Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
What is a proxy server?
A proxy server allows Web surfers to make indirect connections to internet sites through the Internet. That means you can search without revealing your IP address or even your identity, for that matter.
A Proxy Server will capture your traffic and forward it to the desired site, acting as a relay point for information. The following article covers what they are, how they affect us, and how we can use them in our everyday lives.
Table of contents
- What is a Proxy Server?
- Why are proxies necessary?
- Are there risks associated with proxies?
- Advantages of a proxy
- Disadvantages of a proxy
- Why You Should Use a Proxy?
- Types of Proxies
- How to Choose a Proxy?
- How is a Proxy Server different from a VPN?
- What are the benefits of using a Proxy Server?
- What are the risks associated with using it?
- How to use a Proxy Server
- General steps for using a proxy server
- Best Proxy Websites
- How to enable a Proxy Server in Firefox
What is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is a computer or device that acts as a relay point between you and the Internet. It allows you to access the internet without someone noticing your IP address.
They’re great for researching sensitive topics, circumventing censorship or firewalls, or just getting around general oversight of what you do online.
Some countries and organizations censor certain sites, and proxies allow you to view them as if they didn’t exist. If you’ve ever searched and were shown a blank screen then checked again in another browser only to be shown the same blank screen, then it’s likely that your ISP is blocking that site.
Why are proxies necessary?
There are many reasons for those who wish to circumvent censorship on the Internet.
- Some might just be curious and want to learn more about what they’re looking at or access a blocked site.
- Others might be experiencing high levels of censorship from their ISP or a malicious government organization to prevent you from accessing your favorite sites.
When using a proxy, you can view blocked sites as if they weren’t blocked at all and use them for all their full potential.
Another reason people use proxies is to bypass network restrictions or firewalls that try to prevent individuals from accessing some websites. It’s easy to restrict access to certain websites, but not all of them.
Normally, you would have to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or proxy server to get past these restrictions, but proxies are just as effective (and less confusing).
Are there risks associated with proxies?
There are some risks involved when using a proxy server. Since they hide your IP address, they may be subject to abuse from the website you’re trying to view.
The site’s content is then processed through your computer, which could be harmful if it’s malicious code designed specifically for your computer.
You should also be aware of the risks involved with using a proxy server to access information on sensitive topics. It’s possible you could inadvertently take it to your employers, stalkers, or your government.
You should take precautions and ensure you’re not inadvertently taking something you shouldn’t. What this means is using proxies to access sites meant for research (such as research libraries).
Advantages of a proxy
- Anonymity – You can use your proxy for all your web surfing needs so you can be anonymous on the internet.
- Upgrades – Proxy websites are updated all the time with new features and more useful information.
- Cost – A proxy website will have unlimited access to the internet at no cost, unlike some other free services that can become blocked or deleted at any moment.
- Privacy – No sharing of personal information with any website is required when using a proxy.
- Much More Fun – Much more fun than Firewalls, Anti-virus, or other security measures that just block people from getting your information.
Disadvantages of a proxy
- Less Security – Though proxies are used to keep you safe from hackers, they may not keep you completely safe all the time so it is best to have other security measures in place as well.
- Limited Connections – Some proxies have limits on the number of connections they allow so it could mean waiting in line for your turn to connect if it becomes crowded which can be frustrating at times.
- Limited Software – Some proxies have a limited amount of software that they offer to their users so the user has to use another software on their own if they wish to get more features or functionality.
- Less Access – Some proxies make you register for a free account before you can access the site’s content, which of course is not free and can cost a couple dollars a month for a more complete service.
- Not Everyone Visits the Proxy – Some people do not want to use a proxy because they find it unsecure.
- Less Ease of Use – A proxy website is just one more service to do with when using the internet so using it can be confusing when you are not used to doing so.
- Limited Access – Some proxies can only give you limited access to your favorite websites so it will be hard to use them with your favorite sites if they are not opened in public access mode by default.
- Less Speed – Some proxies can slow down your internet connection and make it frustrating for you because everything is running slowly.
- False Information – Sometimes you can get false information from a proxy due to faulty code or other reasons so it is best to always cross check the information before using it.
Why You Should Use a Proxy?
- To get into blocked websites that no longer work (random websites such as games, music, etc.).
- To be able to share sites with friends and family at public places (school, church, library).
- To be able to share with friends and family at public places (school, church, library).
- To be able to access your favorite websites at school or college (Facebook, Pandora, Twitter, etc.).
- To be able to watch those blocked videos at those restricted times (youtube).
- To be able to access those websites that you have been banned from looking at by your parents, employers, or organizations you belong to.
- Keep a log of the websites you have visited so you can go back and check them later on if needed.
- Because you don’t have a choice – Employers put blocks on some sites so employees can’t visit them during work hours.
- Because you can’t afford to stay connected 24/7 with your friends and family.
- To avoid paying for expensive international phone calls when you want to call across the world.
