What is a proxy and why should you use one?
If you want to be fully anonymous on the internet, there's a range of tools you should make use of.
One of the most important is a proxy.
Also known as 'proxy servers', proxies act as a gateway between your device and the web server you're connecting to. They are a 'middleman' sitting between you and them that prevents your IP address from being revealed.
Proxies are a key part of using Kameleo (our stealth browsing platform). Kameleo anonymizes your browser fingerprint and lets you use multiple accounts at one time without providers noticing. Proxies, in this case, make it appear that you are connecting to them from a different location and device.
Below, we'll teach you more about what proxies are. We'll cover the different types of proxy providers, along with the difference between proxies and VPNs. Finally, we'll go through how you can use proxies with Kameleo to keep your browsing anonymous and safe.
What is a proxy?
A proxy server is a server (or another computer) that sits between your computer and the internet. It acts as an intermediary - when you make a web request, instead of going directly to the service you're connecting to, it instead goes to the proxy first.
The proxy then accesses the service on your behalf. If you're visiting a web page, for example, the proxy will access it for you, and forward the data to you. Your IP address is never revealed to the webpage during this exchange - only the proxy’s IP address.
Proxies work on the application level. This means that web traffic from a particular application will go through a proxy – but not all the data from your device.
(This is in contrast to VPNs, which we'll explain below).
You connect to the proxy computer with your machine, and your application's internet traffic goes through it.
(The above setup is known as a forward proxy flow. A reverse proxy, in contrast, is a layer of security that businesses and server owners use to balance high traffic loads and prevent cyberattacks.)
What can you use a proxy for?
There are a few main internet activities for which you can make use of a proxy server.
Visiting websites anonymously
If you don't want a website to know anything about you when you visit, proxies are a big help. They prevent sites from knowing your IP address, location, and other identifying information. (It's important to use other security measures on your devices if this is a goal, such as anonymous browsing tools.)
Bypassing filters and geoblocks
You can use a proxy to gain access to websites and other resources that are limited to certain regions. So if a company or government prevents you from visiting a webpage, you can easily use a proxy to spoof your geographical location and gain access.
If you're an employer, you can use a proxy server to control what your employees access using company networks. Parents can also use them to monitor and limit what their children can access using family devices. They can also prevent harmful ads and scripts reaching your computer from malicious sites. This is sometimes known as a transparent proxy setup.
Using multiple accounts on one website
Some websites and services don't allow you to create or log in to multiple accounts at once. A proxy can help anonymize you so you can get around these restrictions. Our stealth browsing platform Kameleo lets you create virtual web browser profiles so it looks like you're using different devices in different places - perfect for multi-account usage.
Proxies: the good and the bad
Proxy servers can be used for various forms of online activity, but it's important to know the pros and cons of them so you can make the best decision. Here's the good and the bad of connecting through a proxy server:
Advantages of using a proxy
- Privacy: enables anonymity by hiding your own IP address and location from any service you connect to
- Acts as a firewall and can filter out ads, stripping them from web pages before they reach you
- Usually faster than using a VPN
- Safer browsing: if you visit a malicious website, the proxy will protect you from malware, as hackers cannot interact with your computer
- Unblock websites: helps you get around geographical restrictions and access the sites you want to
- For businesses, they can save bandwidth by caching files and frequently accessed web pages
Disadvantages of using a proxy
- Some IP addresses will be blocked by providers
- Not a fully secure connection; doesn't usually encrypt your traffic
- Only works on the app level, not system-wide like a VPN
- Data risks: proxies use caching to speed up requests, but this means they inevitably store some data about you as you browse, so you’re vulnerable to data breaches. For maximum safety, make sure to use a legitimate proxy provider that you trust.
What's the difference between a proxy and a VPN?
There are similarities between proxies and VPNs – for example, they both mask your original IP address and help hide your identity while you're online. But there are some crucial differences. Let's take a quick look at how VPNs work.
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network.
They've been made popular over the last few years as their main customer use case is spoofing the user's location, so they can access geo-restricted services. So a person located in the US would be able to watch UK content on Netflix, if they watch through a VPN.
