A long time ago, at least in the context of the Internet – we used to call proxy servers – gateways. In fact the first WWW gateway was created at CERN by the World Wide Web team led by Tim Berners-Lee. Yep that BernersLee – the man who invented the World Wide Web !
So how can we define these gateways, what do they actually do? Well the most common description is that they are devices which forward packets between different networks. Of course sometimes these networks are fairly different so the gateways need to translate protocols before they forward them on. The difficulty here was that two distinct types of devices were being grouped together under the title – gateways – which needed defining.
The first type were Internet gateways which acted both as a firewall and a gateway to the internet. These would sit in front of secure private networks and allow access both inbound and outbound – these were defined as proxy servers. The other type were information gateways which usually acted on behalf of a server rather than the client. These were defined as ‘gateways’ although some call them reverse proxies just to keep it slightly confusing.
So there are even quite a few different types of proxy servers, ranging from the one page web proxies you’ll find on loads of web sites, to big corporate proxy servers which you use to access the internet from work or college.
There are however some common properties that all proxies should share –
First of all they should be transparent. That is to say they should not affect the end result, the client should receive exactly the same result from the web site whether you use a proxy or not.
Second, the decision to use a proxy should be instigated and controlled from the client. Although in most corporate networks this is true – the use of a proxy is normally hard coded in to the configuration. Most Windows clients will enforce the browser to surf through the corporate network, use specific DNS settings and cache pages on a proxy. Next time at work or school if you look in your browser under connections you’ll probably see a proxy server address set here which you cannot alter. (Under IE you’ll find it under Internet Options/connections/LAN settings).
Finally the last main property is that the destination server or web site should be completely unaffected by the use of a proxy server.
These three definitions are however slightly under threat particularly because of the increasing use of geolocation. This technology targets and controls content based on the geographical location of the client. However if you surf through a proxy server, then it is the location of the proxy that determines what you can access or see. This is why proxies are becoming so popular – if you have access to the right proxies you can access any content you like. For instance if you want to access BBC Iplayer and you live outside the UK you’ll have your access blocked. However if you connect through a UK proxy server, then you’ll be considered a UK surfer and be allowed to use it.
So what does this mean to you? Proxy avoidance? Aren’t proxies used to help you keep your privacy – why would you want to avoid them. Unfortunately there are some proxies you really should be looking to avoid. Just using a proxy means absolutely nothing, it’s a bit like saying you are environmentally aware because your car happens to be colored green. Proxies can enhance security but equally they can also be used to steal all your details and finance a Russian cyber crime gang’s Christmas party.
Bloody Spoilsports !!
So should you use or bypass a proxy server – well it really depends on a couple of factors – who’s running it and how it’s set up.
For instance I recommend a couple of proxies/vpns on this site – both of them don’t keep logs, they don’t monitor traffic and delete pretty much everything. However this is not the case for the vast majority of proxies – some are actually designed to monitor you and control what you can or can’t do online.
The one thing you should remember is – that if you use a proxy server, then all your data is being channeled through that server. Which is why most businesses make sure their employees surf the internet through a proxy. They control and configure the proxy so that they have full control of what you do online on their time.
So let’s just be clear, if you are being blocked from accessing your favorite site at work, school or through your ISP, it’s probably because you are being forced to surf through their proxy server.
In this case you will also be requiring one of these if you need to avoid this particular proxy –
Luck – or rather some incompetence. If your client, browser or proxy security is set up badly, it can be fairly easy to avoid a proxy server.
Technical Knowledge – always helps but if you want to bypass the sneaky IT department, the more you know the better.
Security Software – programs like Identity Cloaker have special functions to piggy back existing proxy servers or bypass firewalls. Nothing guarantees that you by can avoid a proxy specifically designed to control your internet access but it’s usually possible.You can always test theories out – for instance the free – trial version of Identity Cloaker allows access to a selection of websites including Facebook. This site is often blocked by content filters or proxies (usually because people are liable to spend hours on it!) – so test out to see if it works in your environments – the free demo version can be .
Remember a proxy server set up in your work or college – is acting as an intermediary for each client on the network. As such it knows and records every single site you visit – so if you’ve got something to keep private – don’t do it at work !! Unfortunately there are lots of different ways that proxy servers can be set up, transparent, caching or anonymising for example. When proxies where first used they were primarily used for speed. They would be set to cache requested pages – so when another client on the network requested the page it could be delivered locally. This would mean that you would only need to download a page once and then served when required.
They are now used for a whole lot more – a proxy is a vital tool for controlling and configuring access to the internet for any client. You can use a proxy to block, filter or simply monitor any request passing through it. Have a look at your browser settings at work, if set up properly you should be blocked from manually changing the settings. This is a simple first step in making sure that any employees cannot avoid using the proxy server – secure your proxy settings in the browser. If you’re using Windows then this is normally used by using Windows Group Policy Objects which can tie down all security settings on your client. Generally not only will this stop people fiddling with their settings, but it will be backed up by firewall rules. The most common rule set would be that outgoing web traffic is only allowed via the IP address of the official proxy server. Which is why most people get stuck when trying to be a proxy ninja on their school or company network.
In addition to the installation of a proxy server, most organisations now are rightly paranoid about ‘nasty stuff’ on the net, and so they utilise some sort of additional content filters. The most common one I’ve come across is from Websense but there are quite a few different ones. These will monitor online all the traffic and URLs, and block or log according to specific rules and algorithms. These filters are generally installed on the ‘wire’ and will have access to all traffic on the network. There’s only one real way to beat a decent filter and that’s to stop it analysing what you’re doing – that means you must use encryption.
It can be via SSL, a VPN or like Identity Cloaker which uses Rjindael-AES 256 bit Encryption over a SSH connection. It’s difficult to summarise what situation you might find in any specific environment. In any vaguely secure environment you’ll probably find most stuff I’ve mentioned being implemented.
Of course us Ninja surfers can get round all these issues using a variety of methods from cloaking to fake ip addresses. Normally it’s not that hard to do usually because of the way a security measure has been implemented. For example you’ll commonly find Internet Explorer locked down very tightly stopping you doing anything. But then the rest of the client will be neglected and a user can often install a different browser like Firefox which has no such restrictions!! You may be allowed to access basic network configuration details so that using something like Smart DNS like this may be an option.
If an organisation hasn’t stopped you installing a new browser on your PC then it’s unlikely they’ve created any security templates either. It’s not uncommon to see surprisingly – a super locked down version of IE alongside a completely un-monitored copy of Firefox. Of course before you start messing around with the Internet at work or college, you should consider your position. Check out your Internet Use Policy and see what you’re allowed to do? Are you allowed to watch the BBC online, can you use Facebook and is there something that says you can’t use another browser for example !
It’s a big subject and I’ll cover some more specific scenarios in future posts. I’ll mostly use Identity Cloaker as it normally has the functionality to bypass most corporate blocks and filters but there are others. Don’t bother messing around with stupid online web proxies though – they won’t work unless your network admins are particularly stupid.
Ok I love Turkey, but doing business there is so hard work!! But my frustration waiting for yet another piece of paper in an office in Ankara simply melted away when I heard this – a fabulous performance…
If you’re not in the UK – you’ll need a proxy or security program (like Identity Cloaker) to give you access I’m afraid.
More security stuff coming next post I promise………………………time to hack your neighbors Wifi….