Server Basics

If you work remotely, or have to handle corporate files on the road, then chances are you've used a specific type of proxy and may not even be aware of it. In fact, proxies are used by workers all over the world in the form of a VPN. A virtual private network is one specific type of proxy which provides you with the ability to work remotely and securely. But what is a proxy exactly, how does it work, and what are some of the advantages it can give not only a remote worker, but anyone who wants an extra layer of privacy? Here's a look at the various types of proxies and a review of one particular service which provides you with proxies on steroids.

How proxies work

Basically, a proxy is a point to point connection between you and a remote location on the Internet. If you're in a hotel in Seattle and you work for a large corporation down in Dallas, then opening a VPN to your corporate office means your computer will create a permanent connection between your own system and a dedicated device at the corporate office called the VPN server. This connection provides you with a tunnel through which all further communication will pass. This is the first and most well known quality of a VPN. All of your traffic, whatever it is, will be encrypted inside that tunnel, going from your current location to the VPN server, and then be resent on your behalf to the wider Internet. What this means is that anyone listening nearby, or trying to see the packets going from your own system, will see nothing but static. In fact, they won't even know which websites you visit, because everything is encrypted. This is an even stronger security mechanism than SSL, since with SSL people can still see the headers and know which sites you surf to.

But a VPN, or any other type of proxy, provides quite a few more benefits. Whether you use a VPN, which relies on a protocol like PPTP to encapsulate your packets securely, an SSL proxy, a Socks proxy, or even a simple web gateway (which doesn't actually provide you with any encryption) they all have a couple of features that are similar. The basic principle is that the server is relaying those packets for you, and stripping the originating address. Instead of your own IP address, they only see the proxy server's. That also means if you connect using the previous example, instead of thinking you're in Seattle, every site you connect to will think you're sitting right there in the Dallas corporate office.

Of course, people use proxies for other reasons as well. One example is trying to access region-restricted content. For example, someone in Canada trying to see Hulu content won't be able to, because Hulu restricts videos to U.S. users only. But if they connect to a U.S. based proxy first, they can bypass that restriction. The same thing applies if you live in the U.S. and want to see BBC content through their iPlayer. You would need to connect to a UK proxy to do it.

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