And some of the major VPN brands have run huge ad campaigns sponsoring podcasts and YouTube content creators, so there's a good chance you're already familiar with a few of them.
How do VPNs work? Well, they're also a web server that your computer connects to. But VPNs work on the operating system level, while proxies work on the application level. This means that when you're running a VPN, all the traffic from your device goes through it, rather than just that of a specific program.
VPNs also encrypt your traffic, while proxies generally don't. So your ISP or anyone observing the connection will be able to see that you're connected to the VPN, but they won't be able to see the contents of the data.
You can only connect to one VPN at a time. So if you want to run multiple profiles at the same time, you'll have to use proxies – otherwise, the IP address will be the same for all profiles. You can connect to as many proxies as you want when using platforms like Kameleo.
Finally, VPNs will share single IP addresses for multiple users. Unfortunately, this means that some sites will block an IP because they've identified it as a VPN. (This is why we suggest you use proxies as extra protection.) There are more proxies in the world than VPNs, so you can have access to more IPs when using proxies, and it's easier to find one that's not blacklisted.
What are the different types of proxy servers?
These are the most popular types of proxy server you'll come across (and they're all supported by Kameleo's proxy manager:
- HTTP: Also known as a web proxy, this is the most common type of proxy, and is used only for webpage traffic. It's usually the fastest option, too.
- SOCKS: Usually called SOCKS5, these proxies handle a wider range of data than web proxies, connecting applications as well as webpages. But they can be slower.
- SSH: These are used for operating network services securely. You'd use it to access and communicate with a virtual machine / VPS.
The different types of proxy providers
Proxies exist all over the world, and you'll find them in pretty much every country. So there's a huge variety you'll be able to connect to.
When you're looking to buy a proxy, there are two main types of provider you'll be able to get it from.
These are proxy providers who have a large range of IP addresses, from which you can rent multiple proxies or one at a time. These proxies can be used for longer periods, even for months at a time.
The connection speed through these proxies will be much faster because the data center will have a strong internet connection. And they can be much cheaper than residential proxies, with a typical price of $2 per month per IP address.
The problem with these proxies is that they have a high number of users sharing the same IP address, which can be a dead giveaway that it's a proxy server.
There are online databases that log the IPs of these providers. So services that want to block proxy connections might find out the IPs and block access from them.
Content providers might do this, for example - if you try to watch Netflix with a proxy for example, in some cases you won't be able to, if the IP has been blacklisted by them.
We think that the best way to change your IP address is to use residential proxies. These are IPs that belong to real people, connected to their home computers through their ISP (Internet Service Provider). If you have internet access at home, your IP is a 'residential IP'.
Public proxies like these are harder for sites to detect, as they look like a regular home connection. However, they can be slower than datacenter proxies.
The problem with connecting to individuals like this is that they aren't directly managed by a large-scale proxy provider. They're run by people that rent out their computers as proxies for a bit of extra money (although this is often coordinated by companies on their behalf), and when they turn the computer off, the proxy stops working.
Here are a few of the residential proxy providers out there:
- 911.re offers 150 proxies for $28 – each one you can use for 24 hours. We recommend 911.re because their proxies have no monthly expiration.
- GeoSurf, NetNut, BrightData, and OxyLabs all offer residential proxies on a data basis, so you'd pay per month for an allowance of data. The minimum subscription prices are usually in the hundreds of $, so they're better suited for businesses and power users.
- There are some free proxy server providers out there, but we wouldn’t recommend them, as they are more likely to pose a security risk to your data.
The proxy network you choose should reflect your needs and how much usage you want to get out of them. It's worth shopping around to see what's best for you.
Using a proxy with Kameleo
If you're using Kameleo, proxies are an essential part of the experience. The platform anonymizes your browser fingerprint, but if you're interacting with a site that knows your real IP address, you won't be fully anonymous!
In fact, the platform works with any proxy service, and each of the browser profiles you use can have a different IP address.
Connecting to a proxy in Kameleo is super easy. The built-in proxy management means that when you're setting up a new profile, all you have to do is select the right option. Our proxy settings are deeply customizable, though, so you can set them up however you like