VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPN is a service that essentially lets you browse the web with the security and functionally of a private network. When you are using Internet with VPN, it does more than protecting your identity behind an anonymous IP address from the server in the country of your choosing. With Virtual Private Network all internet traffic is encrypted, which means that the data you download, upload or send is secure even in Wi-Fi public hotspots. You can access sites like Facebook at school or work, access blogs, forums and websites you have been banned from , bypass censorship imposed on you by the government in your country. Because you can actually choose to connect to the server from a certain country, you can access the web pages that may be restricted from viewing in certain areas. Here are the major characteristics of a VPN:
- encrypts internet traffic to protect from anyone spying or eavesdropping
- hides your identity behind anonymous IP address
- gives access to blocked websites
- makes your identity to appear as if you reside in another country
- all your ISP can see is encrypted traffic
- secure public Wi-Fi access
- may offer anti-malware protection
To serve web privately and securely, you can access websites indirectly using a proxy server. In computer networks, a proxy server is a server (a computer system or an application) that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from other servers (Wikipedia). Proxy server becomes a middle man between you and the server you want to access when it sends a request for data on your behalf. If you want to visit a particular website privately, the proxy will swap your IP address with an IP address of one of its servers. Not only are proxy servers useful because they help to protect you from those who can monitor your activity and steal sensitive data, but also give you freedom to access websites that have been blocked.
To use web proxy, you might have to go to proxy’s home page and browse internet through one of its forms. Sometimes it is a software you need to download first, or an add-on to your browser. Web proxies are not all the same. Some will pass along your IP address, some won’t. Some will identify themselves as proxy servers, while others won’t. The highest level of security is provided by proxy servers that do not reveal your IP address and do not identify themselves as proxy servers.
Nowadays, a lot of proxy servers are free, but they can also be subscription based or may require you to pay one time to download their software. Most free proxies are helpful when used occasionally, because they usually do not offer the same level of security and surfing speed as most paid services. Features of a web based proxy:
- allows private web surfing with anonymous IP address
- lets you bypass web blocks
In conclusion, I would like to mention a few more things about hiding your IP address. There is nothing wrong with wishing to browse Internet privately, as long as you do not engage in illegal activity. Hackers sometimes use web proxies to surf the web anonymously. However, while the website you are visiting may not see your IP address, your proxy server knows it and it may be keeping records of your visits, which can be turned over to law enforcement if needed.
Although proxy server may secure your data when it is being transmitted to the specified address, your data may be at risk before it reaches the proxy from your computer. Also, some websites do not accept data from web proxies, therefore, the access to those sites will be blocked.
Web proxy servers and VPNs are meant to help you surf the web securely, but not all of them are trustworthy. If you are interested in hiding your IP address, I found a great article by Darko Johnson (5 best websites to use to hide your IP address) where he talks about best websites to use and offers helpful recommendations on how to spot a fishy one.