What is a Forward Proxy?

A forward proxy sits between user devices and the public Internet. All web browsing traffic is routed through the proxy server, which inspects it and applies corporate security and acceptable use policies. If the traffic is approved, the proxy sends it on to its destination on the client’s behalf and performs the same actions for any responses. Here we discuss what a forward proxy is, and what makes it an important component of an organization’s web security architecture.

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What is a Forward Proxy?

How Does a Forward Proxy Work?

When a user machine is set up, the proxy information can be configured within the web browser. This includes specifying the IP address and port number where the proxy is operating. If a proxy is configured, the user machine will send all web traffic to the proxy.

When a forward proxy receives a request, it can inspect its content for compliance with corporate policies. For example, a company may block traffic to certain domains that are known to be malicious or inappropriate for work. If the request is approved, the proxy forwards it to the server on the user’s behalf.

If the request triggers a response, it will be sent to the forward proxy, not the user’s computer. This allows the proxy to inspect the response for potentially malicious or inappropriate content before sending it on to the user’s computer.

Benefits of a Forward Proxy

A forward proxy offers numerous benefits to an organization and its users, including the following:

  • User Privacy: A forward proxy sits between a user’s computer and the public Internet and makes requests on its behalf. This can help to protect the privacy of the users behind the proxy.
  • Policy Enforcement: With a forward proxy, all corporate web traffic flows through the proxy. This allows the proxy to inspect the requests and responses and enforce corporate security and acceptable use policies.
  • Traffic Visibility: All web traffic flows through the forward proxy. This provides insight into how the organization uses cloud infrastructures, applications and other third-party services.
  • Shadow IT Detection: Devices deployed without IT approval — i.e. “shadow IT” — commonly are designed to call out to cloud-based servers. A forward proxy can identify these communications and use them to identify unauthorized devices deployed on the corporate network.

Forward Proxy Use Cases

Forward proxies provide the ability to inspect employees’ outbound web browsing requests and their responses. This visibility can be used to achieve several different enterprise security goals, including the following:

  • Web Security: A forward proxy can inspect all web requests made by corporate user devices. The proxy can be used to block visits to unauthorized sites or to filter malicious or inappropriate content from responses.
  • Data Security: Inappropriate and unsafe use of cloud storage and other third-party services can be a significant threat to corporate data security. A forward proxy can identify and block traffic flows that send sensitive data to inappropriate destinations.
  • Corporate Privacy: Visibility into the internal structure of a corporate network can help an attacker map it and identify vulnerabilities for exploitation. A forward proxy obscures this information since all web traffic flows through the proxy.

Forward Proxy vs Firewall

Forward proxies and firewalls are both designed to inspect and block traffic flowing over a network boundary. However, they have a few key differences:

  • Purpose: A forward proxy is primarily designed to provide privacy and enforce policies on internal users. A firewall is primarily designed for access control across network boundaries and also applies additional deep packet inspection to block threats.
  • Scope: A forward proxy is commonly used to inspect and secure web traffic. A traditional firewall inspects all types of network traffic.
  • Directionality: A forward proxy is configured to inspect outbound requests and then monitor the inbound request. Firewalls inspect outbound requests and also inbound connections entering the corporate network.
  • Protocol Level: A forward proxy works primarily with web requests and performs a significant amount of work at the application layer. While next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) perform application-layer inspection, firewalls in general work at the network and transport layers.

Proxy Security with Check Point

A web proxy is an important component of a web security architecture, but additional solutions are necessary to secure an organization and its users. However, deploying a range of point security products can quickly result in a complex, sprawling, and unusable security architecture.

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions integrate a full stack of network security solutions in a single, cloud-based offering. With SASE, companies can secure employees’ web browsing regardless of their location, which is invaluable in the era of increasing remote work.

To learn more about what to look for in a SASE solution, check out this ESG analyst guide to SASE. Then, sign up for a free demo to learn how Harmony Connect, Check Point’s SASE solution, can help to simplify and improve your organization’s web and network security.


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