Proxy servers and incognito browsing: what you need to know

Proxy servers and incognito browsing: what you need to know. Illustration: Zarif Faiaz

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Proxy servers and incognito browsing: what you need to know

Proxy servers and incognito browsing: what you need to know. Illustration: Zarif Faiaz

Private browsing, also known as Incognito or InPrivate mode, has become a popular trend over the past decade. But what do these vague terms mean? Do they provide a private browsing experience? Or are tech giants exploiting your personal information in the name of security and protection? Privacy is your human right and it is crucial that you know what you are getting into.

What is incognito mode?

Suppose you are looking for watches online. After checking a few available options, you log into your Facebook profile to find that your homepage is bombarded with targeted watch ads. Many of us often face similar situations.

Incognito mode creates a separate browsing session from the normal session. The main function of incognito is to ensure that your browsing data is not saved in your browsing history. This means that your browsing history, data, cookies and caches will be unavailable after each session. Closing a window after logging into a website in incognito mode ensures that browser cookies will not be saved. Likewise, cookies used in your main session will not be available in your private browsing session.

The main advantage of this feature is that other users of the same device will not be able to access your browsing history. It will also prevent advertisers from tracking you, as third-party sites will not be able to drop cookies on you.

Problems with Private Browsing

Incognito mode is probably one of the most misunderstood features of modern browsers. As useful as it is, incognito mode is not a way to optimize security and privacy. When you open a private browsing window, you’ll see a warning that your data will be available to every website you visit, your educational institution or employer, and even your internet service provider.

Indeed, when you browse a non-private site in private mode, they will still be able to track your activities, your IP address, your browser information as well as previous browsing data. Eventually, they may use this information to show you targeted advertisements. Thus, private browsing gives you a false sense of security. Although it hides your activities from you, it may not hide your activities from others.

What is a proxy server?

Every device connected to the Internet has a unique IP address. The IP address reveals your geographical location and the device used when browsing the Internet. A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your computer and the Internet. Any information you send to the website will bypass it and any information the website sends to you will be redirected to your device through the proxy server. Since the website is never in direct contact with your device, your IP address will remain unknown to the website.

How does it ensure your privacy?

Appearing anonymous on the internet not only protects you from data theft but also provides security from potential attackers. A proxy server will also delete some cookies and remove hidden trackers.

Why is it better to use a proxy rather than private browsing?

There are several reasons why individuals and organizations prefer to use a proxy server, some of which are listed below:

Internet usage monitoring: Parents and employers often set up proxy servers to abstain and monitor their children or workers. This allows them to monitor and control the sites you visit and the time you spend there.

Improved speed: A good proxy server ensures better internet speed. A proxy server will save the most recent copy of the site and show you the requested content as soon as possible.

Extended Privacy: Proxy servers will change the IP address of the user device, keeping you anonymous. This means that your IP address is safe from anything that stalks you.

Optimal security: Your proxy server will encrypt all of your online transactions. This will prevent hackers and malware from harming you, thereby strengthening your online security.

Deny access to authorized content and access blocked content: You can customize what you see and what you don’t see without geo-restrictions. This means you can potentially access different regions for streaming services like Netflix.

How can you use a proxy server?

You can change your browser settings and configure them to allow the use of a proxy server. The method varies between browsers, but it is quite easy to configure. To configure a proxy for Chrome, go to: Settings → System → Open your computer’s proxy settings → Enable the switch to “Use a proxy server” → Enter the address and port → Press Save.

Fill in the address box by typing the proxy server name or IP address. For the Port field, enter the proxy port number. You can retrieve them from your IT support technician.

Security concerns

Using a proxy server can carry unprecedented risks, so it is of the utmost importance to be careful when choosing a proxy server. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Beware of free proxies: Free is not always a good option. Most free proxy servers earn revenue by selling your data. Some are not even effective enough. If you plan to use proper proxy servers, consider premium options.

Navigation history: Your proxy server will have your real IP address and web browsing history. Be sure to check that your proxy server is not logging and storing your data. Study the provider’s enforcement policies and procedures.

Encryption: Make sure the proxy you use has full encryption capability. The lack of proper encryption defeats the purpose of proxy servers in the first place.

Legal issue: Running proxy servers means that there is always a risk of illegal activity. Be extremely vigilant about online security laws and make sure you don’t do anything that could be considered a cybercrime or breaks the law.

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