For a long time, I have heard internet proxies can protect your identity online. If you’re like me, you want to make sure your information is safe. But then I saw proxy servers also have some questionable uses. So wanting to make sure they are safe and legal before I try one, I did some research. Here are my findings.
Proxies are legal in the United States, the UK, and most countries. They are illegal in some places including China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. This is due to the censorship of content they believe undermines the power of their government or cultural beliefs. Because a proxy server can bypass these restrictions, it could be used for illegal purposes.
How do Proxies Work?
The term proxy is closely related to the term procure, or to obtain. Think of it as giving someone else authority to act on your behalf. Outside of the computer world people use it in reference to attending meetings for another or bidding at auctions. Another use of the term you may see is for proxy wars. One country provides another with money and equipment in order to fight a common enemy.
So, why do I bring up these other terms if they do not relate to computing? With these terms in mind, you may be better to understand how proxy servers act. When a computer sends a request it may relay through a proxy server. This proxy then chooses which destination server it sends the request to. It can base which server to choose on many factors. This could be where the answer is or how busy each server is.
Types of Proxies
Different types of proxies include open proxies and reverse proxies. Any internet user can use open proxies. They are good for hiding the IP address or location of the person using them. They are also good for helping websites load faster.
Why Reverse Proxies
Reverse proxies can speed up website load times like open proxies. But encryption and balancing the amount of traffic a cluster of servers receives are other uses. Since proxies can choose which servers to relay requests to, they can choose a server that is not too busy. Sending a request to a busy server will delay the request.
Are VPNs Proxies?
Virtual private networks or VPNs are not proxies. They are direct connections not routed through a middleman such as a proxy. These connections also encrypt the information they send. This makes the interception of the information less likely.
On a side note, there is much debate on whether or not VPNs are legal in China. VPNs are legal in China only if they register with the government and agree to heavy regulations. These strict regulations basically defeat the purpose of most VPNs in China. As I will speak about later, these tools are mostly used in China to bypass government rules.
Are Proxies Legal?
Proxies are legal in most countries such as the United States and the UK. There are about a dozen countries where they are illegal. These countries include China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, and much smaller ones.
Generally, these countries have weak freedoms of speech and expression. They count on these restrictions so they can better control the information being shared. This is one way they hope to maintain their authority and limit revolutionary-type communications.
Some laws pertaining to the internet are generic and do not specifically ban the use of proxies. Their use is almost certain to be discouraged. However, there are no public reports of arrests based on their use. The only thing close is the use of proxies to perform other crimes such as possessing unlawful images of juveniles.
Places with Heavy Restrictions
China has the Great Firewall of China. Which I think is an excellent name since it is the internet equivalent of the famous Great Wall. In computer speak, a firewall is more of a filter than a wall. It is the equivalent of screening your telephone calls. Rather than censorship, it is more popularly used to filter malicious software and cyber attacks.
The Great Firewall of China however consists of heavy restrictions and censorship of the internet. It restricts the websites citizens can visit in order to control what content they see.
China cannot remove the content they are censoring from the internet, but they can simply deny access to it by blocking it from their citizens.
Ukraine is allegedly one country that goes a step further. Apparently, they attack certain content they do not agree with. Through DDoS attacks, they attempt to take down offensive sites. While they cannot remove the content, DDoS Cyber attacks overwhelm the servers hosting the content.
As a result, the servers can not keep up with all of the requests. When someone tries to make a legitimate request it is unavailable. The content still exists on the server but if it cannot be delivered to the requester, it is rendered useless.
North Korea is a bit of a mystery. They have their own intranet which is basically a local network. Since so little is known about their country they most likely handle proxies as China does. They use technical methods to detect and block proxy servers.
It is no secret Russia blocks websites promoting dissent with the government. This seems to be a very narrow restriction on the use of proxies and VPNs. It is more accurate to say the way these tools are used is more restrictive than the simple use for other purposes. Even saying this, I find no convincing reports of the prosecution of any proxy users.
Iran & Syria
Iran targets data with encryption because they are fearful of what the transmissions hold. Syria shuts down proxies but no word if they pursue prosecution.
Many countries in West Africa such as Cameroon have at one point completely blocked the internet or major social media outlets. This was to silence criticism of the government. But it ended up drawing more attention to them from other countries. It also cost them millions of dollars.
