First of all it’s best to define what exactly is a proxy server. For many people have a completely false idea of what it entails.
In a practical context a proxy server is a computer that acts as an intermediary between a workstation and the internet. So instead of a request for a web page going directly to the site, the request first goes to the proxy server which downloads the web page and forwards it back to the client.
This has two main implications -
- The Web server has no record of the workstation’s IP address.
- The proxy server handles all web requests for the client.
These are the main reasons, proxies are used to enhance your online privacy. They effectively add a layer of anonymity to your web browsing ensuring the web site you visit has no record of your location.
Unfortunately it’s not that clear cut and the main issue that many people forget is that in some senses you are actually adding a layer of risk to your browsing. The reason is that although your IP address is not logged on the web site you visit (which should only see the proxy) it is logged on the proxy server itself. In fact the proxy server potentially holds a complete and total list of your entire browsing history.
There is a reason that hackers and cyber criminals set up free proxies online and let anyone use them. It’s not some sense of free spirit or egalitarian ideals, it’s because the owner of a proxy is potentially able to intercept all the user’s web transactions. So they become a handy source of usernames, account details and passwords from the unsuspecting users of the proxy.
Of course not all the free proxies available online are run by hackers and thieves, some are just accidentally left open or occasionally even set up for no gain. These however soon get flooded with users and hence people find themselves locked into this constant search for new proxies which have not been overloaded yet.
When a new proxy server appears online, it is pretty quickly well known and very well used – within hours it will be overloaded and too slow to use. Hence the search, if you find a proxy quickly you can get a few hours use of it.
Personally I’d never use one, it is a huge risk with your personal details and ironically most of these users have less privacy not more. People do use proxies for other reasons for example bypass geotargeting which sites like the BBC Iplayer, Hulu and Youtube use to block access to viewers in different countries. There’s less privacy issues using proxies just for this sort of browsing but unfortunately you need speed to stream video.