Not too many people take the time to consider the nuts and bolts of the way the internet actually works. The problem is along with all of the great online deals, 24-hour news updates, and cute dog pictures, there is the inherent dangers of identity theft and data security breaches.

However, what actually takes place when you are browsing the web? At your office, you may use a proxy server or a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Or may you are a tech-savvy proxy person who uses some form of proxy service at all times.

What’s a Proxy Server?

What proxy servers do as act as the gateway in between the internet and you. It is a type of intermediary server that separates users from websites they are browsing. Proxy servers offer various levels of privacy, security, and functionality depending on company policy, needs, or your specific use case.

When a proxy server is used, traffic from the internet flows through your proxy server as it is on its way to whatever address you requested. Your request is then returned through the same proxy server (other than the exceptions to the rule), and the proxy server then forwards the data that it has received from the website over to you.

If this is all that it does, why is it so important to have a proxy server? Why can’t you just so directly back and forth from the website?

There is a lot more that modern proxy servers do than just forward web requests that have to do with network performance and data security. A proxy server act as a web filter and firewall, caches data to speed common requests up, and provide shared network connections. Good proxy servers protect the internal network and users from all of the bad stuff out on the internet. Finally, a proxy server can provide very high privacy levels.

How Do Proxy Servers Work?

All computers connect to the internet must have their own unique Internet Protocol (IP) Address. An IP address can be thought of like the street address of your computer. Similar to how the post office knows where you to deliver your mail, the internet knows how to send the right data to the right computer via the IP address.

Basically, a proxy server is a computer with its own IP address on the internet that your computer is aware of. Whenever you send out a web request, the request first will go to your proxy server. The proxy server then will make the web request for you, collect the response from a web server, and then forward the web page data to you so that you can view the page from your browser.

When your web requests are forwarded by the proxy server, it changes the data that you send and you get the information still that you are expecting to see. Your IP address can be changed by the proxy server so that the web server does not know exactly where you are located in the world. Your data can be encrypted by the proxy server so that when your data is in transit it is encrypted. Finally, access to certain web pages can be blocked by the proxy server, based on what the IP address is.

Why Should a Proxy Server Be used?

There are several different reasons why individuals and organizations use proxy servers. 

To control the internet use of children and employees

Proxy servers can be set up by parents and organizations to monitor and control how their children and employees use the internet. A majority of organizations do not want their employees to look at specific websites while they are on company time. The proxy server can be configured to deny access to certain websites, and redirect employees instead with a note that asks them to refrain from look at these websites from the company network. Also, they can monitor and make a log of all of the web requests they receive. So although they may not block websites, they may know how much time employees are spending browsing the web.

Improved speeds and bandwidth savings

Using a good proxy server may also allow organizations to achieve improved overall network performance. Proxy servers are able to cache popular websites (locally save copies of a website). So when you request www.facebook.com, the proxy server will check and see if it has the most recent copy of this website, and then send the saved copy to you. So when hundred of individuals hit the same site all at once from the proxy server, only one request to facebook.com is sent. That saves the company on bandwidth and improves the performance of the network.

Privacy benefits

Organizations and individuals use proxy servers to more privately browse the internet. Some proxy servers change the IP address along with other identifying information that is contained in the web request. That means that the destination server will not know who made an original request, and that will help to keep browsing habits and personal information more private than if a proxy server was not used.

Improved security

Along with privacy benefits, security benefits are also provided by proxy servers. Your proxy server can be configured to encrypt web request in order to prevent prying eyes from being able to read your transcripts. Known malware sites can also be prevented from getting access via the proxy server. Also, organizations can combine a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with a proxy server so that remote users access the internet at all times via the company proxy. A VPN offers a direct connection that is provided by a company to remote or external users. When a VPN is used, it allows the company to verify and control users having access to resources (internal data, email). It provides them with the information they need while also offer a secure connection to protect company data to keep it secure.

Obtain access to resources that are blocked

A proxy server can let users circumvent restrictions that have been imposed by governments or companies. For example, if a local football team’s game is blocked on aline, you can log into a proxy server that is located in another part of the country and watch the game it from there. A proxy server will make it appear that you are in California when you actually reside in North Carolina. There are several governments in the world that monitor the internet closely and restrict access. Proxy servers provide their citizens with access to the internet that is uncensored.