- To unlock games or movies that are blocked in your area (region-shifting is the term).
- To get access to streaming videos, music, and other media content when they are not available in your country (again region-shifting is the term).
- To view websites that are censored in your country.
- To access many more services that are not available in your area.
Types of Proxies
- Main Proxy Directory Page – This is where most people get into when they enter a website address like http://proxy-list.org or http://www.free-proxy-list.org/ An excellent source of active working web proxies to surf your favorite websites.
- Dedicated Proxy Sites – These are websites that have individual proxy websites focusing on a certain niche only, for example only used for online gaming or only used to view pornography.
- Public Proxy Directory – These are websites that have categories where you can find all types of proxy sites sorted by country, technology, etc., for example all proxies related to Japan.
- Free Proxy Website – This does not mean that free proxy website is free through and through, many of them require registration or subscription before you can use their service.
- Elite Proxy Directory – These are proxy websites that have been tested by the proxy website operator and verified to be working/secure.
- Fast Proxy Website – These are websites focused on making your internet connection faster, for example it will automatically connect you to a closer server or IP address if one is available.
- Anonymous Proxy Website – These are the most secure proxies because they hide your IP address from any site that you visit and also masks the site’s IP address as well so neither can see each other’s information.
How to Choose a Proxy?
- Evaluate the different types of proxies available. Check some reviews and ratings of those proxies before you can choose which one better suits your needs.
- Choose a proxy with a good amount of servers to choose from so you don’t have to keep reconnecting to a new server when one becomes unavailable.
- Choose a proxy that has been verified by another user or organization that checks proxy sites, for example the Elite Proxy websites mentioned earlier.
- Choose a proxy with fast internet connection speeds for your convenience and enjoyment when using the service, for example choose an Elite Proxy site that is tested and verified to be fast and secure like: http://elite-proxy.co.uk/.
- Choose a proxy that has fewer advertisements that can interfere with your activity when browsing the internet, for example choose an Elite Proxy site that does not have any banners or other types of ads on their sites.
- Choose a proxy that has support for multiple operating systems and browsers, for example Firefox or Internet Explorer, so you don’t have to adjust your settings every time you wish to use it.
- Choose a proxy service provider where you can register for free, especially if the service is only offered in paid form.
- Choose a proxy site that accepts methods of payment, for example certain proxies are offered through PayPal.
How is a Proxy Server different from a VPN?
MOST PEOPLE THINK OF a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when they think about a proxy server. It encrypts all of your traffic and allows you to access any information you want freely.
A VPN is also a good choice for maintaining anonymity online, but a proxy server may be more appropriate depending on the situation.
One of the biggest differences between a proxy server and a VPN is that it’s much less secure than a VPN.
Because they’re common in most offices, many people are familiar with VPNs, but not nearly as many know about proxies or how they work.
A proxy server doesn’t offer any encryption at all! That means that whatever information you send from your computer will be sent unencrypted and, therefore, could potentially be intercepted by someone else along the way.
You’re still susceptible to government censorship with a proxy server, but you don’t have to worry about being hacked.
A common problem with VPNs is that they’ll keep you secure while you’re on the VPN itself, but once your information is no longer encrypted or protected by the VPN, it’s left vulnerable and could be at risk of being read by another party.
This isn’t a concern with a proxy server because once it’s done relaying your information through a proxy, it doesn’t continue to protect that.
What are the benefits of using a Proxy Server?
The biggest benefit of using a proxy server is anonymity. Since it hides your IP address, you can browse the web without worrying about being tracked or monitored.
This is especially useful for people living under repressive governments or those who want to bypass censorship from their ISP or government.
What are the risks associated with using it?
Other users may share some servers, which could mean that you have to deal with slow connection speeds if other users use a proxy server simultaneously.
Some websites may block access from proxy servers, and there are also some risks involved with using it regarding viruses and malware.
Proxy sites themselves also have a reputation for redirecting people to sites they don’t want to be redirected to, which could be an issue if you’re trying to view a specific site and not just any website out there.
How to use a Proxy Server
There are many different ways to use a proxy server, but the easiest is to configure your browser to access the proxy server. This allows you to remain anonymous on all of your devices as they’ll all be using the same IP address.
Some browsers like Chrome and Firefox make this process really easy and automatically configure them for your use.
Others like Internet Explorer and Opera make it more difficult, requiring you to enter in the settings for each one manually, but they do have instructions on how to do this.
If you’re struggling with the configuration process, then we recommend checking out our list of recommended proxies below since most of them include step-by-step guides with pictures.
General steps for using a proxy server
Here is what you need to know about using a proxy server step by step on your computer. The best part? It’s easy, fast, and even fun!
- Click on the ‘Wifi’ button in the bottom right corner of your screen.
- Select ‘Network and Sharing Center’ in the menu that popped up.
- This is also often found under Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network And Sharing Centrec\> Ethernet Connection or Wireless Connection etc.
