Proxy servers - The dangers of free and open proxy servers
Whenever you search the internet or visit web sites for advice about how to unblock web sites or how to surf securely, there are a multitude of people erroneously recommending 'free proxy servers', 'free VPNs' or 'open proxy servers'. However, in the end, they can cost you bundles -- in more ways than you ever imagined!
In order for a proxy server or VPN to deliver secure or unblocked traffic, it must have a connection to a large internet pipe. It needs lots of bandwidth to deliver information back to you and hundreds, if not thousands, of other people -- in a reasonable period of time. The thing about bandwidth is that it costs money. Therefore, large amounts of bandwidth costs a large amount of money. Tack onto that the cost of the servers, labor, proper maintenance, as well as keeping up with the latest security patches and you have a very expensive proposition. You really have to ask yourself -- how/why are people out there spending lots of money putting up open proxy servers or VPN's, for free? The only logical answer is that it's not really free. You are still paying, just indirectly.
Some people create proxy servers in their home on low bandwidth connections. Their goal is to stuff the session with advertisements that you click on which generates money for them. The click-through on such advertisements and the payout is extremely low. However, since they are offering virtually no bandwidth and the connections are painfully slow, their costs are minimal. The ads always take precedence over your surfing. The plan is that -- while you are waiting -- you will click on some ads! Like all proxy servers, these will get blocked in short order by most firewalls, resulting in dwindling revenue for the aspiring entrepreneur. When that happens, they simply sign up for a few new domain names, rename the servers and spam the forums with the latest 'fresh proxies'. The cycle then repeats over and over again.
Some very large companies have also emerged doing essentially the same thing. They promise a free proxy or VPN service and then scan all your data so they can produce the most relevant advertising to you. It is all very well thought out and cutting edge technology. Their goal besides the direct advertising is to paint a perfect picture of you and your habits. This information about you is and everyone else who uses their service is like gold to them.
The latest scam is to promise a free proxy but first take you to a landing page where you have to take a test or answer questions on a survey. Many of these sites are infested with viruses and the goal is to get you to click on and answer as many questions as possible. Sooner or later your computer gets infected. The longer you stay on the page, the greater the odds.
The fact is, most open or free proxy servers are run by hackers. Their 'return on investment' is in stealing your personal information and getting access to your computer. If you have ever used a free proxy server, you might have wondered why they seem to go away all the time. Part of the reason for this is that the server accounts are set up by hackers who are using stolen credit cards. When they are discovered, they are shut down by the hosting companies.
Hackers commit many illegal acts, including credit card fraud. They mine your data while you're connected to their proxy server and access credit card and personal information in order to acquire credit cards -- in your name! It really isn't that hard. Picking up an email login can quickly lead to getting one of your financial accounts passwords changed. Once they have access to that, they start buying things with your money. You may think that this risk is small because all financial web pages from banks, to credit card companies use SSL encrypted pages. However, these hackers are smart and will often plant key logging software on your computer. So although your connection is encrypted they don't care since they are getting the data direct from your computer. Although in itself this is more than enough reason to never use a free proxy, it actually gets worse.
When these hackers commit their illegal acts, they must cover their tracks. They need to make sure nobody knows their true internet (IP) address and identity. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to create a chain of computers that are under their control but which belong to unsuspecting people. By connecting through your computer to do the crime, they ensure that your IP address gets logged as the place where the hack originated. Then they sit in some far away land, stealing credit cards, ordering goods with those cards, or even planning some other crime, all in your name.
When hackers set up an open proxy, the term 'Hacker Pot' is used. It comes from a similar term called a 'Honey Pot'. A Honey Pot is a server, set up by government agencies or security professionals, to entrap people who are looking for free proxies or access to secured servers. Many hackers have been tracked down through the use of such systems.
However, even if all you are trying to do is unblock your favorite social site, you have reason to be concerned. Most web sites that recommend free proxies are full of Hacker and Honey Pots. In the case of the Hacker Pot, you will be at the mercy of the hacker once you log into his proxy. If you are unlucky enough to access a Honey Pot you are at the mercy of the government agent or corporate security specialist running the site. Even if you do nothing illegal while accessing a Honey Pot, you are committing a crime because unauthorized access of a computer is a crime in itself. Since you are accessing the computer without permission, you are breaking the law and everything you do while accessing the computer is recorded.
Between hackers doing crimes from your computer that they planted bots on, to mistakenly accessing a private or government computer, is it worth even the remote possibility of having the FBI knock on your door some day for using a free proxy?
The bottom line is, using a free proxy server is pretty much guaranteed to get your identity stolen, allow your computer to be taken over and definitely cost you more than you ever expected.