What is a Proxy Server?

A proxy server, which sits between a user and the Internet, provides a variety of benefits, including improved performance, security, and privacy. A proxy server is configured by specifying the IP address of the proxy server as its gateway to the Internet. This can be done for all traffic or only certain types of traffic (most commonly web traffic).

 

Configuring a proxy means that certain types of traffic will be sent to the proxy server instead of directly to the Internet. This allows the user to conceal their IP address from the websites, or an organization can use a proxy server to impose access controls and content filtering. The proxy server forwards the traffic on to its destination and sends any responses received on to its client.

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What is a Proxy Server?

Types of Proxy Servers

Proxy servers all act to forward traffic from a client to a server and back again. However, a few different types of proxy servers exist, all with slightly different functionality:

 

  • Transparent Proxy: A transparent proxy identifies itself as a proxy server to the web servers that a user is visiting. This means that the user’s IP address is still passed on to the web server.
  • Anonymous Proxy: An anonymous proxy also identifies itself as a proxy server to the web servers that it communicates with. However, it does not pass on any of the user’s information (IP address, etc.) to these servers.
  • High Anonymity Proxy: A high anonymity proxy is designed to hide the proxy’s information as well. While these proxies still need to provide an IP address to the web servers that it communicates with, a high anonymity proxy will regularly change these displayed addresses to make it more difficult to link different web sessions together.

Proxy Server vs VPN

Proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) are both designed to protect the user’s privacy. Yet they have slightly different goals and accomplish them in different ways.

 

Proxy Servers are primarily designed to protect the user from the server that it is connecting to. This may include concealing their identity (via anonymous proxies) or performing filtering of web traffic (such as blocking potentially malicious or inappropriate sites). Proxy servers are generally not designed to protect a user from third parties.

 

Remote Access VPNs are designed to protect the confidentiality of the connection between a client and a server. All traffic flows through an encrypted tunnel, which makes it impossible for eavesdroppers to view the traffic. However, the server at the other end of the connection has full access to the traffic, meaning that a VPN does nothing to protect a user’s privacy or security against a malicious server.

Proxy vs Reverse Proxy

Both proxy servers and reverse proxies sit between a client and a server. They too are designed to provide different benefits.

 

Proxy servers are deployed on behalf of the client. One or more clients may use the same proxy server, which can provide increased privacy, security, etc.

 

Reverse proxies are designed to benefit the server. A reverse proxy server may act as a single point of content for multiple servers on an organization’s network. The use of a reverse proxy enables an organization to have sites served from multiple servers appear to originate from the same machine. Additionally, a reverse proxy can provide increased security by performing traffic filtering and by making it impossible for an external user to gain direct access to an organization’s servers.

Benefits of a Proxy Server

A proxy server provides a number of benefits to its users, such as:

 

  • Increased Privacy: A proxy server can conceal a user’s IP address from the server and make multiple clients appear to be a single computer. This can increase the privacy of Internet users.
  • Blocking Malicious Sites: Proxy servers are commonly used to implement content filtering. A server can be designed to block access to malicious or inappropriate sites.
  • Content Filtering: A proxy server can block certain types of content within websites. This can help to decrease the risk of infections from malicious sites.
  • Site Caching: A user may regularly visit a site with static content. A proxy server can save a copy of this content and serve it directly to the user, enabling the user to gain access to it more quickly.
  • Bypassing Restrictions: Access to some websites is only available from certain countries or regions. Using a proxy server located in an accepted location can allow a user to bypass these restrictions.

Proxy Server Limitations

While a proxy server has a number of benefits, it also has its limitations, including:

 

  • Slower Speeds: A proxy server adds an additional step as traffic flows between the client and the server. This means that any non-cached content may load more slowly.
  • No Encryption: Unlike a VPN, most proxy servers don’t provide any traffic encryption. This means that it provides no additional protection against third-party threats.
  • Server Logging: All of a user’s traffic flows through its proxy server. This means that a server can log all of a user’s Internet history, placing privacy and security at risk.

Integrating Proxy Functionality with Check Point

A proxy server can be a standalone system, but it can also be integrated into an organization’s firewall. Check Point next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) integrate proxy functionality and are recognized as a Leader by Gartner. To learn more about Check Point NGFWs and their capabilities, you’re welcome to contact us.

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