Defining a Proxy Server: Types, Uses, Configuration & More

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defining a proxy server

Have you ever tried to access a website or service and found it unavailable in your country? We’ve all been there. 

That’s where tools like proxy servers come in handy, bridging the gap between you and the web.

With 26% of global online users utilizing them, proxy servers have become common among private users and businesses. They protect your identity by hiding your original IP address and replacing it with one that suits your needs. 

Defining Proxy Servers 

Every machine connected to the internet has a unique IP address. It helps others identify you and your online presence. 

Side note: Visit whatismyip.com to see your current IP, its location, your ISP, and other details.

IP marks outgoing data from your network with a specific return address that other devices can authenticate. Think of IP as your digital address. 

 you surely don’t want anyone to see your address, right? That’s where proxy servers come in.

Proxy servers help you conceal your online identity by replacing your unique IP with a random one. 

Not only does it prevent cyber attacks on your private network, but it also helps maintain anonymity. This mitigates risks when dealing with IP bans, accessing geo-restricted content, and creating a seamless online experience with full freedom. 

Most importantly, proxy servers add a layer of security to your device. You can set them up as web filters or firewalls to combat malware. Proxy servers can make your private network invincible when paired with a secure web gateway.

defining a proxy server

Proxy Server Use Cases

Proxy servers have many use cases – here’s what they look like in action.

Market Research

Businesses can utilize proxy servers to conduct competitive analysis that suits their marketing strategy. Proxies can help gather competitor pricing data, track market trends, and conduct location-specific ad testing. 

That’s mainly thanks to the web-scraping capabilities of proxy servers. Your competitor will recognize and block multiple requests sent directly from your scraper. To combat it, the proxy server will create a real IP to mimic genuine user behavior.

Lead Generation

Lead generation is another aspect where the web scraping abilities of proxy servers come in handy. In this case, you can use proxies to gather data about potential or existing customers. It’s not just limited to buyers but true for all entities crucial to your business, including prospect clients and decision-makers.

Cybersecurity

Proxies help businesses enhance cybersecurity by monitoring employee internet access. That means blocking specific content and preventing malware downloads. You can also use them to restrict access to sensitive company data. 

The proxy server will moderate all contact between a user’s device and the target web server. This way, no information will leave the organization unauthorized. 

Social Media Outreach

A business’s marketing team needs multiple accounts to expand its social media outreach. Not only is it time-consuming, but it also takes a lot of their resources. More importantly, social media platforms can ban you from creating too many accounts attached to one IP.

With a proxy server, they can get ownership of multiple IPs and appear legitimate. Businesses can acquire residential IPs from specific countries and regions for geo-targeted marketing.  

SEO Monitoring

Proxy-based SEO tools can help you improve your brand’s SEO strategy by extracting SERP data, keyword rankings, and search volumes. A rotating data center proxy efficiently analyzes thousands of links and stays at the top of search engine results. 

proxy server use cases infographic

Understanding Proxy Server Operations

To a non-technical reader, the operations of a proxy server can seem complicated. Let’s break down how they work. 

Request Handling

A proxy server works as a middleman between you and the resource you’re requested to access. The proxy will intercept any request you’ve sent and use its IP to interact with the website. Thus, the website won’t know your online identity.

Shielding Your Identity

It’s crucial to understand proxy servers don’t put your traffic in an encrypted tunnel; that’s what VPNs are for. Proxies simply make requests on your behalf.

Still, you can find proxies that encrypt your requests and even hide them from your internet service provider. In that case, you must trust the proxy owner since they can access your data.

Content Retrieval

The proxy sends your requests using its own random (or geo-specific, in the case of restricted content) IP. Then, the website will fulfill the request to the proxy IP, treating it as the request’s origin. The proxy server will then relay the resource to you.

Security Check

Before it sends any content your way, the proxy will examine it for potential threats. That’s why businesses use proxies to access content that isn’t restricted or unavailable. They could do it themselves, but they need the proxy’s intelligence to protect their network from malware. 

Content Caching

Lastly, the proxy can store copies of frequently accessed content in its cache. This way, it can quickly deliver content without repeatedly reaching out to the website, resulting in faster load times for familiar web pages.

Types of Proxy Servers

All proxies have one purpose: giving you an IP address to surf the internet safely and without restrictions. The different kinds have features and use cases that address specific pain points.

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1. Forward Proxy

A forward proxy is a gateway for users within an internal network to facilitate data retrieval from clients. It studies your requests to decide whether a connection would be safe and necessary. Forward proxies protect your IP and offer administrative control, creating a centralized entry point for internal networks. 

2. Reverse Proxy

A reverse proxy is the opposite of a forward proxy, forwarding requests from a browser to web servers. It intercepts user requests at the network edge, sending them and receiving replies from the original server. They’re ideal for websites wanting to organize many incoming requests.

3. Open Proxy

Also known as free proxies, these are available on free proxy server sites for public use. You don’t need any authorization or identification to access these proxies. Their open-source nature makes them slow, insecure, and unreliable. 

4. Residential Proxy

Residential proxies provide IPs that belong to specific devices in real locations. Residential proxies can be expensive since they’re more reliable than other proxy types. They’re best used for website ad verification since they can help you block cookies and ads from competitors.

5. Transparent Proxy

A transparent proxy mimics the presence of residential IP, making you “invisible” among a crowd of users. But these proxies are also vulnerable to malicious use since users can be connected to them without consent. So, they can get intercepted by cybersecurity threats like SYN-flood denial-of-service attacks.

