring, proxy monitoring, and Varonis threat models, you might see these events in a vacuum and not realize you need to prevent a data breach.
Get a 1:1 demo to see these threat models in action – and see what your proxy data could be telling you.
Is using a proxy server legal?

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Is using a proxy server legal?

Yes, it is legal to use a proxy server. Proxies have many different uses, including enabling remote work; setting up a support system for users who are located outside a particular network; protecting networks and Internet users from malicious content; streaming online content from outside a country and more.
When are Proxy Servers Illegal?
Keep in mind that there are some circumstances in which using a proxy server is illegal. For example, some websites stream content that is only available to audiences who have paid their license fees to access it. If you did not pay license fees and tried to access that content via a proxy server, that act would be considered illegal.
Why Use a Proxy Server?
Let’s say you are living in the United Kingdom, and trying to log onto a U. S. based website to watch educational documentaries or your favorite TV programme. However, you discovered that IP addresses in the UK have been blocked. Don’t feel down just yet because proxies allow you to circumvent web filters that are blocking you from your geographical location.
There is content out there that may have been produced for individuals to view for free, so why shouldn’t you be able to view or access it? As long as using proxies do not appear to be an infringement of copyright law, you can use proxies to stream content while enjoying complete peace of mind.
Good Practices for Using Proxies Legally
Before you use a proxy server to stream any content that has been blocked in your geographical location, you should carefully read the target website’s terms and conditions. This practice ensures you avoid breaking any terms and conditions that may lead the target website to take legal action against you.
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How to Use a Fake IP Address and Mask Yourself Online

