Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to access a website or content that was restricted in your region? Or perhaps you’ve been concerned about your online privacy and wanted to mask your IP address?
In such cases, using a free proxy server can be tempting. But with all the data breaches today, there are some concerns about free services – do they work, or do free proxies just increase your chances of losing your data?
What Is a Proxy?
A proxy server is a remote computer that stands between you and the internet. It works by routing your traffic through itself before reaching the target website. By doing this, it changes your actual IP address and location. So, when your request reaches the site, its administration will see you as a different person. For example, if you’re from the US and choose a proxy from the UK, you’ll appear to be living in the latter.
Proxies are used for purposes like web scraping, improving security, or accessing geo-restricted content, among other use cases. There are four main proxy types:
- Datacenter proxies come from web hosting companies like Amazon AWS or Google Cloud. Datacenter proxies have a strong performance – they have fast internet connections. They are very cheap, yet very easy to detect.
- Residential addresses are borrowed from devices of real users – desktops, smartphones or laptops. This type is very hard to detect but has lower performance and higher prices.
- ISP proxies are a mishmash between the first two – they’re fast yet hard to detect. Such addresses are associated with an internet service provider but do not involve end users. They are more expensive than both datacenter and residential proxies.
- Mobile addresses are the hardest to block and the most expensive. When you use a mobile proxy, your traffic is sent via a mobile device connected to carriers like Verizon or T-Mobile.
Are Free Proxies Safe?
The eternal question is: are free proxies safe to use? In short, the answer is not really. While some free proxies are safe, many others may pose security and privacy concerns. Also, anything that is labeled free is never actually that. Imagine you’re running a service, spending money, so you’d expect to get something in return. What’s more important is that free proxy traffic can be malicious and the user could be exposed to several security issues.
What Are the Risks of Using a Free Proxy Service?
1. You Are Vulnerable to Information Misuse and Monitoring
While free proxies are supposed to change your IP address and location, you never know who stands behind the free proxy and you. So, when you route your traffic through a proxy, you trust the server with the data.
- No (or Poor) HTTPS Encryption
If you’re concerned about your data, you should know that many free proxy websites don’t allow HTTPS connection. In simple terms, they use the HTTP protocol, which isn’t encrypted. This means that anyone can intercept and read your data, which can lead to dangers like stolen login or bank account details.
- Possible to Steal Information Stored in Cookies
Cookies hold a lot of valuable information about you and your device. By accepting them on a website, you agree to reveal your browser parameters and browsing history. Additionally, if you save a password on your browser, cookies are responsible for storing it. In essence, whoever is behind the free proxy service can access your cookies and all the information with them.
2. The Information You Access Can Be Easily Modified
Free proxies aren’t exactly “free”, at least not for you. Most of the time, free services depend on ads to generate revenue. So, not only your data can get misused but the content you are targeting can also be modified.
3. Poor Proxy Performance
Free proxies aren’t the best performers. And predictably so, since there are few resources to maintain the service and many people are using the same IPs.
So, what should you be prepared for? In essence, don’t expect the proxies to be fast. A robust infrastructure costs a lot, and speed is a major concern even for commercial providers. The same goes for success rate – usually, free proxies get blocked more than half of the time, and you’ll experience downtime more than you should.
Ways to Avoid Risks of Using a Free Proxy
In short, try to avoid free services. There are other ways to mask your IP address and location while keeping data safe.
1. Use a Paid Proxy Provider
A paid proxy service covers everything from sourcing IP addresses to customer support. And not to mention, you won’t have to worry about privacy or security measures – such companies have a reputation to uphold, so your connection will be encrypted.
In terms of pricing, you can find very cheap and expensive services. Most of the time it depends on things like your project parameters, the features you need, performance, and extras like 24/7 customer support.
For example, shared datacenter proxies are the cheapest – you can get one IP address for as little as $0.1/IP, but they will most likely get blocked on websites like Amazon or eBay. On the other hand, you can get residential proxies from $1/GB and more, and they can open most websites without blocks.
But even if you’re paying money for the service, be cautious – some companies don’t disclose how they source their IP addresses, so check in with customer support. If you don’t get an answer, run as far away as possible. Why? Some companies acquire IP addresses from end-user devices that don’t know they’re being used as a proxy.
2. Check Out Free Trials
Some proxy providers offer free trials or freemium plans if you don’t want to commit to a service.
To try out the service at its full capacity, look for trials. Usually, you can get up to 3 days for free. Other providers will ask to pay a symbolic amount, say $1.99, to test their services.
You can also check for freemium plans, though it isn’t a common practice in the proxy market. Even though you won’t have full access to the provider’s proxy infrastructure, you’ll still get a few addresses that will do the job for smaller projects.
3. Use a VPN
A third option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of a free proxy. It will change your IP address, though it won’t hide the fact that you’re using it.
A reputable VPN service will use encryption protocols such as OpenVPN or IPSec and additional security measures like an automatic kill-switch. So, if you’re looking for a way around geo-restrictions or to improve your security online, a VPN will do the job. For automation and large-scale uses, go with paid proxies.
As tempting as it sounds, using free proxies isn’t always a wise choice. If you still want to try them out, remember that information about you and your device can be easily exposed. Besides that, free addresses tend to have subpar performance, so be patient – you’ll definitely have connection issues. If you’re serious about your project or simply care about your online security, get yourself a paid proxy, a VPN provider, or at least look for companies that offer free trials.