6. Anonymous Proxy

An anonymous proxy is ideal for anyone who wants to make their online presence untraceable. It hides your device location and interacts with websites on your behalf. Most online users consider the use of anonymous proxies dishonest and unethical.

7. Highly Anonymus Proxy

Highly anonymous proxies take your online anonymity one step further, hiding your details before the proxy can access the target website. It’s perfect for employees who don’t want their activities traced back to their company. It’s impossible to track someone who uses a highly anonymous proxy.

8. Socks 4 and 5 Proxy

Socks 4 and 5 proxies are perfect for streaming, gaming, and torrenting without restrictions. Since they’re less advanced, they transmit your requests without reading them. These proxies offer UDP protocol support, sending unencrypted data at better speeds.

9. DNS Proxy

DNS proxies work as DNS servers and query forwarders. They cache and forward requests at incredible speeds, sometimes offering VPN-like features.

10. Distorting Proxy

Also known as Level 2 anonymous proxies, distorting proxies work uniquely. While they conceal your information, they also reveal to the internet that you’re using a proxy. They’re speedy and simple enough for the everyday user.

11. Data Center Proxy

Datacenter proxies are not provided by your internet service provider but by a corporation’s data center. That means it exists in a physical data center, offering quick responses at an affordable rate. But when used for data-intensive tasks, these proxies will likely get blocked.

12. SSL Proxy

Secure socket layer (SSL) proxies are incredible for those who need decryption between clients and servers. However, these proxies come with their limitations since mobile applications are most vulnerable to proxy-based SSL attacks. You’ll also notice slower load speeds since SSL proxies can’t be cached.

13. Rotating Proxy

Rotating proxies provide unique IPs to each user every time, making it perfect for anyone who wants to perform high-volume web scraping. You’ll be able to visit the same website repeatedly without getting blocked.

13. Backconnect Proxy


A backconnect proxy is akin to a chameleon in the digital world. Imagine a maze of mirrors where each reflection represents a different IP address. This proxy dynamically changes its IP address with each new request, offering a unique blend of anonymity and accessibility.

Setting Up a Personal Proxy Server 

Setting up a personal proxy server can look different on various operating systems. Here’s a step-by-step guide for Windows 10 and macOS users.

Windows 10

  1. Open the Windows settings and navigate to Network & Internet > Proxy.
  2. Find Manual Setup and turn on the Use a Proxy Server toggle. 
  3. Turn on the Automatically Detect Settings toggle.
  4. Once Windows finds a PAC file, find Automatic Proxy Setup and turn on the Use Setup Script toggle.
  5. Enter the required script address and click Save.

macOS

  1. Open System Preferences and navigate to the Network icon.
  2. Choose between Ethernet and Wi-Fi and click Advanced > Proxies.
  3. Click on Auto Proxy Discovery and select Secure Web Proxy (HTTPS).
  4. Enter the required proxy server address and its port number.
  5. Select Automatic Proxy Configuration and type the proxy address to use a PAC file.
  6. If applied, click on the “Proxy server requires password” checkbox.
  7. Enter the required account name and password.
  8. Click OK to save.

Benefits & Risks of Using Proxy Servers

Proxy servers have many benefits but also have their fair share of downsides. Remember to weigh the pros and cons before you make an investment. 

pros and cons of using proxy server graphic

Benefits of Using Proxy Servers

  • Online Anonymity: The main aim of proxies is to protect your online identity. They mask your original IP address and replace it with a random or geo-specific one. When a website tries to find out where your device is located, it’ll receive an incorrect response. 
  • Website Unblocking: While only 3% of Internet users rely on proxies to bypass website restrictions, it’s still one of their most beneficial purposes. Since you won’t use your IP, you won’t need to worry about IP bans.
  • Bypassing Censorship: Netflix and other streaming services restrict access to certain movies and TV shows in specific countries and regions. This also occurs when governments censor certain new releases in their country. With the help of a geo-specific proxy, you can appear as if you’re streaming from a different location. 
  • Translation: Businesses can preview a localized web experience for different markets before they release geo-specific ads. In this context, proxies can become incredible marketing tools for organizations.
  • Improved Performance: Depending on the proxy type, you can enjoy better load speeds for improved web performance. It is especially true for socks 4 and 5 proxies, improving load speeds for gaming and streaming. 

Risks Associated With Proxy Servers

  • Network Incompatibility: Sometimes, your network may not be incompatible with your proxy provider. This is tricker for those wanting to launch a web venture. Users mostly experience it when proxy providers use an outdated version of TLS, a data encryption protocol. 
  • Lack of Encryption: Since proxy servers can’t encrypt your data, you risk your data getting exposed at any moment. If your proxy provider doesn’t have an SSL certificate, the chances of data exposure are quite high. Third parties can intercept your data when connected to an unencrypted proxy server.
  • Proxy Providers: Most proxy providers will protect your data from your ISP, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. The proxy server owner can view your data, so choose a trustworthy proxy provider.

TL;DR

Proxy servers can be the hallmark of online privacy, security, and accessibility when used correctly. Once you understand the various types and diverse uses, you can use proxies to enhance and expand your web experience. 

Sources:

https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/ddos/syn-flood-ddos-attack/#:~:text=What%20is%20a%20SYN%20flood,consuming%20all%20available%20server%20resources.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269291151_A_study_of_SSL_Proxy_attacks_on_Android_and_iOS_mobile_applications

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/2010_Circumvention_Tool_Usage_Report.pdf 

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Expert in mobile proxies, internet privacy, SEO marketing and sales.
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