Proxy Servers; Middle Men of the Internet

When the term “middle man” is mentioned, most people want to take to their heels. A lot of conman-ship is associated with middle men, and for good reason. In this article, we shall discover why proxy servers are often referred to as middle men and get an in-depth understanding of how they operate. This article is a sequel of Protecting Yourself Online; intent on making sure you are safe anytime you browse online.

Proxy serves are computer (appliances or applications) that act as an intermediary between the client (you) and the web server (website you visit). This is where the term “middle man” comes from. Whenever you use a proxy server, all the data of the application you have routed through the proxy goes through a third-party before it is exposed to the open internet. Let’s expound on that former issue.

How do proxy servers work?

To allow a proper explanation, I shall assign you a name; you my reader are now called the “client“. Any website you want to visit shall be called a “web server“. Let us take an example of a website you want to visit: www.clytech.co.ke. Without a proxy, the normal route of your data would be [ CLIENT –to-– Web Server ]. For this article, we are going to assume another party called Internet Service Provider (ISP). Now, let us use a proxy and the route would change to [ CLIENT –to-– Proxy Server –to– Web Server ].

All the data for a specific application is routed through a proxy server while it is active. In this sense, the web server at www.clytech.co.ke wouldn’t see your IP address, you location, your browser or even the operating system you are using. Concealed you are. What’s even more fascinating is that proxy servers do not necessarily forward all your requests to the internet. In some instances, there are stored (cached) versions of the website you want to visit. In this case, this is returned to you instead of forwarding your request tot he internet.

There is one bottleneck with proxy servers though; the inability to route all traffic on your machine. For proxies, you need to specify which application you need to route traffic for. Let us take an example for Linux Operating Systems (OS). To route traffic for your app (eg. nmap), you would launch the terminal and write: proxychains nmap -Pn -n -sT <target IP>. That is just an example. For personalized proxy configurations, you can get in touch with us.

What types of proxies are there?

There are several different types of proxy servers and they can be categorized based on the what they are intent on achieving. Below is a brief description of the various types:
Reverse Proxy: used in cases where there are multiple websites on different servers, redirecting onto the requested web server as per the client’s request.
Web Proxy: Used to forward HTTP requests with only the passing of the URL instead of file path.
Anonymous Proxy: Used to hide the IP Address of the client.
Transparent Proxy: Has the role of caching websites providing faster access to the client. It does not hide the client’s IP.
Other Less Popular Proxies: These include; CGI, Suffix, Distorting, TOR Onion, I2P & DNS. All serve different functions and would require their very own articles to cover enough detail.

Is there any security with Proxies?

To get it out of the way; most proxy servers do not provide encryption, especially the free ones. This is not to say that you are not secure and can not hide your activity online. While there are cases where attacks on proxy servers happen and data of users leaked, most of them (if you choose the right one) allow you to trend the internet with significant levels of anonymity like the TOR Onion Proxy. The drawback from a majority of the proxies comes from potential Man-In-The-Middle Attacks, cases where they log your data and when they engage in data mining.

It is important to also note that different proxies use different proxies (rules) while dealing with your requests and data. These protocols include: SOCKS, HTTP, FTP and SSL. Each provides a different level of security and functionality.

The punch line of all this is this: Proxies are important, they are useful and they indeed have their drawbacks but, if you are unaware of how to set them up, you better call up a tech savvy person to help you with that.

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