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With all the talk about web security on the user-end since the horrors that were SOPA and PIPA, it’s not uncommon to hear proxies brought up in quite a few conversations these days. But what exactly are proxies, and what use are they to anyone but the stereotypical “hackers” shown on television and in movies? Put simply, a proxy is a web server that acts as a middle man to, among other things, protect the identity of the web-surfing user. When a user sends a web request ion via a proxy, the proxy is where the user’s identity stops. The proxy then interacts with the web to send and receive data, and reports it back to the users. Through these actions, the user’s identity is protected and they’re granted unmitigated internet they may otherwise be unable to access. This is valuable for a great many purposes. Let’s take a look at a few of the more common ones now.


Protection

Many users find themselves having to visit parts of the internet where dangers may lurk. Software on many servers will track IPs to either spam the users relentlessly or conduct more nefarious practices. Carelessness such as this is the prime cause of compromised bank information and other similar violations of identity and privacy. With a solid proxy in place, it’s impossible for spammers and thieves to track the IP back to the user, as the proxy will be a dead end for them. Conducting financial transactions and other uses of sensitive information are best done through a proxy of this sort.


Sensitive Research

Journalists, writers and the simply curious often find themselves afraid to search the likes of Google for certain topics due to their social or political controversy. For example, an author wants to accurately portray a bob threatening the heroes in his story as well as the blast when it goes off. Researching such pyrotechnics could potentially land them in hot water in the event of a real bombing, due to guilt by association. This is merely a small example of the type of risky research many people need to do but don’t want to look guilty for conducting. Proxies guarantee them anonymity so they can safely study whatever topic they need without worry of false accusations of the unspeakable were to happen.


Unblocking Websites

There are two very annoying times when websites simply refuse to be accessible to a user. The more common is when using a public or business internet connection – many of those walls put in place will create a lot of false positives when trying to block “smut”, making 90% of the internet entirely useless. Good luck telling the IP people this, they’ll simply assume you want that 10% of questionable material unblocked, thus not bothering to change things at all. Still another instance of this are websites which are hosted overseas which refuse to let any IP address coming from certain countries in. iPlayer (the BBC’s digital video player) is a fairly famous example of a non-American web service which brutally locks out all foreign access by default. A proxy can get the user around these by preventing the local filter’s DNS (domain name server) from even looking at what’s going in and out, as well as spoof locations and IPs to trick foreign servers into letting users in without question. This is a good way to gain 100% access to the proper internet even if a public wifi spot or business connection doesn’t want to let this happen.


Encrypting Webpages

Finally, a boost to privacy and security comes in the form of encryption. Most web servers not only can’t afford the power to encrypt sites, but would actually be hindered by this. A proxy, acting as its own relay/middle man can interact with the various servers online and then encrypt the data it sends back to the user, where a special browser or interface will readily descramble it . The benefits of this are multitudinous. This further prevents espionage when it comes to sensitive information, email and other communications. It also prevents ISPs from nosing into what their customers look at online, which they’re not supposed to be doing in the first place. This also prevents employers from the same kind of snooping. What business is it of theirs what you look at online during your lunch break or on a particularly slow day, right?


These are just a few examples of how proxies can be very useful. In the coming years, anonymity and privacy are increasingly disregarded by users with the increasing ubiquity of interlinked social networks. Companies and governments have always wanted to disregard anonymity and privacy, so they’re tightening their grip in response to this invitation. Most users won’t need to use a proxy every time they go online, but it’s high time everyone learned what they are and how to use them. The time when proxies will be necessary for any and all casual use of the web is coming, and it’s coming frighteningly soon.

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