A transparent proxy, also known as an inline proxy, is an intermediary server that stands in-between a user and their network. It intercepts all requests sent by a device, but doesn’t modify them like other proxies. As no modifications are performed, it’s called a transparent proxy.
Additionally, transparent proxies don’t do anything to provide anonymity or hide IP addresses. They also are generally invisible to users as they don’t have an impact on performance. As such, a transparent proxy is mostly used by businesses.
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How does a transparent proxy work?
A transparent proxy (or inline proxy) is simply an endpoint through which network traffic is directed. Usually, it’s a server that accepts various requests from a whole host of machines and sends the result back without any modification.
So, instead of a user connecting directly to a website or application, their network traffic is first routed to the transparent proxy, which then forwards the request. Any result provided is sent back to the transparent proxy server, which returns the response back to the original user.
Since no modification is performed (outside of cases where a transparent proxy server is used as a web filtering method), users are mostly unaware that their internet traffic is being routed in an unusual manner. There are many benefits for various organizations to do so, however, so they are most commonly employed in corporations and, sometimes, within Internet Service Providers.
A form of a transparent proxy is sometimes used in so-called man-in-the-middle attacks where a malicious actor might use such a device to modify or snoop on internet traffic. In almost all cases, however, a transparent proxy server is used for security and fair monitoring purposes.
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Where are transparent proxies used?
They are mostly used as a forced proxy by large corporations, ISPs, and other organizations. Since they are invisible to the regular user, being a forced proxy doesn’t attract any negative attention while allowing them to create content delivery networks (caching), allow network administrators to monitor traffic, authenticate users, and perform filtering.
A transparent proxy server can, through monitor, be used to discover specific websites that might be visited extremely frequently. To save on bandwidth and improve internet speed, ISPs and organizations can cache the content in the host of the transparent proxy server.
Whenever a user attempts to visit the cached website, the transparent proxy server delivers its own version of the content. So, instead of having to constantly load the same content (that is unlikely to change that frequently), caching proxies can load the one that’s stored locally and save on external internet traffic.
Internet traffic monitoring
Monitoring activities have a negative reputation, however, they do have their legitimate uses. They are frequently employed for network security purposes in order to detect suspicious web traffic.
Additionally, usage of a transparent proxy can minimize the impact of malicious traffic such as DDoS attacks. During DDoS attacks, malicious entities send an unusually high number of connection requests to an endpoint, causing it to struggle to deal with them all. A transparent proxy can simply redirect internal traffic to another one, making such attacks less impactful.
Whenever a public WiFi requests that you log in to a specific page first, it’s using a transparent proxy as a gateway proxy. These redirect any client-side requests to a specific page such as a login.
Just like a transparent proxy can save content, so it can filter it out. Turned into an intercepting proxy such a type would evaluate each web server the user is attempting to connect to. If it exists in the blacklist assigned by an administrator, accessing such a web server would be impossible.
An intercepting proxy can be used by organizations to stop people from watching YouTube all day or by entire governments to block access to specific websites. All of these aspects can be configured within the proxy settings.
Transparent proxies vs regular proxies
Both types deal with web traffic and network routing. A transparent proxy almost exclusively deals with HTTPS traffic while regular ones can deal with a variety of protocols. Both types also intercept user requests. The differences lie in what they do with them.
A transparent proxy does not modify the request itself, although it can choose to not pass it on to the intended target if it’s blacklisted. Regular proxies almost always modify requests in some shape or form.
Most popularly, regular proxies pretend that they are the originator of the request, making the intended destination think as much. Through such a route, the IP address, perceived location, and identity of the requester is changed.
As such, regular proxies are popular in cases where a large selection of locations and IP addresses is needed such as pricing data scraping. A transparent proxy, on the other hand, cannot perform these tasks as it makes no modifications to the request.
Both types, however, interact with the client-side as well. Since they stand in the middle between the intended target and the client, they have to have both a destination and a source. So they take the client-side request and send it over to the destination server, later returning it back.
What are the ways to bypass a transparent proxy?
A transparent proxy can be bypassed rather easily. All it takes is to choose a method that first forwards your request to another source instead of the transparent proxy. Usually, two types of such software are used – a regular proxy or a VPN.
As long as both of these types encrypt your traffic, the transparent proxy will not be able to read the request and will pass it on unmodified, if it even connects to one at all. As such, both methods readily bypass a transparent proxy in one way or another.
It’s recommended to use datacenter proxies, however. These have incredible speeds as they are hosted on powerful business-grade servers, a wide selection of IPs, and are relatively cheap. Most of them encrypt data, so bypassing a transparent proxy is not an issue.
VPNs, on the other hand, perform the same function, but are significantly slower. Additionally, they are usually shared with thousands of users, which can lead to banned IPs or websites restricting access. They will still bypass a transparent proxy without issue, but there might be some performance issues.
In the end, proxies will come out ahead as the way to beat a transparent proxy. While VPNs are definitely usable, their benefits have been somewhat overblown when compared to a regular proxy.
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