What is a Proxy Server?

Overview

A proxy server (also known as “a proxy” in IT circles) is an intermediary between an end user/computer and the internet. A proxy server acts just like a traffic conductor.  Depending on where the proxy server lies in your network (more on this later), it will inspect and route internet traffic to/from the user and the requested web address.

Proxy servers have evolved over the years, and offer features and functions well beyond standard web trafficking.  Many proxy servers used today will act as a major line of defense for internet users, address key use cases and compliance concerns such as network security and privacy policies, and help regulate internet traffic and usage.

Different Types of Proxies

Today’s market is comprised of different types of proxy servers.,While similar, the names and functionality are often confused and interchanged.  Below is a breakdown of a few common types: 

Full Proxy: Typically a proxy that intercepts all web traffic.

Forward Proxy: When end user web requests are forwarded to a proxy before going out to the internet, and responses go back through the proxy and then back to the user for privacy, greater visibility, content control, and threat protection.

Reverse Proxy: Typically a control point that is closer to the web resources, which helps with safe and efficient content distribution from the website back to the requestor. Primarily used by popular web sites and a few CASB solutions

What is a Proxy Server - Cisco Umbrella Blog - Forward Proxy and Reverse Proxy Example Image

Secure Web Gateway (SWG): A more advanced form of web proxy that typically provides more granular control and a broader set of security functions to protect against online threats.

Use Cases: Three Reasons to Use a Proxy Server

  • Security: Proxy servers can act as a first line of defense against malicious activity.  Many proxies today allow you to customize your settings to do things like block known sites that contain malware, and give you the ability to encrypt your data as it travels through the web.  A common practice for today’s organizations is to pair their proxy with a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Virtual Private Network (VPN), ensuring that remote users are always accessing the internet through their organization’s proxy server — helping adhere to company regulations and standards.                    
  • Privacy: One of the key attributes of a proxy server is the ability to provide individuals and organizations increased privacy while browsing the internet. Some proxies even have the ability to change a user’s IP address, providing complete anonymity as they browse the web.     
  • Monitor Internet Traffic/Usage:  Proxies are also a great way for organizations to manage and control content and provide threat protection for their users.  If an organization does not want their employees to view/visit certain websites through their network(s), they can configure their proxy server settings to deny access to such sites.  Organizations can also use proxy servers to monitor and log web traffic requests — providing visibility not only into peak hours of network activity, but also the most requested sites and the time spent on them.

Key Takeaway

Proxy servers are a key tool used by both organizations and individuals to help route, monitor, and secure web browsing.  Cloud-based proxy services are becoming a more popular way to deliver this set of capabilities. It should come as no surprise that features and functionalities will continue to evolve to keep up with security and privacy needs.

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Source: OpenDNS

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