Proxy servers used to be common in businesses. All users would connect to the proxy server and use its resources to browse websites. The proxy server cached pages, so it sped up browsing and it was also used to block certain sites on the corporate network. Admins could also use the proxy server to automate browser settings across the network. Now, there are a number of open-source proxies you can use for both internal networks and for people on the Internet.
Why Use a Proxy Server?
In a corporate network, proxy servers are mostly used for security and control of Internet browsing. The proxy server would also speed up browsing for users, but with broadband and Internet speeds increasing, proxy servers aren’t used as much anymore. Other types of software are used to block Internet sites and firewalls control incoming and outgoing traffic.
One main reason to use a proxy server as an Internet user is the change in IP address. Suppose there is a website that only allows traffic from certain countries. You can use an open-source, public proxy server to connect to and “proxy” your IP. After you connect to the proxy server, all of your traffic routes through this server and uses its network interface to grab websites that are then rendered in your browser. The result is that the target website sees the proxy server’s IP address and not yours. You are then able to browse the website even though you’re country is blocked.
Open-source public proxy servers are set all over the country. Take note that these are different than virtual private network (VPN) servers. VPNs can be used to proxy an IP as well. As a matter of fact, VPN services are becoming more popular as the allegations of the NSA and snooping are made public. VPN usually costs a monthly price and VPNs let you encrypt your data. An open-source, public proxy server does not encrypt the data for you. It’s just used to change your IP address and doesn’t have the advanced capabilities that a VPN server offers.
There is one downside to using an open proxy server. It’s a major issue with security and privacy. When you use an open, public proxy server, you have no idea what the server’s administrator is logging. In fact, all of your data becomes public to the server administrator. The administrator can read your data, see your browsing history and can grab your user names and passwords when you log in to a website. When you use an open public proxy server, make sure you only use it for general web browsing and do not use it to log in to any personal accounts such as email.
A proxy server’s security can be a part of its advantages. A proxy server protects the internal network from malicious content or malware. The admin usually has a list of website URLs that should be blocked at the proxy server level. He can then make sure no one can access these sites from the internal network. This includes URLs that distribute malware that can then cause virus issues on the internal network. The admin can also block other types of sites and ports on the proxy server. For instance, your firewall usually blocks download sites such as torrents, but the proxy server can also be used to block downloads.
If the administrator needs to log Internet traffic, he can also log the sites browsed on the proxy server. If there is any problem with users attempting to log in to certain sites, the proxy server can log it. This doesn’t have to be for a particular person. Some malware attempts to log in and upload data to a server owned by the hacker. The proxy server can log these attempts, so the network administrator can figure out who has malware installed on their machines.
Open-Source Proxy Servers
There are several open-source proxy servers, but the most popular and probably the most common is “Squid.” Squid is primarily used for its caching capabilities. Caching is a proxy server’s best advantages. Your home and work computers cache data. When you browse a website, the computer stores a copy of the page on the hard drive. The next time you enter that same URL into the browser, the browser does a lookup of the page and if it’s found in the browser’s cache, it renders it directly from your hard drive. This is much faster than transferring data from the web server to your computer. The server admin can control when the browser refreshes and grabs a newer version of the page, but ultimately this stored version saves you a lot of time and bandwidth. The bandwidth savings is also beneficial if you have a limited amount of bandwidth or you pay for the amount of bandwidth you use.
Squid is used mostly in Linux environments, but it also runs on Windows servers as well. It’s available for HTTP, FTP and HTTPS protocols. This means that most of your online activity can proxy through Squid and save you time and money in bandwidth.
One issue with open proxy servers is when you want to get a new version of a web page and the proxy server delivers cache. This means that you see an older version of the page without seeing newer content. This can be an issue if the site changed products, changed content or removed the page altogether from their system.
Open-source proxy servers are also free, so there is no cost to you to download and install the software on your server. Squid is a popular proxy server that’s open-source, easy to install and has several support forums for you to figure out common issues. These forums are also good to ask questions. If you want to learn more about network administration and web servers, and security take a course at Udemy.com.