What are Proxies, and How are They useful?

What are Proxies, and How are They useful?If you were to take a close look at your Internet settings, you may notice an available option is a ‘proxy.” A proxy is nothing more than a tool your computer can use to protect you and your information. It can be thought of as a barrier; one that allows you to view websites and receive information from them without the website receiving your information.

In effect, the proxy server acts as a third party, filtering out requests according to the rules of the server. At its most basic level, the proxy server follows several key steps.

  • The user connects to the proxy server
  • The user requests information or a service. This could be a connection to a specific website or a file or other resource.
  • The proxy server applies its filtering guidelines to the request.
  • The verified request is sent to the appropriate server.
  • The information or file is ‘collected’ and sent back to the user

Proxy servers are typically used for security purposes, although they are also used to block access and to apply content filtering rules, primarily to block sites that contain material that the user wants blocked (i.e. adult content). Businesses often use proxy servers to audit employee usage or to protect against data or information leaks.

Proxy servers work in various ways, in fact there are several different types of proxies, each with its own specific purpose.

  • Caching Proxy Server – these proxy servers’ work by speeding up requests. This is done by saving content made by an older request by the user. In effect, a caching proxy server keeps copies of resources that are frequently requested. This obviously has a significant positive impact on bandwidth cost and usage. It also has the effect of improving speed and performance.
  • Web Proxy – A web proxy is used primarily to filter content. Logs are typically produced which give information on specific websites accessed by users and can also be used to monitor overall bandwidth usage.
  • Anonymizing Proxy Server – The sole purpose of an anonymizing proxy server is to make web surfing anonymous. Whether this proxy server is put in place simply as a matter of principle (to protect freedom of speech) or if it is used to allow users to access sites without sharing their information, it is important to note that the actual proxy server will still have access to the user information.
  • Hostile Proxy – This proxy is used to capture information about the web pages and forms that the user visits or fills out.

Proxy Servers are also used by businesses, including Internet Marketing Companies, to augment their overall data handling capabilities.  Often times, there are limits that receiving servers have coming from an IP address; however with a proxy server, the IP address is different.  This method adds to the data handling and exchange capabilities of companies that don’t have an army of servers at the ready at all times.

There are other proxy servers available as well, although they are not as common. At the end of the day, a proxy server is typically used to limit the information that is accessed or to track the usage of a particular user or users. Primarily used in a business setting, proxy servers can be used in a home setting as well – particularly by parents hoping to limit the amount of offensive material their children have access to.