ServersWhat Is a Proxy Server?

What Is a Proxy Server?

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Proxy servers remain the powerful middlemen for securely passing internet communications between web clients and service providers in an evolving network.

Proxy servers can increase internet connectivity, hide client IP addresses, and automate resource access. These high-powered computers are an added layer in the communication protocol, and primarily protect web clients and web servers, and ease workloads.

A proxy server can do the job for growing organizations looking to monitor personnel traffic and establish additional anonymity for internet communication and protection for back-end servers.

How do proxy servers work?

When a web client requests an internet resource, the request reaches a web server responsible for finding and delivering the resource to the user. Instead of directly accessing and communicating with a web server over the internet, a proxy server is a go-between, creating a layer of separation between web client and webpage.

Forward Proxy

The most familiar proxy servers to users are forward proxies. Used on the front end to protect web clients or browsers, a forward proxy shields a device’s actual IP address. Whether visiting suspicious websites or bypassing the organization’s firewall restrictions, a forward proxy offers an additional layer of security for users. Some forward proxy servers present a consistent IP address that can be flagged by the network administrator, while others can change their IP address at an undetectable rate.

A forward proxy server can also store caches for the internal network’s use, reducing the energy burned by repetitive requests for the same resource.

Also Read: Configuring Apache 2.0 as a Forward Proxy Server

Reverse Proxy

Reverse proxy servers are more familiar to server administrators because they work on the back end, offering load balancing and high availability for surges in traffic or requests.

Reverse proxies can serve resources for multiple web application servers while also shielding internal resources from malicious web clients. The reverse proxy is a secure portal for the resource facilitators by prohibiting direct internet access to back-end operating systems.

Also Read: Proxy Reversal by the Pound

Types of proxy servers

Type Description
Anonymous Presents unique IP address to websites
Distorting Similar to anonymous proxies but with added location-distortion
High Anonymity Changes IP address frequently to convolute traffic
Transparent Client’s IP address is visible and communicated to website

Proxy Server vs. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Both proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) route requests and responses through an external server and access websites otherwise blocked by physical location or network. While very similar, VPNs often provide more robust protection in the form of encrypted internet traffic.

Proxy Servers and Secure Web Gateways (SWG)

While traditional firewalls established protection at the port, companies adopted web-based applications that required secure web gateways (SWGs) to defend from malicious web attacks. Proxy servers continue to manage an organization’s internal endpoints, but SWG solutions can offer even more capabilities in the form of URL filtering, compliance monitoring, and data loss prevention (DLP). Proxies increasingly come with SWG solutions and more comprehensive security infrastructure solutions.

Also Read:eSecurityPlanet: A Guide to Top Secure Web Gateway Vendors

Benefits of using a proxy server

Browsing Anonymously

Proxy servers are best known for enabling web clients to execute tasks online without revealing their identity. From reporters to security administrators, cybercriminals, and whistleblowers–no matter the industry–web users need the added identity protection provided by proxies for sensitive internet tasks.

While a user’s proxy IP address is visible online, what is essential is not revealing the user’s real IP. Malicious users attempting to take advantage of visible web traffic, including significant research or proprietary data, have an instant roadblock if a proxy server anonymizes the traffic.

Also Read: Turn Proxy On and Off With a Single Click in Firefox

Proxy Caching and Saving Bandwidth

With billions of requests made across the internet every second, servers are putting in overtime to respond promptly with pertinent data. When utilizing proxy servers, organizations add bandwidth to balance more workloads.

Proxy caching specifically enables a proxy server to store content on the proxy server for general use by the organization. Suppose personnel frequently request a specific application resource, webpage, or file. In that case, the proxy server can save and use this cache of data instead of re-processing every individual request for the same resource. This time and energy-saving feature directly reduces unnecessary internet traffic and speeds retrieval for users.

Also Read: Best Load Balancing Software for 2021

Monitoring Internet Activity

Proxy servers can track the internet activity of staff and time on sites and configure rules to block certain websites. Most organizations use proxy servers to block the most dangerous websites, including access to the dark web. Proxy influence extends to blocking websites that are distracting or obstructive to the organization. This internal traffic monitor can block access to shadow IT applications staff uses for business purposes without explicit IT authorization.

Biggest concerns for proxies

While proxy servers offer anonymity, efficiency, and compliance, their traditional role is not enough to cement the service-oriented architecture. The biggest concern in using proxies is their inability to encrypt traffic. Proxies typically only use SSL encryption and are vulnerable to advanced malicious attacks that can strip and decrypt proxy connections.

Another risk posed by proxy servers is the caches held in the server. While protected from external actors, personnel’s access to the cache can expose their contents to an intruder. Like so many advanced persistent threats (APT) that have shown their patience in entering networks, access to an employee’s credentials could open the door to lateral movement and exposing cache contents.

Proxy servers: Layered communication

Whether it is a client or a service provider, proxy servers offer levels of anonymity needed to protect a user’s identity while traversing the internet. A proxy server is only a supplementary network tool for protecting resources, but it comes with key benefits like anonymous browsing and proxy caching that helps balance loads.

Also Read: Server Security Best Practices

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