Pakistan has prevented access to some social media. They are very reactive and intermittent with their restrictions. They seem to be a country that has different motives than most of the ones I listed previously.
Instead of power and control, it would appear their intentions are to preserve their culture. They also wish to enforce restrictions on content that is offensive to their extremely conservative views. Much like the censorship of profanity on television, they restrict ideas and principles so long-held beliefs will not be in question.
Why are Proxies Used
- Load Balancing
- Quicker Performance (Caching & Compression)
- Online Privacy
- Parental Controls / Content Filtering
- Bypassing Censorship
- Market Botting
- Malicious Uses (Hackers)
Legal Uses for Proxies
The following examples are popular uses for proxy servers. Consider them to be the original intent of this technology.
Proxies allow multiple servers to run efficiently together. This is because no one server will be overrun by requests by users. When a user sends a request to a network, it may reach a proxy server first. This proxy can choose which server in the network to send the traffic to.
Quicker Performance (Caching & Compression)
For some of the same reasons that proxies help with load balancing it also helps with speed. This is because proxies can avoid too much of a workload on servers. Instead of every request passing from the user through the proxy to the server, the proxy can do some of the work. When the information requested is readily available in a cache, the information can be quickly provided without using additional and unnecessary computing power.
Also, the ability for proxy servers to do additional tasks such as compression can make the size of the information transmitted smaller. Smaller pieces of information allow for quicker communication.
Gaming proxies can help to reduce lag or delays. This provides a more enjoyable experience. Slow performance can have a serious impact on many online games that have a fast pace. Proxy servers help bridge the gap between users who are communicating over great distances and with variable network speeds.
Many people use proxies for online privacy because some of them have the ability to hide the user’s IP address. By hiding your IP address, you can make it more difficult for someone to identify you and where you are located. This also means that if you are specifically targeted by a hacker, they would not know the IP address that can be used to find your computer over the Internet.
Hiding your information online can also help to prevent advertisers and marketers from obtaining and selling your online habits. These include what websites you frequent and the purchases you make online. This information is bought and sold then used to target you directly. This increases their sales and possibly even helps them send you spam.
The Tor browser can be considered an example of a proxy. However, it is much more advanced since it involves encryption and high levels of layering. For more information, we have an article you can read about the Tor Browser.
Parental Control / Content Filtering
Most parents are careful about the kind of content they allow their small children to see. It is so easy to find adult content online even a child can do it. To make sure they do not find this material intentionally or accidentally, they put controls in place. Children or their adult relatives who face these roadblocks may use proxies to bypass them.
Content-filtering by schools and organizations is very common. It restricts what content students can obtain and what websites they can visit. Companies may block employees from some websites such as YouTube and Facebook they see as time-wasters. Instead, they want to encourage their employees to be more productive at their jobs.
People in many countries use Netflix proxies because the content on this platform varies by region. They may live in a country where there are restrictions on Netflix. When that is the case, their experience will be much different than others. When using a proxy, they can bypass location-based content restrictions. Netflix will think they are located wherever the proxy server is.
YouTube proxies work in this same way. That’s why a YouTube unlocker can be so valuable in some locations.
As I talk about other locations in this article, there are a lot of restrictions for online content in China. While proxy users may attempt to bypass such restrictions, they are rarely successful. This is because China goes to great lengths in order to detect and block the services. A better option would be certain VPNs or the use of the Tor Browser.
Entrepreneurs use Nike proxies for a practice known as Sneaker botting. This is where they purchase limited-release shoes in bulk by one person. Then they sell them for a profit because they are hard to obtain. Proxies allow for one person to make multiple purchases of these sneakers where the intention of the seller is to allow one purchase per customer.
These proxies also allow one person to make multiple requests for purchases at the same time. This is helpful because these limited releases are sold out very quickly.
Instagram proxies allow for the creation of more than five accounts on the social media platform. This is because they limit the number of accounts they otherwise allow per IP address. Internet marketers and spammers use this loophole so they can reach a wider audience.
Illegal Uses of Proxies
Hackers have a few good reasons for seeking privacy online. One is to avoid the detection of their illegal activities altogether. Hackers can use proxies to steal personal information by intercepting it through proxies.
The victim may never know their information has been compromised until they are further victimized by identity theft. At that point, they typically can’t pinpoint where their information was compromised. When the police don’t know how a crime was committed it’s less likely they can prove who did it.
