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By: Amy Armitage
There is a simple reason that "proxy websites" exist in the first place, and that is because some people really do believe that information access should be done privately, confidentially but still openly. The first key to understanding the use of proxy websites is to understand proxy servers, which many companies set up to block employees from accessing certain "unsafe" or "banned" websites. Management can also track what the employees are doing on the Internet in this fashion.

Another job for some proxy servers is to act as "caching" servers, means they download large swaths of the Internet regularly to speed up downloads for the users. These servers can be cast in a "Big Brother" role, too, however, as they can log the IP addresses of all users requesting certain pages. This sort of logging can be quite useful for site owners that wish to calculate the popularity of their pages based on the number of unique visitors and/or the number of returning ones.

How proxy websites figure in

Not all Internet users, particularly knowledgeable and stealthy ones, wants their IP addresses logged just for visiting a certain site, and this is where proxy websites figure in. In a "browser within a browser" fashion, using a proxy website allows an encrypted web connection that makes the user anonymous by preventing the IP address from being logged. This process also protects the websites from being captured, too, which enhances privacy. So, the first reason you may wish to take advantage of a proxy website is the simple desire to keep what you do confidential, which can apply to you if you are an inventor, researcher, writer, manufacturer or anyone else involved in the marketplace of products, services or even ideas.

With the user essentially "tunneling" right through servers, other proxies like web filters, meant to keep out the "bad" sites, are also bypassed. One common use of the tactic is for high school students to skirt their school's Internet filtering so they're able to visit MySpace or Facebook pages. The same technique is employed by people whose governments try to restrict their communication with the outside world. Users of such proxy website services as Proxify and others counter the repression through use of strong security measures inherent in the proxy method. This brings up secondary and tertiary reasons for their use. People know that freedom cannot exist without free exchange of ideas.

Locating proxies near and far

When webmasters use PHP and CGI for proxy purposes, the mechanism is typically beyond the reach of an ISP, which can only react after the fact and block the servers when discovered. This, of course, is like playing "bang a mole," where knocking one down results in another one or two popping up elsewhere. There are online destinations, clustered around the "censorship fighting" principle, that offer proxy website creation as well as e-mail-list notification of new proxy servers as they come online.

These "circumventor" websites have become such a difficulty for governments and others that desire to control web access that many new companies are now offering "blocking services" specifically designed to locate and block proxies. Naturally, they will always be a step behind, proving the insight that it is nigh on impossible to stop the flow of information. The Internet matured and grew based upon at least the theory, if not always the practice, of information's free flow. So, while librarians, bureaucrats, regulators and many corporate CEO's have tried to control this flow, you can count on people everywhere to do whatever they need to do to get the information they want, and keep it flowing freely.

Is it something you should do?

There are lists of proxy sites scattered all over the Internet, as easy to find as typing a few keywords into your search engine of choice. Many will be blocked before you've even heard of them, but you can count on at least some being useful and usable when you encounter a list of a few thousand. Still, you have to be careful about which you employ, since there are scammers, "phishers" and felons in large numbers who set up proxy sites to skim personal and private information

A proxy website can work to keep your Internet travels (and landings) confidential, but your user names, passwords and other private info is going to be logged by the proxies. This mean you will want to vet a number of known, verified proxies to avoid the people who might use the information maliciously. The amount of effort you put into this should be in proportion to the value it has to you, and if you don't really need to be an "invisible surfer," don't bother with all of it. When using a proxy website is the way to go, however, do it smart, do it well and do it right. Remember, too, that the people trying to stop you know all the technical moves, too!About Author:Amy Armitage is the head of Business Development for Lunarpages. Lunarpages provides quality web hosting from their US-based hosting facility. They offer a wide-range of services from linux virtual private servers and managed solutions to shared and reseller hosting plans. Visit online for more information.
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