Andy Green's Blog

A web-workers world…

Unblock Social Websites With Web Proxies

We’ve all experienced it. You’re bored at school or at work, and just want to take a quick peek at our FaceBook page, or watch a quick video or two on YouTube… only to find that those sites have been blocked by your administration or employer. It’s frustrating. It’s a little insulting. And there are ways around it.

Two, in fact. The first way is fairly simple: use a different browser. Many computer networks use Windows and Internet Explorer, so the network administrators only block sites for Internet Explorer. Perhaps you’ve got a particularly clever (or bored) network admin who blocks Firefox too and Safari for the Macintosh users. But there’s always a chance that by simply using a different browser, you can access your favorite social networking sites. There are literally dozens of alternative browsers out there (Netscape, Opera, Avant, and Google Chrome, to name just a very few) that you can download from software sites like Download.com or Softpedia.com free.

On the other hand, schools and workplaces lock down their computers so tightly these days that the average user isn’t allowed to install new software. You’re not out of luck quite yet… when they installed Windows on this computer, did they leave MSN Explorer on it? If so, give that a try. If not… well, there’s always proxy servers.

Which brings us to the second way around a blocked website: proxy servers. A “proxy server” is basically a website that displays another website. So… how exactly does that help you? Well, when you type a web address (URL) into your browser at school or work, the network checks the address entered against a list of banned URLs, such as http://www.facebook.com. However, the URL of the proxy server website is probably not blocked, so the network lets the traffic through. The proxy server simply acts as a transfer point. Your school computer isn’t going to Facebook. Your computer is going to another computer that is going to Facebook!

So where do you find a proxy server? Anywhere. There are literally hundreds of them across the globe. Just type “proxy server” or “web proxy” into Google and take your pick. There are even entire websites devoted to maintaining lists of proxy servers. Actually, if you can find one of those sites, use it. Here’s why: network administrators aren’t stupid. Proxy servers eat up a lot of system resources and bandwidth, and network admins notice such things. When you use the same proxy server day in and day out, they’ll eventually notice all the traffic going to that website, take a look, realize it’s a proxy server, and block that web site, too. To avoid this, use a different proxy server each time-or at the very least, a different one each day. Websites that maintain lists of hundreds of proxy servers are ideal for this. Some even have a button you can click to choose a proxy server at random. That’ll keep the network admins guessing!

I’ll leave you with a little trivia on the nobler side of proxy servers. Although it’s easy think of them as sleazy, sneaky little things that allow you to misbehave and waste your company’s time, but they actually serve a very important purpose. There are many countries in the world, such as China, that try to limit the information their citizens can access by maintaining huge lists of banned URLs. Proxy servers sidestep this and let the people find out what’s really going. Sure, such nations try to block the proxy servers, too, but they’re always one step behind. When anyone can set up a proxy server in their garage, a dozen new proxy servers can (and do) pop up every day-and repressive governments will never be able to keep up with them all.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Social Networking | , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Find Safe Web Proxies

We’re all concerned with keeping not only our computers, but also our personal information safe as we surf the web these days. While email viruses are less of a threat than they were even a few years ago, identity theft is on the rise and identity thieves take advantage of every new technological development; adapting almost as fast as the technologies meant to thwart them. For this reason, keeping yourself protected from prying eyes as you go about your business online is important. One way that people sometimes (and should more often) use is proxy servers – but what are these servers and how do they keep you safer on the web?

Basically, a proxy server is just an ordinary web server, albeit one with a special function. This server lies between the web user and the sites they are visiting; with requests for web pages and files being relayed via this server. This relay means that it is the servers IP address which is reported to the site being visited rather than the IP address of the web user. Why is this important? IP addresses, particularly static IP addresses, which are more and more common with the expansion of broadband service, can be used to identify specific users. Just think about the implications of that for a moment.

It should be noted that not all proxy servers will hide this information which can be used to uniquely identify you from the sites you visit – there are anonymous proxy servers as well; these provide a higher degree of anonymity to you on the web. However, how can you tell which proxies are really protecting your identity? Read on for a few tips on how to find safe web proxies.

First, you can use the “whois” command if you are running any variant of Unix or Linux on your computer. There are also web-based interfaces for this program available, including the ones available at domaintools.com which can tell you if the owner of the proxy has hidden their contact information or not.

You can also use Google or another search engine to look up the proxy and see if anyone has had any experiences of malfeasance with the proxy and what, if anything people are saying about it. Another good source of information is available from the homepage of the proxy server itself; there should be a terms and conditions of use policy posted on the site which will tell you exactly what the proxy does and does not report to other sites in terms of information about users.

Using a web proxy can be a good way to protect your personal information and your privacy in general from those who may have bad intentions on the internet. However, while any proxy server provides you with more protection than no proxy at all, you should look into any web proxy before you use it to make sure that it is giving you all of the protection you are looking for. There are safe and anonymous web proxies out there, but finding one which will perform well for you may take just a little bit of investigation. Have fun out there and remember; safety first!

September 17, 2008 Posted by | Online Security | , , , | Leave a comment