Anonymous Web Proxies - Why do People Use them?

SO what's the deal? Why do over half a million people every month search the internet for 'anonymous proxies' or 'free web proxies' - what on earth are they all doing ?

Anonymous Web Proxies - A Brief Explanation

There are technically a few different phrases to describe the same thing,for example an anonymous web proxy is also known as a HTTP or CGI proxy

The Wikipedia explanation is as follows;

"An anonymous web proxy is designed to bypass proxy restrictions through a web interface."

This is not exactly true though, a proxy server (or an anonymous one) was never actually designed to bypass anything. The main reasons a proxy server exists is to relay information - originally they were simply referred to as gateways and they have existed from the very earliest days of Web History. The first generic gateway to the World Wide Web was written by the CERN team headed up by Tim Berners-Lee.
Anonymous Information Cartoon
The very first proxy server was an internet/firewall gateway which acted on behalf of the client forwarded requests and receiving information. It was around 1994-5 that the popularity of proxy servers really started to take off as corporations and academic establishments realised the tremendous benefits they offered in controlling and providing access to the internet.

So leaving aside the 'anonymous' side of the proxies for a moment - there are some standard requirements of a proxy server :

1) Transparency - really a proxy server should never affect the end result. The same thing should happen if the client contacted the web site direct or through the proxy server. Of course filtering and control is obviously going to affect these results but this is by design and not as a result of the proxying of the connection.

2) Client determines whether to use a proxy or not. Whether a proxy is used should be entirely dependent on the client. This is normally configured in the connection tabs of the browser. Although often in the corporate environment a proxy server is enforced onto a client by security and group policy settings i.e often you'll not be able to change the proxy or remove it from your browser.

3) The destination server is not controlled or affected by any intermediate proxy server. The only different is when cached content from the requested server is supplied in order to speed up the browsing experience.

So what about the anonymous web proxies

Well the reason that you get some anonymity is that during a normal HTTP transaction - when you request a web page your IP address is transmitted along with the request in order to relay the information back to you. This is usually then stored in the logs of the web server you visit. But when you use web proxies your IP address is only sent to the proxy server which then requests the information for you. If the web proxies are configured correctly then your IP address will not be forwarded onto the web site you are visiting.

Hence you are anonymous from the target server, the proxy though still has a record of your IP address and in fact a much more complete record of your web browsing.

Unfortunately this is one of the many reasons you must be careful with the anonymous proxies you use, they potentially have a complete list of all your web browsing along with your IP address - much, much more than any single web server would have.

That's is why you must be very careful and ensure your web proxies take care of the logs. The service I use - Identity Cloaker has only partial access to the information that passes through their anonymous proxies and the logs that are created are deleted almost instantly. There's really little point trying to protect your identity online if the anonymous web proxies you use are all storing huge logs of your browsing!

If you're going to stay secure and you care about your privacy online then do it properly, don't let your information end up the hands of a hacker on a free anonymous proxy somewhere in Eastern Europe (ever wondered why all the best proxy lists are on Russian sites !!), make sure it's controlled properly through a trusted company and a safe location like a UK proxy.