For many people across the world, using a proxy or VPN is simply an everyday occurence. For example if you live in a country that filters access to the internet (and there are many), then if you want to watch a video on YouTube or catch up with your friends on Facebook you’ll need one of these to gain access. Social networking sites may be the fastest growing sector of the internet but their blend of open access and freedom of speech are not welcomed in many countries in the world. These two sites are often banned in hundreds of countries in the world – permanently in places like China and Iran, but also frequently in more democratic countries like Turkey.
The technology is fairly straight forward and both systems really act as an intermediary between you and the web site you’re visiting. So instead of sending a direct request to the YouTube server you send it to the proxy/VPN server which then forwards the page back to you. On a fast server you won’t notice the difference but the key point is that you don’t request the page directly which will fool many internet blocks and filters. It also works in those many situations where the websites themselves block access from specific countries. For instance Hulu will only let US based computers stream their videos, however if you use a US VPN or Smart DNS then that’s exactly what you’ll appear to be.
The main difference between the two technologies is that a VPN is an encrypted tunnel between you and the computer so it also adds another layer of security. A proxy server is much more accessible but is little help with security although it does protect your location from the server you’re connecting to. There are actually lots of free proxies available online however you should be especially careful using these and they rarely are alive for long. To use these free ones you’ll spend most of your time hunting for a free proxy – http://thenewproxies.com/, plus worrying about the security implications.
There is no doubt that both these technologies allow an element of freedom in web browsing that you may not normally have. Even people in democratic countries who don’t restrict internet access use them, mainly because a proxy or VPN will help eliminate your online browsing history that exists when you visit any web site. Although these technologies are relatively hard to block the Chinese are reported to be trialing technologies that block even these. They are concerned that the widespread use of VPNs is enabling Chinese citizens to bypass the countrie’s strict internet filtering.