Understanding Proxy Servers

We imagine a good many of you will have heard the term ‘proxy server’ more than a few times but not have a clue what it means. Think of all those times you’ve seen someone visit your LinkedIn profile in anonymous mode. A proxy server is a computer that is used as an intermediary, of sorts, between your computer and the websites you are visiting. The purpose of its function in doing so is so that you can surf anonymously or bypass an blocking capability of the websites you’re visiting. More simply, proxy servers hide your home IP address from websites that would otherwise be able to take note of it.

Here at 4GoodHosting, it’s been a long road to becoming one of the best Canadian web hosting providers, but we like to think that a good part of our reputability is in the fact that we have a more value-added proposition than many of our competitors, and being informative and helpful regarding everything in the web world is definitely something that’s helped us out.

So let’s look at proxy servers in greater detail this week, and see what makes them so appealing in certain instances or scenarios when you’re making your stops along the information superhighway.

Anonymity

One of the primary appeal of these servers is that they allow you to leave an anonymous comment on a website. The website’s owner may choose to block the proxy’s IP address, but it won’t be blocking your home IP address. Trying to track the IP address wouldn’t have any ability to track back to your genuine home IP address. You won’t care much if the proxy server’s ID is blocked, and that’s kind of the idea.

Proxy servers used to be the only way anyone could access the world wide web, but times have certainly changed. Hackers now often use proxies to get behind network firewalls.

Say a building’s computer is being used as a proxy to get behind the network firewall of that building because the IP address of that computer would be allowed there. A proxy server is a hacking tool most commonly, despite the fact it was up until then the only way people could use the internet. At that time computers would basically be fighting with each other while trying to access the internet, so that one computer in a building would be the proxy and all of the other household computers would be working to gain an internet connection from it.

Proxy Server Downsides

The first major drawback for proxies is that they have incredibly low speed, and slow internet connections and inefficient hardware will make that speed even slower. Proxies also affect all browsers, so forgetting to turn it off may result in you entering information you don’t want to be volunteering while your’e still using someone’s proxy. Keep in mind again that proxy servers are often hacker tools. Hackers generally are the ones to use them, as well as those responsible for creating them. It slows down their computer and clogs it hopelessly, so what’s the appeal exactly?

Well, quite simply the aim is to gain mass amounts of information from people with as little work as possible. With that understood, never save passwords over a proxy. Any information you enter is initially sent through that proxy server, and you can be certain those hackers are saving that information. Always understand that while you might be using a proxy server for anonymity, there is a chance that whoever is providing it may well be using it for criminal purposes.

Proxy Server Upsides

It’s not all nefarious stuff when it comes to proxy servers. The privacy and anonymity appeals for proxies can be quite genuine. You can browse without websites knowing where the original request came from, and then personal information and browsing history remain private.

Proxy servers are popular for companies and schools when they are aiming to control where their employees and students can and can’t go online. Parents and school boards are also able to monitor children and employee’s browsing habits to be responsive to irresponsible or unproductive behaviour there.

How Does a Proxy Server Work?

Information is sent from your computer to the proxy, which then passes it along to the Internet. It’s going to be possible to link the two from the other side if the path exists in one direction. It’s quite possible to trace a proxy. If the police get a search warrant for your IP address, your company will be obligated by law to give them your information.

You may think that proxy servers sound much like virtual private servers (VPS servers), but they are not the same. The only function shared between them is that they both hide your home IP address.

Setting Up a Proxy Server

There’s more than one way to set up a proxy server if you require one. For starters, there are websites that will allow you to use their proxy servers, but again beware of hackers who will skim your information if they get the chance. Remember – if you can access their server, they can access your computer. These website proxy servers are almost like a private browser on Google. If maximum and reliable anonymity is what you’re after, there are also ‘proxy changing’ services you can use that change your IP address every minute. However, they do tend to be expensive.

Fact, Not Fiction; Undersea Data Centers

Having coaxial fibre optic cables crossing oceans underneath the sea floor has been commonplace for years now, but it would seem as if we’ve moved into new and definitely uncharted territory when it comes to having a part of the world’s digital connectivity found beneath the surface of the sea.

This past month saw Microsoft deploy – or more shall we say sunk – a shipping container-sized datacenter to the bottom of the sea near the Orkney Islands in Scotland as a part of its ambitious ‘Project Natick.’ This 40’ long datacenter is loaded up with 12 racks of 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of disk. What’s most impressive, however, is the way Microsoft claims it can hold data and process information for up to 5 years without maintenance.

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re not unlike any other first-rate Canadian web hosting provider in the way we’re super keen to be right on top of groundbreaking developments in both technology AND the way it’s deployed as it relates to the online world. This is definitely one such example that’s worthy of mention and then some, so let’s take a long look at it this week.

Microsoft’s capsule-shaped is called the Northern Isles datacenter, and it is the working equivalent of thousands of high-end personal computers. It will use the low temperatures of the surrounding sea water to cool the datacenter externally, contributing to the biggest benefit of this datacenter – dramatic reduction in cooling costs and electricity consumption.

The Northern Isles datacenter will use specialized radiators that leverage technology from submarines to cool the internal hardware, while also using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect any signs of failure in servers or any other equipment. All in all, it will operate like any standard data center deployed on land.

Electrical operating power will be supplied by the Orkney power grid, with renewable energy being generated via sea waves, tide, windmills and solar plants.

