If you’ve been kicking around the internet for a while, the topic of “proxy servers” has no doubt come up. Whether you’ve used one before or you’re looking to use one for the first time, there are several different reasons that one might choose to do so. Maybe you want to login to your Gmail account from work or school, and it’s otherwise blocked. Maybe you’re security and privacy conscious and want to cover your own digital footprint as much as possible. No matter your reason, we’re going to discuss proxies at some length today, and how to use one whatever your computing environment may be. We’ll stick to our Gmail angle, too, since it’s a rather necessary resource for a lot of people, and finding out that you can’t access it is a pain in the butt.
Read on for more details!
When you use a proxy server, you’re disguising your own activity, whether you meant to or not. That’s the easiest way to describe proxy access for those who aren’t familiar with it. You’re using another computer, service, or even several at once, to keep a website from knowing exactly where you are or where you’re accessing the site from. Now, it’s also important to make it readily known that there’s nothing illegal about using a proxy, and it’s one of the best ways to keep your own activity safe and private no matter what you’re doing online.
Obviously, hackers are fans of them too, but when everyone is cracking down on their own activity, they can hardly be relegated to a reputation of illicit use. It’s more important than ever before to take control of what one can and cannot access, as well as who is keeping tabs on your online activity.
“The future will be different from how they have told us”
― John Nexdar,
All of this is quite easy to say, but a bit hard to actually put into action. After all, if you’ve never used a proxy before, then it’s a clever word that’s covering a wholly complicated process; another technological learning curve, a hoop that one has to jump through in order to stay relevant in the digital era. Rest assured that knowing how to use a proxy isn’t that necessary, so even if you’re only here to satisfy some idle curiosity, proxies are worth knowing about.
In the following article, we’ll break down how a proxy works, as well as illuminate the various reasons that a person would want to use one. Additionally, we’ll show you how, so that the next time your Gmail is blocked by someone–be it work, school, or otherwise–you’ll know how to get access to your email regardless. Finally, we’ll wrap up by talking about some of the associated risks with using a proxy, as well as some circumstances in which it may not even be necessary at all.
What is a Proxy Server?
It’s easiest to think of a proxy server as something of an online “toll road.” You can use proxy services to indirectly access other servers and other areas of the web, without necessarily revealing where your actual point of access is. Instead of directly connecting to another site or service, the use of a proxy inserts a sort of “middleman” that makes the necessary data and address requests on your behalf.
That’s the definition of “proxy,” right? Something that has the authority and permission to stand in for something else. Well, the definition is literal in this case, because no matter how a particular proxy is functioning–there are a few different ways they can be used and created–it will always be a stand-in that handles the retrieval of online information for you.
How Does a Proxy Server Work?
Using a proxy service often provides relatively the same results, even if there are different ways that a person can go about it. They’re intermediaries that provide requested data. Most of the time, proxy servers are either web proxies or server proxies, depending on the needs of the user. The vast majority of proxies in use today are web proxies, which are used to circumvent firewalls at certain locations and also provide anonymity.
Let’s draw up an example. Let’s say, as we did above, that you want to connect to Gmail so that you can access your inbox. However, your current location has blocked all direct access to Gmail, making the task seemingly impossible.
Instead, a user can connect to a proxy service.
- The user asks the proxy service for access to Gmail.
- Then, instead of the user making a direct access request to Gmail, the proxy service does it instead.
- Rather than data coming back to the user straight through Gmail, it instead goes through the proxy, and then back to the user.
- It’s a successful way to connect to places where you’re not meant to, but it also helps to protect your own privacy and security.
- Inversely, many large businesses use proxies to prevent exactly that.
- When they force their employees to connect to the internet through a proxy managed by the business, a person is effectively cut off from anything that’s banned on the proxy service.
With a web proxy, you’re using an online proxy service to send and retrieve online information. Because the websites receiving information only see your proxy, rather than you, it can usually help to safeguard your identity on the internet.
Actual, hosted server proxies are less common, primarily because so few people host their own servers, and require a roundabout way to access anything through them. Web proxies are more than capable of allowing users to bypass restrictions and, in some circumstances, help to enforce private ones.
Is a Proxy Server Safe to Use?
By and large, proxy services are safe to use, apart from the few instances in which they facilitate illegal activity. To be clear, however, the fault for this almost always lies in the person performing illegal activity, rather than the proxy server itself. In this way, they’re little more than a tool that web-savvy people can use to broaden their use of the internet. Any reputation they have as an illegal too is largely unearned.
However, there are some security concerns that people should be aware of before using a proxy. As often as they’re used to provide anonymity, they can also make a user more vulnerable.
When using a proxy, you should always ensure to the best of your ability that it’s secure. Because a proxy interacts directly with the information that you’re sending and receiving, it’s very easy for a corrupted or compromised proxy to pass malicious code to your computer. Additionally, while proxy servers are great at providing surface-level anonymity, they also frequently keep a log of the activity occurring through them. If that were ever compromised, well, you can imagine how easily your data could become vulnerable.
All of the security concerns related to proxies begin and end with the user, however. Care and caution can prevent most serious problems, so it will behoove any user to make sure that they can trust the proxy that they’re using with the type of activity they’re conducting through it.
Using a Proxy to Login to Gmail
The first thing that you should do is determine whether or not you need to use a proxy at all. Some online barriers that seem as if they might require use of a proxy can be circumvented by simply using modified URLs, depending on the complexity of the security or firewalls that you’re trying to get around. An article on Techwalla lays it out quite succinctly. Try typing “https://gmail.com” or “https://m.gmail.com.” You may very well end up with a mobile version of the Gmail site, but if the point is gaining access to your inbox, you can still declare it a success.
However, when you do need to use a proxy, here’s where you’ll begin.
- The most efficient way to access Gmail via proxy is to use Google itself.
- This is accomplished by conducting a search through another Google tool, such as Google Translate or Google XHTML.
- We’re going to assume that the contents of your inbox are something that you’ll very much want to keep safe, and thus, using Google itself as a proxy is the smartest way you can go about accessing Gmail.
- There are other web proxies that you certainly can use (just do a Google search for “web proxies”) but as stated above, you might be opening yourself up to excessive risk by choosing to do it this way.
We hope that our brief little article has told you a bit more about web proxies, and why they’re a frequently-used tool that helps in freely navigating the web. Though we won’t ever condone any form of illegal activity, knowing how to access common services by way of a proxy can be an extremely useful trick, and when you’re in areas that might otherwise limit your access to something like Gmail, being able to get to it via proxy is invaluable.
If you have any further questions about proxies, Gmail, or how they’re used, let us know in the comments below!