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What is an Open Proxy Server?

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  • Written By: Gabriele Sturmer
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A proxy server is an intermediary computer between a local computer network and the Internet that can help increase a network's security or reduce its workload. An open proxy server is a public proxy server that any Internet user with the proxy's address and port number can access. Although open proxies are public, this is usually because of a lack of proper configuration. Therefore, online security risks can occur with an open proxy server because of the lack of authentication required to use the server.

A proxy server usually requires the user to connect from a specified network address to use its services. Open proxy servers do not have this requirement and let anyone on the Internet connect to the proxy server's computer. When a user configures a web browser to use an open proxy server, the user's request is sent to the proxy server before reaching the Internet. As a result, this provides a sense of anonymity, because the intended server will see the information of the proxy rather than the user's personal network information. Data sent from the Internet also reaches the proxy server before it is forwarded to the user's computer.

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There are several reasons why a user may want to use an open proxy server. For example, an Internet user may want to protect his or her identity when visiting websites, posting on message boards, using chat rooms or downloading files. Another use is to access websites that are blocked on a local network, because the proxy server has the capability to access websites the user's computer cannot access directly. Finally, proxy servers support caching and can improve performance when surfing the web. This is particularly useful when the proxy server stores data the user needs to access.

Although an open proxy server has many uses, there are also problems that must be considered. First, connecting to the open proxy requires the user to directly connect with an unknown computer that hackers could use to house computer viruses and spyware. Second, the proxy server keeps track of everything that reaches and leaves the proxy server, so the degree of anonymity may not be as anonymous as one might think. Some potential security problems include intercepted passwords and email that the open proxy's owner can access. Last, some users use open proxy servers for illegal reasons, such as piracy and fraud, but this can also be traced if necessary.

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browncoat
Post 3

@bythewell - Yeah, they have to be careful to get an anonymous proxy server though, because being open doesn't necessarily mean they can't be caught. As it says in the article, it's not that hard to trace people back.

Not that there aren't ways of doing it, I'm sure, but I wouldn't risk it for something really dangerous.

bythewell
Post 2

@MrsPramm - To be fair, I think most computers and networks are set up so that the default settings are pretty safe. I think someone would have to have been messing around with their settings in order to open themselves up to becoming a zombie computer.

And there are open proxy server lists that are intended to be legitimate. I think they use them in China, for example, to get past all the censorship.

MrsPramm
Post 1

Apparently it's completely possible for someone to turn your computer into an open proxy without your permission, if you haven't set up your proxy settings well. When they compromise your computer like this, it is then called a "zombie computer".

You might not even realize there's a problem, and all the while people could be using your computer for illegal activities, which you could then be implicated for. I've even heard of people compiling an open proxy list of hacked computers that can be used for illegal activities.

You've got to be super cautious when you're online, because even when you think you've done nothing wrong, it might just be that you haven't done the right things to protect yourself.

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