How to Use a Fake IP Address and Mask Yourself Online

As the notion of privacy gets trampled on with each passing year, online privacy only becomes even more important.
That’s why many people use fake IP addresses. To be clear, “fake IP address” is a bit of a misnomer that implies creating a new one out of thin air. That’s not possible. The best you can do is hide your IP address behind someone else’s already-existing IP address. This is called IP masking. So how do you spoof your IP address?
1. Use a VPN
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, but is much simpler than it sounds. Basically, you can connect your computer or device to someone else’s network, then browse the web through it. Whatever activity you’re doing looks like it’s coming from them, not from you.
When you connect to a VPN, you’re masking your IP address with one of the IP addresses on that network. To trace the traffic back to you, the VPN would have to give you up (or your IP address would have to be revealed via DNS leak).
For best results, use a paid VPN service because free VPNs come with too many risks and downsides. The most important one is that you can never quite trust a free service. Are they selling your data? If asked, would they give up your true IP address? It does happen.
As such, we only recommend using a logless VPN. Such VPNs don’t keep activity logs, so they can’t give up your IP address even if requested. Plus, most logless VPNs encrypt all of your traffic to and from the network, preventing any snooping by ISPs or governments.
VPNs are useful in so many circumstances, but there are too many myths about them that might put you off; you should dispense with misinformation and use a VPN for secure searching.
Which Is the Best VPN For You?
ExpressVPN and CyberGhost are both excellent options. If neither suits you, have a look at our overview of best VPN services. Long story short: whichever service you pick, you just download the app, run it, and use it to connect to the VPN on demand. It’s really that simple.
Use this link for up to 49% off ExpressVPN plans!
2. Use a Web Proxy
A web proxy works in much the same way as a VPN. You connect to the proxy server, then all your web traffic flows through the proxy server. As such, your IP address gets hidden by the proxy server’s IP address.
But there are two major differences between proxy and VPN.
Firstly, web proxies are typically unencrypted. Even if your IP address is masked by a proxy, the traffic itself can still be sniffed by ISPs and governments. Not only that, but some websites may still be able to see your real IP address using JavaScript and the now largely-defunct Flash, which are another set of threats to your online security.
Secondly, some browsers let you route only browser traffic. To use a web proxy, you go into your web browser’s settings and manually input the proxy server’s IP address. This allows applications and devices outside the web browser, like Skype, to still use your actual IP address.
Find a free web proxy using a site like PremProxy or Proxy List. Using a proxy server in your country will keep it fast, but using a proxy server in another country can be useful for bypassing region-blocked content and adding a tiny layer of extra obscurity.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Firefox
In the browser, select Preferences from the dropdown menu in the top-left corner.
In the General section, scroll down to Network Settings.
Click on Settings.
Select Manual proxy configuration, then type in the proxy’s address and port in the HTTP Proxy field.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Microsoft Edge
On the homepage, click on three dots from the top-left corner.
Select Settings.
Search for proxy in search settings, and selectOpen your computer’s proxy settings.
In the Settings window, toggle the Use a proxy server option, and type in the proxy’s address and port in the Address field.
Click on Save to finalize your proxy setup.
How to Set Up a Web Proxy in Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi
In the main menu, select Settings.
Under Network, click Change proxy settings…
In the Connections tab, click LAN settings.
Enable Use a proxy server for your LAN, then type in the proxy’s address and port in the Address field.
Note: Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and other Chromium-based browsers do not have a built-in browser-specific proxy feature. Instead, they only use system-wide proxy settings. However, you can use an extension like Proxy Switcher & Manager to use web proxies that only affect browser traffic.
3. Use Public Wi-Fi
Instead of routing your traffic through another person’s network, you can opt to connect directly to their network—and the easiest way to do this is to hop onto public Wi-Fi.
The funny thing is that this is really the only way to hide your home IP address. When you’re on public Wi-Fi, there’s no way for someone to trace it back to your home. And if it’s a popular hotspot (e. g. Starbucks), your activity will be obscured by dozens of other users at any time.
But remember that public Wi-Fi has its risks.
By default, most public Wi-Fi hotspots are unencrypted. All your activities while connected can be seen by anyone else on the network (if they’re sniffing it out), which includes login details for websites like banks and e-commerce shopping. Public Wi-Fi hotspots can also spread malware infections to your device.
On top of this, there are several other ways for hackers to steal your identity on public Wi-Fi. So while you might be hiding your IP address, you’re still opening yourself up to a whole host of other privacy and security risks.
4. Use Tor Browser
Tor browser, sometimes also called the Onion router, is a free browser that hides your IP address every time you connect to the internet. It does this by connecting you with the Tor network at the start, which transmits your data through random relay servers hosted by worldwide volunteers.
For most people not living in authoritarian countries like China, Venezuela, etc. (where Tor is banned), it’s a handy tool to have in your arsenal of privacy solutions.
To get started, go to the official Tor website and install the browser from there. When the setup is complete, click on Connect. The Tor browser will then link up to the Tor network. This could take a few minutes, so you’ll have to wait a short time.
When it’s done, you’re free to browse the internet anonymously. If you’re using Tor for the first time, though, make sure that you read up on all the online security tips about using Tor efficiently. They are given on the homepage itself!
And That’s How You Can Hide Your IP Address!
Now you know all the different ways you can mask your IP address. If you’re like us, and just can’t accept that “big brother” is prying on you all the time, these tricks will be enough to get started with securing your online anonymity.
Privacy vs. Anonymity vs. Security: Why They Don’t All Mean the Same ThingWhat’s the difference between security, anonymity, and privacy? And when should you prioritize one over another?
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About The Author
Joel Lee
(1521 Articles Published)
Joel Lee is the Editor in Chief of MakeUseOf since 2018. He has a B. S. in Computer Science and over nine years of professional writing and editing experience.
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Frequently Asked Questions about proxy ip address changer

How do I change my proxy IP address?

Here’s how to set a proxy manually in Windows 10:Open Settings.Click Network & Internet. … Click Proxy. … In the Manual Proxy Setup section, set the Use a Proxy Server switch to On.In the Address field, type the IP address.In the Port field, type the port.Click Save; then close the Settings window.

Does a proxy server change your IP?

A proxy server can change your IP address, so the web server doesn’t know exactly where you are in the world. It can encrypt your data, so your data is unreadable in transit. And lastly, a proxy server can block access to certain web pages, based on IP address.May 7, 2021

Is changing proxy illegal?

Yes, it is legal to use a proxy server. Proxies have many different uses, including enabling remote work; setting up a support system for users who are located outside a particular network; protecting networks and Internet users from malicious content; streaming online content from outside a country and more.

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