What is an (anonymous) proxy used for?
The short answer is: with an anonymous proxy IP address you can protect your online identity.
However, a proxy server can be used for a lot of things. This article will not go into the technical details but rather showcase the different common types of usage scenarios.
Online anonymity and security
Surfing the web through a proxy server gives you a layer of anonymity since your IP is not requested by the receiver. However you need to be sure you use an anonymous HTTPS proxy so your request will be encrypted.
If you are a file sharer or download (copyrighted) files, movies, music, tv shows etc., make sure you use a proxy or you can get fined and your ISP service terminated thanks to the ‘6 strikes rule‘. In this case a torrent VPN service is a better choice.
When using public WiFi hotspots, make sure you always connect through a secure proxy or VPN. If you don’t, others can see your online activity and steal your logins, passwords, credit card # and anything that is interesting to them.
An attacker could set up a fake WiFi hotspot which is named as a legitimate hotspot in a coffee shop for example. This is done to snoop traffic from unsuspecting visitors and possibly for identity theft.
Crackers, criminals and spammers often use proxy or VPN services to hide their tracks online. However after the NSA spying scandal, more and more citizens are using it to not have their online privacy intruded.
Geo content locking and censorship
In some countries websites or content gets blocked for everyone or just for visitors from specific countries. Think about streaming sites like Hulu, which restrict their content to US visitors only. By using an USA proxy or VPN server, you can unblock Netflix, Hulu and similar services.
If for example a torrent site is blocked in your country, a proxy or VPN is your friend. Some ISP’s even throttle certain types of internet traffic but you can circumvent that by using an anonymous proxy which encrypts your traffic.
Content restriction and performance
Many organizations and schools use content filtering proxies to prevent you from visiting certain websites. Scanning for malware and other threats before it enters the network is another common practice. It is also used for caching frequently requested content to improve performance.
Tools and services
There are a lot of tools and services that use proxies. SEO tools and services like Scrapebox heavily rely on proxies. They are needed to perform many tasks on websites like Google otherwise your main IP will get blocked.
Rank tracking services use proxies to record your sites search engine position in different countries. Advertisers as well use proxies to test their geo targeted ads. Public proxy server lists are commonly used free of charge but they are not reliable and have a short life span. A reliable method is to use paid dedicated or semi dedicated proxies.
Bruteforce password cracking by the help of proxies allows you to keep guessing the password without getting your main IP banned.
It all comes down to your usage scenario
As you could have learned in this article, the usage scenario dictates whether you should use a proxy or VPN server. You can check out our best VPN service reviews for your specific needs.
Take a look at the Wikipedia’s page for a more technical explanation.