Sam - November 24, 2018

What Are The Risks of Using Free Proxies?

All the benefits of using a proxy server…for free? We’ll forgive you for thinking this sounds like a sweet deal, but just press pause before jumping head-first into the world of free proxies.

Sure, free proxies may be appealing, but there could be severe implications to using a free version of a proxy server.

To highlight the risks of using free proxies and help you decide if they’re worth your time, we put together this guide. We’ll walk you through the different types of free proxies and explain the risks of each so you can make an informed judgment call about whether the pros of a freebie outweigh the cons of unsecured browsing.

What is a Free Proxy Server?

A proxy server is a computer network that lets users piggyback on the internet. People can use Proxy servers for many reasons, like masking their location to stream TV shows only available in another country. Proxies can keep your identity private and secure, too.

You may also choose to use paid and free servers for these reasons: 

  • To hide your IP true address from a particular site that might have blocked it previously.

  • To get around geographic restrictions on websites where content is only available for users in certain countries.

  • To access sites blocked by local networks, like those at work or college. 

  • To test what happens when you access a website from a foreign location.

Generally, these proxies use the SOCKS protocol and can handle any traffic. Some are specific to one TCP protocol, usually HTTP. Some services are web-based, meaning you don’t need to configure any settings for your browser. You go to a proxy website and give it a URL to access.

Whichever type of proxy you use, its performance, reliability, and honesty are major factors to consider. A slow proxy One with slow throughput and is often down isn’t worth a lot. One which intercepts or falsifies data can be a liability. If it delivers malware, that’s even worse.

What are the Different Types of Free Proxies?

Not all free proxies provide the same level of security and anonymity. There are three categories of proxies that differ in terms of how well they hide your sensitive data. These are: 

1. Caching Proxies 

This type of proxy forwards your IP address information to the destination but makes no attempt to keep your information private. As the name suggests, these proxies cache data - reducing access to destination servers. Caching proxies typically live in private networks, so you aren’t likely to find a free, public proxy service. 

2. Anonymous Proxies 

These proxy services attempt to make your activity on the internet untraceable. This essentially means that the proxy is still conveying requests like you usually would when using the internet, but it’s not revealing where the requests are coming from. Most free proxy providers are anonymous proxies. 

3. Elite Proxies

Some destination servers will attempt to block proxies; however, elite proxy servers have a better chance of getting through. Despite their increased chances of getting past blocks, elite proxy traffic patterns can still reveal that a proxy is in use. 

The Risks of Using Free Proxy Servers

Although it’s easy to let the idea of free versions of a product or service entice us into signing on the dotted line, the lure of saving money can often mask the risks underneath. Let’s take a look at the different ways in which free proxies can wreak havoc on your ability to browse the web, protect your online identity and avoid malware.

1. Most Free Proxy Servers Don’t Use HTTPS

You might think little of the standard HTTP or HTTPS that precedes the web address you want to visit, but the difference between them is vast, especially regarding security. 

According to research from Christian Haschek, who analyzed over 25,000 proxies, only 21% of free proxy servers allow an HTTPS connection - meaning your connection to the server is not encrypted. So, even if you think you’re anonymously using the internet, someone may actually be keeping track of the messages you send and harvesting sensitive information about you. 

2. Free Proxies Could Monitor Your Connection

Not following HTTPS protocol may also mean fraudsters or hackers can monitor your traffic and online activity. There is a worrying number of stories detailing when online fraudsters have set up a free VPN or proxy service to track a user’s activity, steal login details or even commit identity theft. 

Websites need security certificates, like SSL/TSL accreditation, to be allowed to use HTTPS support, which costs money. So, before you use a free proxy (or any proxy services), check whether HTTP or HTTPS prefixes the URL. 

3. A Proxy Server Can Contain Malware

While some proxy hosts offer free services to help people out, most free proxy servers use the system to make money. 

One of the ways proxy hosts can make money is by placing ads into content. Third parties can populate proxy sites with malware-ridden advertisements that attempt to trick users into clicking them. This is known as malvertising, which typically takes the form of competition wins, i.e. ‘Congrats! You are the one-millionth visitor. Click to claim your prize.’ 

4. Free Proxies Could Allow Hackers to Steal Your Cookies

At first glance, this may not seem like a big deal. After all, how many times a day do we click ‘accept all’ when presented with a cookie message? 

The problem with cookie theft is the amount of data someone can access. Saved login data and personal information can all be stored in your cookies, which could leave you open to data breaches, identity theft, and more. 

5. Poor Levels of Service

Ever heard the phrase, “You get what you pay for”? Well, in the case of free proxy servers, this much is definitely true. Even if unwanted parties aren’t trying to steal cookies and your sensitive information, the proxy service could be frustratingly slow. 

It takes money and time to keep proxy services safe and performing correctly, investments that free proxies won’t get. Additionally, if large amounts of web traffic are using the service, this can affect performance and increase how long it takes you to make a data request.

6. You Might not be Able to View the Sites you Want to

When you go through a datacenter proxy, you share an IP address with many other people trying to hide their identities. If the server lets anyone use it without enforcing an acceptable use policy, many sites will block it. You’ll keep finding that you can’t view the sites you want.

The server’s location can be an issue. If you pick an arbitrary proxy, it could be located anywhere in the world, so you might see pages localized strangely or loaded in a language you don’t understand.

What Should You Choose: Free or Paid Proxies? 

Whether you choose a free or paid proxy will depend on how often you expect to use the service. 

As we have established, free proxy servers will not give you the best performance, and you risk privacy violations and more. Despite this, their convenience and ease of access may, occasionally, make them a helpful choice. 

If you use a free proxy, the performance may be an issue, but a trustworthy service can provide reasonable levels of safety. 

Paid proxy services, on the other hand, often boast many security features, so for just a few dollars a month, you can access the sites and services you need and ensure peace of mind. 

Why Do People Run Free Proxies?

There are many reasons someone might want to run a free proxy. For example, some people do it as a hobby, while others might pursue an ideal, such as uncensored Internet access. 

The majority do it at least partly for the revenue, as most free proxies are ad-supported. While this can be a good earner, it can also affect the user experience, especially if adverts trick people into accessing malicious malware.

Some providers offer both free and paid options. They hope that some of their users will like the service but won’t be satisfied with the speed or ads at the free level. The free proxy is a way to generate paying customers.

Some run free proxies for criminal motives, too. These people will redirect links, steal passwords or inject malware. The criminals often don’t use their machines but infect victims with proxy servers they control.

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