Greater emphasis on Internet security has led millions of people to implement added measures in order to keep their personal data safe, namely the use of free proxy services that can be found on the Web. Unsuspecting consumers are sold on the fact that these free proxy services are safe and confer a large number of benefits, but a recent article in Wired magazine suggests there are major flaws with proxies that can leave users even more exposed than they were before using them.
The problem with proxies
Here’s a list of benefits sold by free proxy providers in order to entice customers to use their service:
- Ability to bypass censorship filters
- Improve online security
- Access websites restricted in certain countries
The immediate problem here is that few, if any, proxy services tell you how they manage to accomplish these things. They depend on consumers being gullible and unwilling to investigate these claims.
Well, one researcher took it upon himself to analyze the claims made by proxy services and what he found is very interesting. Christian Haschek, an independent security researcher based in Austria, wrote a script that was able to analyze 443 open proxies. What Haschek wanted to determine was if proxy providers modified site content or allowed users to browse with encryption.
Haschek’s findings are disturbing. Just 21% of the proxy providers he analyzed were on the level. 79% of them actually forbid secure HTTPS traffic, leaving browsers fully exposed and vulnerable to stolen data.
Proxy providers were also found to have the ability to steal a user’s login and password info to certain sites. This is especially problematic because many people use the same login/password combo on all of the sites they visit, potentially giving the proxy provider access to their email and social media accounts.
The growing fear of government surveillance has caused a surge in the popularity of free proxies which have been promoted by their providers as a safe alternative. Haschek’s research proved that they are anything but.
The safe alternative to proxies
Hascheck has stated that when looking for a safe alternative to free proxies, a paid VPN is a good place to start.
Paid VPN’s depend on a monthly or yearly subscription fee to maintain their services. In some cases, the cost of a VPN when paid for in advance for a year can amount to less that the price of one canned soda per day. Because paid VPN services are subsidized by their users the provider is not forced to seek additional revenue from the use of adware or other marketing script.
Of course, the biggest benefit of a paid VPN will always be the high level of encryption that is used in the VPN tunnel, virtually guaranteeing that no one will be able to penetrate a user’s personal data or browsing preferences.
Pay now or pay later
Individuals that balk at paying for VPN service and opt to use a free proxy may be setting themselves up for a hefty price tag in the future. The cost of overcoming a data breach can be astronomical and often there is no recourse for someone that has had their bank accounts or credit card accounts hacked.
Given Haschek’s research, the idea of saving money by using a free proxy may be a costly choice when a user finds their data has been compromised. It makes far more sense to invest in a VPN the same way one would invest in a protection system for their home or office.
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