Five Things You Should Know About Internet Proxies
One of the most misunderstood computer terms—and services—may be the proxy. Most of us aren't IT experts or computer geeks, so all we want to know is "What does it do for me?" So let's try to answer that question as simply as we can.
You may have even used a proxy, but just not have been aware of it. Today, a common type of proxy is called a VPN, for "virtual private network."
- If you look up the word proxy, you'll see that it simply means a "substitute who stands in for or represents another." In the Internet world, a proxy is an IP address that you can use as you go on the Internet that also shields your actual IP address at that time.
- You either have to sign up for a virtual private network or be given access to one, by your employer, for example.
- A VPN is more than just a substitute IP address—it also provides a highly secure connection that delivers more security that most on the Internet, including the one offered by your Internet Service Provider.
- A VPN is a connection that's available online, on demand. Once you sign up for a VPN account—whenever you want anonymity, a safer secure connection or a way around Internet blocks on your IP address—you can route your connection through your VPN provider.
- You get to keep your current ISP, which remains your primary Internet connection at home. There are some free VPNs, but it's better if you pay for better service.
There are two different types of VPNs that are common today. One is for private/corporate work purposes and the other is for Internet browsing only.
A VPN for work purposes.
For example, my wife works for an advertising agency as a proofreader. At times, she's asked to do work on the computer long after she's left work. But she no longer has to go back to the office to do her work, thanks to the company's very own virtual private network.
Instead of going into the office, she simply goes to her work laptop in our home office. We have an Internet connection that is always running. She doesn't have to open an Internet browser, such as Google Chrome or Internet Explorer—she simply clicks on an icon and keys in her password to open up the VPN automatically.
Once she's on, she can access drives and folders on her company's server, which are accessible only to employees who are on-site or who have the exclusive VPN connection. That way, she can open up a presentation or a document that she'd typically be able to open only at work. That whole time she's online and connected to her workplace computer/server, she's using a virtual private network.
A secure connection is what is important.
This VPN connection provides her with a data "tunnel" which all of her online activity will go through. This is the first and most well-known quality of a VPN. All data "traffic" that goes through a VPN, whether it's an email or a Google search, is encrypted—that means it's electronically "scrambled" and would be undecipherable if tapped into by a hacker.
A VPN for ordinary folks.
As you might know, a lot of people have become worried about Internet safety and privacy. Many of these same people are worried that their IP addresses might be captured by "outsiders" or hackers and used for scams or computer attacks.
Thankfully, there are VPNs that are dedicated to the one application (program) that people care about the most: Internet browsing. Instead of a corporate virtual private network to connect to the workplace, a public VPN lets you connect to a network of computers to hide your IP address and give you a secure connection on the Internet, while protecting all of your data transmissions.
To recap: People don't use VPNs just to hide their IP addresses. A VPN can also protect your data when you're on the Internet and can give you access to the websites and information that might otherwise block you out.
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There are a number of virtual private networks you can sign up with. To help you, we've put together a VPN comparison page on our website that can link you directly to VPN services. Plus you can learn more by checking out our articles on VPNs.