What is a Proxy Server? The Basics

Laptop with a VPN icon on the screen

If you work in the corporate world, you probably use or at least heard about the proxy server. But what is a proxy server exactly? How does it work, why is it so important, and should you use one?

Proxy Server Defined

In general, a proxy server serves as an intermediary or go-between between a device or computer system and the Internet. It could make requests to sites, services and servers connected to the Internet on your (your device or system’s) behalf.

To understand the importance of proxy servers better, below are some benefits they could offer:

  • Increased speed and bandwidth savings – A proxy server could cache web pages and files, as well as compress traffic from the Internet before relaying these to your device or system.
  • Regulate Internet use – Plenty of corporate networks utilise proxy servers so that they could control what their employees access and use online.
  • Hide your location, IP address, and other critical information – They configure proxy servers to hide IP addresses, and they are capable of sending a different user agent so that your Internet browser will not be identified and could block or accept cookies, but not send them to your device or computer system.
  • Improve network security – You could also configure a proxy server to block access to potentially malicious websites that could spread malware and likewise offer encryption services so that your data will not be sniffed easily by malicious third parties.
  • Provide access to Internet resources that are blocked – This is the most common uses or a proxy server for private users, most particularly in Iran and China where there is strict Internet censorship.

Critical Things to Note

While a proxy server could provide all these uses and benefits, they could likewise pose some issues. However, this would significantly depend on the specific configuration of the proxy server application or software and who controls it.

That said, before utilising a proxy server, it is crucial to know why you are using it and who administers it. You also need to be cautious of public proxy servers because malicious third parties use these for unscrupulous purposes and could expose you to various issues rather than providing you benefits.

Put simply, when you do use a proxy server, choose a proxy server software well.