When it comes to surfing the net a lot of people take their anonymity very seriously and why wouldn’t they? A lot of people like their privacy and don’t like the fact that certain sites collect and store information on the user. So what can you do to prevent this and protect your privacy? Well, surfing anonymously usually comes at a cost; this could be an actual cost for paying for private proxy servers or VPN’s, or a cost of speed when you notice your browsing is a lot slower when using a proxy server. First things first though, let’s take a look at proxy servers.
Proxy Server – A proxy server is basically a server that relays traffic between you and the end host and therefore masks the original sender’s identity. Let’s take an example; you want to visit google.com but don’t want to expose your IP address, so you set your proxy settings up and go to google.com. As soon as you press enter your request is forwarded to the proxy server, the proxy server then sends the request to Google, receives the content and sends it back to you.
Types of Proxy Servers – There are several different types of proxy servers depending on what you need them for. The most common are:
HTTP Proxies – These are used in the scenario above and are used solely for web page requests.
SOCKS Proxies – These are used for different types of traffic, not necessarily web traffic, for example, they could be used for FTP, Messenger or IRC traffic.
Web Filter Proxies – These are used to filter web traffic for unwanted content and are usually used in corporate environments to limit users to the sites they can view.
Will a proxy server make me anonymous? – Well, you should consider these things. Firstly it depends on whether the proxy server you’re using is meant to be an anonymous one or not. When a proxy server requests a web page for you it may sometimes forward on a particular HTTP header that will reveal your IP address, if this is the case then no, your proxy server isn’t anonymous, because the end host can see your IP address still. If however, the proxy server does not forward this header then the end host will think the request came from the proxy server and not you, therefore making you anonymous. Great! Well kind of, the other thing to consider here is whether the proxy server keeps logs or not, 99% of public ones will, and because of this, you’re not totally anonymous because there is still a record of what you’ve done.
What about if I want to view blocked sites? – This is probably the most common use of proxies nowadays, people at schools, colleges, etc want to view their favorite sites (facebook for example!) but can’t because their web filter prevents them. In this case, the most useful proxy is a web proxy. A web proxy is basically a website you visit that you then use as your browser (confused yet?) It acts in the same way as an HTTP proxy except it doesn’t require any configuring on the clients side. For this reason, these have become very popular, the problem is most of these are actually blocked by the web filters themselves, rendering them useless.
So how do you be totally anonymous online? – The things to look out for here are whether your IP address is revealed and whether the proxy server keeps logs. Well, a lot of proxy servers won’t forward your IP address, but finding a public one that doesn’t keep logs is unlikely. For the casual browser, though this shouldn’t be a big concern, for those after true anonymity though, they should consider a paid option, whether it be private proxy servers or a private VPN.