Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to access a restricted website or content 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 occurring today, there are some concerns about free services. Do they work? Or do free proxies increase your chances of losing 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 that, it changes your actual IP address and location. So, when your request reaches the site, its administrator will see you as a different person. For example, if you’re from the U.S. and choose a proxy from the U.K., you’ll appear to be living in the latter.
Proxies are used for 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, are very cheap, and yet very easy to detect.
- Residential addresses are borrowed from the devices of real users, including desktops, smartphones, or laptops. This type is very hard to detect but has lower performance and higher prices.
- Internet service provider (ISP) proxies are a mishmash between the first two. They’re fast yet hard to detect. Such addresses are associated with an ISP 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?” The short answer is not really. While some free proxies are safe to use, others may pose security and privacy concerns. Also, anything that is labeled “free” may have a hidden price. Imagine you’re running a service and spending money, you’d expect to get something in return. What’s more important is that free proxy traffic can be malicious, and a 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. Simply put, they use the unencrypted HTTP connections, meaning anyone can intercept and read your data. That 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. In addition, if you save a password on your browser, cookies are responsible for storing it. Essentially, whoever is behind the free proxy service can access your cookies and all the information they contain.
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, your data can be misused, and the content you wanted to watch 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 use the same IP addresses.
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. Free proxies usually get blocked more than half of the time, and you’ll experience downtime more than you should.
Ways to Avoid the 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 Service
A paid proxy service covers everything from sourcing IP addresses to customer support. You won’t have to worry about privacy or security measures, as such companies have a reputation to uphold, so your connection will be encrypted.
Their prices vary depending on your project parameters, needed features, performance, customer support availability, and other factors.
For example, shared datacenter proxies are the cheapest. You can get one IP address for as little as US$0.10 per IP address, but they will most likely get blocked on websites like Amazon or eBay. On the other hand, you can get residential proxies for US$1 per GB or more, and they can open most websites without getting blocked.
But even if you’re paying money for the service, be cautious, as some companies don’t disclose how they source their IP addresses. You can check in with their customer support team, and 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 proxies.
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 a service at its full capacity, look for trials. Usually, you can get up to three days for free. Other providers will ask to pay a symbolic amount, say US$1.99, to test their services.
You can also check for freemium plans, though they aren’t commonly employed 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 wise. 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 as you’ll have connection issues. If you’re serious about your project or care about your online security, get a paid proxy or VPN, or at least look for companies offering free trials.