- Whatever kind of connection you have, select it from the list that pops up. In my case it’s a wireless connection so I will select that from my list of available connections here.
- Once you’ve selected the connection you want to work with, click on ‘Properties’ at the bottom left corner.
- You’ll see the available connections listed there under your connection name.
- You should see a box listing all kinds of possible ‘Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)’ settings. Now click on Properties.
- Indeed, there are probably like 8 or 10 different IP settings to choose from here!
- Don’t worry about how they work; you don’t need to know that at this point!
- Just keep clicking on each IP setting until you find one that says ‘Obtain DNS server address automatically’.
- Check the ‘Obtain DNS server address automatically’ box and click on ‘OK’.
- You can now close your network connection window. You are done with Windows settings.
- Now move on to your browser settings. Whatever browser you are using, whether it’s Firefox, Chrome, IE or Opera etc., you need to go through its settings too!
- First open your browser and click on the ‘Tools’ button, or something similar. This is located in the top right corner of your screen if you have a PC, or top left for Macs. It’s the button that looks like a gear, or a wrench.
- Then select ‘Advanced Options’ from the drop-down menu.
- This will pop up a box with different settings. Here you will find things like ‘Home Page’, ‘Language’, ‘Time Zone’. You should also have other settings to check there, including ‘Privacy Settings’ which you should check so you can block annoying ads and so on.
- But for now, just check the box next to the heading called ‘Use a proxy server’.
- Navigate through your browser options until you select “Use a proxy server” in that little box in the top right corner of your screen.
Finally, you should be able to select a proxy server. If you ever get stuck with this problem, you can always ask for an online tech support service. You can also do a Google search for “How to use proxy server” and find threads on this very subject.
The proxy server sorts out which content you get from the internet and which content you don’t get from it. In your case, because your computer is connected to a wireless network, it will make sure no unwanted ads show up on your screen or popups appear when closing down your browser or when surfing the web.
Now you can sit back, relax and surf the internet knowing that you are protected! There is literally no difference in your surfing experience. You’ll see that your pages load faster than they used to without the proxy server on, and there are no annoying ads or popups!
For literally no cost at all, you can protect yourself from rogue websites and hackers too! That’s right; if you pay for a VPN or proxy server, you will also get security against malicious viruses and other threats. This way, you never have to worry about someone stealing your passwords or infecting your computer with malware.
Freedom of information. To legally use proxy services, follow step-by-step guidelines provided by online tech support service specialists like this one.
Remember, you won’t be able to browse using a proxy server if any of your browsers have already cached the information identified by the proxy server.
For example, if Google Maps is still showing you results from when you visited a site before setting up the proxy server, it will still show you results from when you visited that website before enabling a proxy server.
If Google Maps shows you another location instead of where you actually want to go, then try again by enabling and disabling your proxy until Google Maps correctly identifies the location again. Once you’ve configured your browser, accessing sites through the proxy server is as simple as browsing to it, just like you would with any other website.
Best Proxy Websites
A good alternative for more advanced users is the Tor network. It functions almost the same way as a proxy server, but it’s much more secure and difficult to track.
The downside is that you need to use a specific browser designed for using Tor called Tor Browser.
There’s also a slower browsing speed due to the extra security it provides. If you’re looking to use the Tor network, check out our article on installing it here or our comparison of VPNs vs. Tor here.
How to enable a Proxy Server in Firefox
There are two ways to configure your Firefox browser. The sluggish one is through the settings, while the faster version is by directly adding a specific proxy server.
We recommend using the latter method since it’s easier and faster. Since you already know what proxy server you want to use, we’ll go ahead and show you how to do so through Firefox.
Firefox will only allow you one proxy configuration per browser session (sometimes known as “per connection”). To change your configuration, follow these steps:
- Open your Firefox web browser.
- On the top right of the screen, click on “Proxies”.
- Type the Proxy Server URL in and click “Add”.
- Click the Options button beside the proxy.
- Here you can choose the options for your proxy (most of them are just security and protocol level) and enter your account details.
- Click OK when you’re done.
That’s it! Next time you open Firefox, you’ll be using the proxy server configured. You can always change this back to your standard configuration at any time.
In most cases, allowing Firefox to remember a proxy setting is all that’s required to keep it working throughout all of your other browser sessions without having to set up a new one or anything else.
It is up to the user to decide if they want to use a proxy server on their own for browsing the internet or if they want to purchase a paid option that allows them access to their computer’s personal firewall or software.
The main advantage of using a proxy service is that it hides your identity and provides secure and anonymous internet browsing and file transfers.
For services such as those that offer free proxies, it is also important to note that some public proxies may be misconfigured or down entirely. If this is the case with your proxy, you may experience problems with your connection or not be able to connect at all.
Paid proxy service providers are also available, which can give you access to your computer’s firewall/internet filter program with the ability to unblock different types of websites or use other types of protocols.