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Proxy Services - What You Need To Mask Your IP And Unblock Sites
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Probably the most popular way to mask your IP address and unblock sites online is through proxy services. I think at one time or another, we've discovered that our favorite site is blocked by a work or school network, Googled it, and found that a "proxy" is what we needed to unblock the site. Most people don't get how proxies really work, but by floundering around enough anyone, even without the technical knowledge of how they work, can find a proxy and unblock a site with it. But if you're looking for a more permanent solution to online anonymity, masking your real IP address with a fake IP, or unblocking sites on a regular basis, you might want to know what you're signing up for!

A bit about proxies

There are actually many different kinds of proxies. Doing a search online will bring up lots of "lists" that describe different kinds of proxies. Not all these lists are the same, and you'll rarely find a comprehensive list of all terms. Part of the problem is that there are some terms that are misused because the user doesn't fully understand what they're blogging about, and in some cases there are multiple terms describing one thing.

The good news is that all those technical details aren't that important. Proxies have many uses, and many proxies are strictly for private use for businesses, ie companies setting up their own proxy to maintain company server security or reliability. Others are used by website servers to protect against malicious users. For users looking for proxy services, this stuff won't concern you. You don't need to set up your own proxy, you just need to find a service that will allow you to access their proxy servers.

How a proxy works

Regardless of whether it's a reverse proxy, forward proxy, caching proxy, CGI proxy, or anonymous proxy, they all basically work on the same principle. A proxy sits between you and your target. It may be filtering incoming information, outgoing information or both. They may be forwarding your requests to make your real IP address anonymous, or they may be designed to watch for malware. Some are designed to relieve server congestion, and some are used to block websites. Some can be used to unblock websites. But all of them are just an extra step between two parties on the internet trying to communicate.

Proxy services that concern you

For the average user looking to mask their IP address and unblock sites, there are basically three types of proxies that concern you. These are called "open proxies", "web based proxies", and "software based proxies".

Open proxies are public access proxy servers. This means that a user somewhere in the world has set up this 'third step' and allows anyone to access it. Without going into to much detail, these types of proxies are not recommended. Exposing your private traffic to an unknown server owner in order to be anonymous online doesn't make sense. If you're afraid that the mailman is looking through your mail, why would you give your letter to a stranger on the street to deliver? That's basically what an open proxy is doing.

Some web based proxies are free, but this presents the same problem as the open proxies. Can you trust your private information to this proxy server admin? If it is a well known or professional service, then yes. If it's just some random site you found on a forum, maybe not.

Software based proxies are probably professional services, and will be more trustworthy. However, if you're going to install software to unblock sites and hide your real IP, virtual private networks are probably the way to go. Part of the appeal of open proxies and web based proxies is that there's no installation necessary, and you can access the resources from any computer or phone.

So what can you do?

With all these negative things to say about proxies, is there a solution that will satisfy both needs for security and the versatility of no installation necessary? Yes. There are premium web based proxy services available. This means that the service offers a no-install web based proxy, but from a trusted source. If anonymity online is a concern of yours, simply check out their privacy policy. This is something you most definitely won't find on any free web based proxy site. Not only will you be able to surf at ease, premium server locations and superior server maintenance and support will make your online browsing faster, smoother, and problem free.

Not all web based proxy services will allow you to choose your server location, and are used for general anonymous surfing online. If your goal is to access foreign sites with a specific IP location, the a virtual private network may be what you're looking for. Most web based proxy services won't cost more than a few dollars a month.

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