Those who aren’t new to the whole online security business might have already heard about proxies. But what is proxy, exactly? Well, to put it shortly, a proxy is a web filter tool that makes your connection appear to be coming from a different location.
This is achieved by masking your IP address and assigning you one that belongs to the proxy server. By design, proxies don’t cover your entire internet connection and are created to work with specific programs, such as browsers, mail servers, or torrent clients. It can be installed and configured locally on your computer or publicly, e.g. on wifi access points.
Proxies differ not only in the apps they work with but also their server capabilities. Some can handle millions of inquiries while others get overcrowded easily. But the common thing between all servers is that more often than not they lack encryption or other kinds of privacy protection. The only encryption is the one you get when connecting to a website via the SSL certificate. This means that even though your IP address is hidden under the proxy server, hackers or malware can still find a way to access your device or your traffic data.
What types of proxy are there?
There are three ways by which to categorize proxies. Each is slightly different and can be described by its relation with your web browser, its security level, and its exclusivity, which impacts the speed and anonymity of your connection.
1. Proxy types by protocol: HTTP, HTTPS, SOCKS
The oldest and the simplest to setup is the HTTP proxy. They route the browser traffic through the remote proxy server and usually come in the form of a browser extension. Alternatively, they can be set up on a specific website where you enter the domain name and connect to it from inside the proxy tab.
The problem with HTTP proxies is that browsers can establish a connection with other protocols, too. For example, clicking on an FTP link will open it for you in the same browser, but without the proxy shield. Also, the proxy owner can monitor your HTTP traffic.
The HTTPS proxy is similar to the previous one, but it encrypts the traffic between you and the server, making it slower than the HTTP option. On the positive side, the proxy owner can no longer monitor your traffic.
SOCKS works the same way as the regular HTTP proxy but routes your traffic independently from the browser. This means that you can choose the apps and services that should go through the SOCKS proxy, such as Netflix, BitTorrent, YouTube, Twitch, and others. But while SOCKS extends the number of services you can access, it’s generally slower than HTTP. Also, the proxy owner will be able to monitor all your traffic save for the HTTPS.
There’s no way to tell which proxy type is the better one as it depends on your needs. An HTTP proxy is fine if you are not into torrenting and can stay within your browser limits. Setting up the SOCKS version is a bit more difficult, but inevitable if you need to hide your activity beyond the browser.
2. Proxy types by security
Generally, all proxies, both free and paid, fall under three categories, depending on the level of the protection they offer.
Level 3 – transparent proxies. Contrary to the name, the only transparent thing here is your IP, which is displayed publicly to anyone who has any interest of checking it out.
Level 2 – anonymous proxies. Naming them anonymous might be a bit of an overstatement, as everyone will see that you’re coming from a proxy, but at least with your real IP address hidden.
Level 1 – elite proxies. These proxies don’t bother to inform that you’re coming from a proxy, but the IP of the server is still visible for your destination. And since everyone wants to be part of an elite, these proxies tend to get overcrowded, causing the speeds to drop like a peasant drops on his knees before a lord.
No matter which security level you end up using, virtually all proxies are logging your activity that can be used to track you back. And in most cases, there won’t even be a proper review about your chosen proxy on a reputable source as there are so many of them, especially the free ones.
3. Proxy types by exclusivity
The third way of categorizing proxy types is by their exclusivity. It has a direct impact on the speed and anonymity and usually determines the price you will be paying for the service.
Dedicated proxy – in this case you get a dedicated IP address. It positively affects your connection speed but negatively impacts your anonymity because the IP points exactly to your device.
Semi-shared proxy – that’s when four people share the same proxy and sacrifice a bit of speed for a bit more anonymity.
General proxy – this proxy is shared publicly, meaning that your anonymity depends on the number of users online, but so does your connection speed.
When should you use a proxy instead of a VPN?
Our website’s primary focus is the VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), so you might ask when using a proxy instead of a VPN is better. Below are the possible scenarios where one has an advantage over the other.
Proxies are used to access geo-blocked content. They hide your real IP address and allow multiple users to use each different proxies on the same computer when installing multiple VPNs might cause issues. They also help those outside of their region to see local content and “enjoy” ads that are tailored according to the IP address. Finally, proxies are lightweight and pretty fast due to the lack of sophisticated security features. To some extent, your encryption and safety level can be increased with the help of third-party tools, such as the browser plug-in “HTTPS Everywhere.”
In the meantime, VPNs are security-first tools that not only hide your IP address but prevent leaking and exposing personal data. They encrypt the whole internet connection, putting the traffic in a secure tunnel which is extremely hard to access from outside. Usually, this comes at the cost of connection speed, which sometimes can be more important than remaining anonymous. Also, VPNs have servers in many more countries to connect to, allowing to access some resources that are available in a particular region only.
To conclude, proxies offer more speed and fewer features, while VPNs provide less speed but more features, including security.