Another benefit of proxies to hackers is they can hide their identity and location. Even when a crime is identified, if the hack can not be linked back to one person or address, no one can be held responsible.
Also, the police may believe the hackers are located in a different country because of a proxy. Because of this, they could be less likely to continue their investigation. This is due to the difficultly of arresting and prosecuting someone overseas.
In regard to what kinds of crimes hackers commit with proxies, it varies. Man-in-the-middle attacks are most closely related to proxies because it involves stealing personal information during communication with a proxy.
Otherwise, hackers use proxies not to commit crimes as much as they do to get away with them. However, in order to combat this problem, some proxies can be detected. It is possible for networks to block known proxies. This is a constant battle as the list of available proxies and blacklisted proxies changes frequently.
Are Free Proxies Safe?
Free proxies are generally not secure. That’s not to say you would have a difficult time finding a free proxy to meet your needs. You may not notice any problems and be tempted to think your information was safe. The problem is that you may not be able to detect all problems that arise. Because of man-in-the-middle type attacks, the information you send and receive may be intercepted without coming to your attention.
There is also the possibility through code injection that they insert malicious software into the data you receive.
The best-case scenario would be the inclusion of additional advertisements or spam the proxies use to generate a little money. The worst-case scenario is they would include spyware and malware. That now makes your whole computer less secure.
For more information about different types of attacks, I recommend you read our article detailing how hackers find vulnerabilities.
Since it is generally accepted that proxy servers are not 100% secure, you may be wondering why people use them at all. In fact, I do recommend proxies to my clients who pursue privacy online.
The major advice I stress to them is to be mindful of what information they are sending. I do not recommend you log into your banking or any financial websites or applications. If your information is compromised, the loss of this specific data would be particularly dangerous.
Why are Proxies Free?
There appears to be little to no benefit gained by these proxy servers when providing their services completely for free. However, they are investing time and resources to provide you these services. So to make their investment worthwhile, they often push advertising through to the user or even sell data.
The servers are provided for free oftentimes because it is a very competitive market. The setup and processes that go into these kinds of services are fairly simple. Yes, it does take more of a knowledge about computers than the average person. But as far as competition goes, proxy servers have more supply than they do demand.
There are also other avenues that providers explore in order to make a profit on their investment. One way is through upselling. This is when they offer one product for free or for a reduced price such as a basic package. But then they offer premium packages that provide additional or more advanced features.
In regards to proxy servers, the advanced features could be an increase in speed, a selection of the geographic location of the servers, or simply the number of servers used at one time.
List of Proxies
I have researched a number of free proxies and below are my findings. These are the best proxies I have found so far. If you know of something better, this list is continually updated. Let me know what you find on our Contact page and I’ll look into it.
ProxyScrape is my first choice. They list roughly 2000 proxies at any time, but this number fluctuates. That’s because they are always checking for more and removing those that no longer work. Their site is very professional, mobile-friendly, and includes SSL security.
Free Proxy boasts over 5,000 free servers in their database. These are third-party servers so this site is not hosting them. One of the red flags I see is the site is not SSL secure. Another nit-picky detail is the page is not mobile-friendly so it’s hard to view on your phone. Lastly, I do appreciate you can sort through the list of proxies based on different categories. These include the location or the network port it uses.
ProxyNova is another choice. They have an SSL secure site but it is not mobile-friendly. They do not appear to have the most premium of selections as they list proxies that appear to be pretty slow.
Best Proxy Servers (Paid)
Luminati proxies are now called Bright Data. They base their prices on the amount of data you use. This is the most versatile and possibly cost-effective option.
Leafproxies is a good option that charges by the length of time or number of days they provide the proxies.
Lastly, Pooky proxies are a good choice for focusing on sneaker botting. They do offer other services available but use one of the above options instead. The prices on Pookyy range by the length of use by days.
Proxies are legal in most countries. If you live in the United States or the UK, you will have no problems. Just don’t use proxy servers for activities that would otherwise be a crime without them.
Less free countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea heavily restrict the use of internet proxies. They want to control information. This is either to hold onto power or maintain their culture.
Using a proxy is fine for limited non-financial uses. But there are better options such as VPNs. They are safer because they encrypt your information. Invest in a good VPN service for long-term use or sensitive transactions.
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