Should you use a free or paid proxy?
The answer to the question about free and paid proxies depends on the level of privacy and speed that you require. If your goal is just accessing geo-blocked content, a free proxy might do the trick. But if you want to be sure that at least your IP address is not visible to third parties while you’re using the service, better go with the paid option.
Free proxies are known for their unstable connections, which means that you might lose access to your streaming library in the middle of a show. The lack of support usually means that your only choice is to take a deep breath and wait for the service to go back online again.
And while proxies are generally faster than that of your average VPN, free services rarely fall into this category due to overcrowded servers. That’s not a big deal if you’re reading some news or checking social networks, but gaming or streaming in HD will probably be impossible with a free proxy. On the contrary, a paid proxy limits the number of users per gateway, but you might still lack speed when using SOCKS to play online or stream HD.
Even if you don’t care about your privacy, you should know that about 70% of free proxies contain malware that might go into your system unnoticed. It’s hard to detect it between various ads and pop-up banners that are shown in most free proxies. Later, your personal information is collected and sold, or worse – used to access your sensitive accounts, such as your email, that store your credit card info.
Is proxy good for streaming?
You may lack speed if you’re using a free proxy to stream in HD. But even a paid proxy might not do the trick if the server you’re trying to connect to is in another continent. What’s more, speed is not the only issue you might encounter when trying to stream a Netflix show with a proxy service.
Not all of them can unblock this popular streaming platform, not to mention the notoriously tough nut in BBC iPlayer. Even some of the best VPNs are struggling with Netflix’s IP blacklisting. But some factors separate streaming-worthy proxies from the other ones.
The most important thing is the static IP you get from a dedicated proxy. With it, an HTTP proxy should be enough, but it only works with browsers, as we already know. Setting up a proxy on a smart TV or similar device would mean using a Netflix app, and this also means that only a SOCKS proxy would do the trick. Unfortunately, the app might change your DNS settings and if they don’t match your IP – the content stays blocked.
To conclude, proxies can be used for streaming, but there’s no guarantee they will unblock every Netflix library or any other streaming platform. In fact, only a few of the best ones can do it.
Can you use a proxy for torrenting and P2P?
While torrenting in itself is legal, most of the time the content shared using P2P is copyrighted, causing issues for ISPs, copyright holders, and the (in)voluntary copyright infringers. That’s why hiding your IP address might be beneficial. And sometimes it’s plain necessary if torrenting is blocked by your ISP or in your location. Here’s where a proxy service can help you out.
For torrenting and P2P, you will need a SOCKS proxy. While in theory, an HTTP proxy can still work, expect significant slowdowns if not because of throttling from your ISP, then because of the simple fact that HTTP was designed for nothing else but browsing. Again, the speed of your downloads will depend on the quality of the proxy. A free version with overcrowded servers will do you no good while a paid one will be faster and more secure.
The Pirate Bay proxy
The Pirate Bay, launched in 2003, has quickly become the most popular and clearly the most resilient torrent tracker website on Earth. Many times it has been brought down but rose again, like a Phoenix from the ashes. Unfortunately, there are ISPs or countries where access to this tracker is restricted.
Luckily, there are specialized Pirate Bay proxies which help to unblock this website. Most are fake, though, misleading you through a forest of pop-ups with ads and malware. Fortunately, there are reputable websites that try to publish up-to-date Pirate Bay proxy lists. Clicking on their entries would get you a 404 error at worst.
Below are some of the Pirate Bay proxies that still work in 2019:
Since there are other popular torrent tracking websites, here are the links to their proxy lists from us:
Can proxy help against the Great Firewall of China?
China is one of the few countries that censors internet freedom heavily. Therefore many locals and tourists use proxies and VPNs to access blocked websites, such as Google, YouTube, or Facebook. But a third option might be the best – a proxy called Shadowsocks.
Chinese coders have created Shadowsocks to be explicitly used in this country. It uses SOCKS5 protocol and is less centralized than any VPN, increasing your chances to unblock the desired content. The downside that Shadowsocks is an open-source project, maintaining which is harder without proper funding. On top of that, it’s not something that can be easily set up without some prior knowledge.
A proxy is a great tool that can be used to hide your IP address and unblock geo-restricted content, such as the Netflix or BBC iPlayer streaming libraries. It can also help access torrent tracking websites – there are event tracker-specific proxies for Pirate Bay and others.
An HTTP proxy only covers your browser traffic, while a SOCKS proxy includes torrenting, gaming, and similar activities. A third option, named Shadowsocks, is created specifically for use in China to climb over the Great Firewall.
There are both free and paid proxies. The former is usually slower due to overcrowded servers, while the latter lets you decide between the fast dedicated and slower, but more anonymous general proxies.
The question of whether one should use a proxy or a VPN is manifold. If you’re asking it yourself already, we advise checking our in-depth Proxy vs VPN article.