Working towards eco-friendly sustainable solutions is admirable on Microsoft’s part, and Project Natick is a step towards their vision of data centres with their own sustainable power supply. It also expands upon the environmental promises the company has made, including a $50m pledge to use AI to help protect the planet.

Interesting to note here that more than 50% of the world’s population live within about 120 miles of a body of water. Locating data centers in water bodies near coastal cities will bring data closer to the billions of people who utilize the World Wide Web. It will result in fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming, game playing, and authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies.

Project Natick is at present an applied research project, and the team behind it will be monitoring and recording its performance, power consumption, internal humidity levels, temperature levels, etc. for the next full year before any changes, upgrades, or reorientations are made.

With available land in many major urban centers being increasingly at a premium, the idea of locating data infrastructure underwater is not only revolutionary, but it’s exactly the kind of ‘outside the box’ thinking that is needed more and more as we move into some of the uncomfortable realities of the 21st century.

 

Defending Against Domain Name Slamming

You may think that there’s not much more to your domain name than a simple identity and location where your website is situated for discovery on the World Wide Web. In essence that’s all it is, an address where you can be found. But of course there’s significant value in that, and especially so for anyone who relies on being business online. It’s a fact that scams involving domain names have been increasing at an alarming rate.

Collectively, all these scams are referred to as ‘Domain Name Slamming.’

Here at 4GoodHosting, a part of what makes us a reputable Canadian web hosting provider is the fact that we strive to look out for our customers’ well being on the web. There’s an increased chance that someone with bad intentions may try to use your domain name to take advantage of you, so we’ll identify some of these scams and share some tips here today that you can use to guard yourself against them.

The Fake Bill Scam

The Domain Registry of Canada, or DROC, has been in operation for years, leading many Canadians to be confused regarding what looks like a renewal bill for your domain names. This scam is the version of ‘domain name slamming’ you’re most likely to come across, a it’s a type of scam that aims to overcharge or falsely charge domain name owners.

It’ll most commonly start with your receiving a letter that begins by informing you that your domain name(s) will be expiring in the near future. You’ll then be presented with a list of prices for renewal over different time periods before concluding with a tear-away payment stub you’re to use to ‘renew’ your domains.

The trick here is in the way they bury information in the walls of text in the letter. If you look and ready very closely, you’ll see that the DROC is actually asking you to change the company you register your domains with. Most commonly this will be snuck just under or above something more attention-grabbing like “failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity”.

This of course gives you a sense of urgency to react, and individuals can be conned into paying up to 3X the price of a standard domain renewal. As if that’s not bad enough, you may also end up losing access to your websites and emails for extended periods of time.

Over the years, DROC has gone under many other names to continue their shady practices:

  • Brandon Gray Internet Services (a parent company – their certification as a .CA registrar has been revoked)
  • Domain Registry of America
  • Domain Renewal Group
  • Domain Registry of Europe
  • NameJuice
  • iDNS
  • Or any one of many others, unfortunately

Whatever such guise they’re using, they all use some variation of the same practice of mass mailing unsuspecting domain owners. The templates and logos may vary slightly, but the principle remains the same.

The 1-Up the Competition Scam

As mentioned, these scams need the domain name owner to feel a sense of urgency, but also a sense of fear of losing ground to the competition if they remain inactive or even delay in responding.

Generally delivered via email, these types of scams won’t request that you transfer your domain name, but they will ask you to purchase the same domain with a different extension. The standard ploy is to suggest that your domain name ownership is under question (almost never the case in reality), before sharing the helpful recommendation that you pay for the new registration yourself to wisely protect your brand and copyright around the world.

Their hope is that you’ll be sufficiently intimidated and ‘too busy’ to look into the matter much further. Then you’ll pay rather than spend time and resources pursuing what would be ‘legal matter’ developing out your continued inactivity.

Here’s an example of what this might look like:

Dear CEO,

We are a Network Service Company which is the domain name registration center in _____.

We Received an application from ______ Ltd on (date). They want to register (yourdomainname)as their internet keyword and
(yourdomainname).com.cn
(yourdomainname).net.cn
(yourdomainname).org.cn
(yourdomainname).asia
(yourdomainname).cn

But after looking into this further, we have found that(yourdomainname)conflicts with your company. In order to deal with this matter in the speediest and best manner, we need to send you an email and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner here in _____ or not.

Best Regards,

(The Scammer) / Service and operations manager

The communication seemingly comes from an overseas company, and the email warns you that a there is a mysterious competitor that is aiming to purchase a variation of a domain name for which you’ve had ownership, but usually with a different extension, such as .com.cn. As there is a potential copyright conflict, this scammer is very kindly offering you the option to beat them to the punch and secure the new extension domain for yourself.

How is Information Obtained?

The WHOIS database is a massive collection of information on the ownership of most domain names, and it also includes detailed contact information for owners and administrators. It needs to be a public database, but unfortunately that allows certain dubious companies to be able to scrape its data and store the information they need to solicit unsuspecting domain name owners.

Luckily, you can guard yourself against any such occurrence.

Protecting Yourself from Domain Slamming

There are 3 primary ways to effectively safeguard yourself from domain slamming.

  • Choose to activate privacy protection as a means of shielding your personal information on the WHOIS and the information will then be inaccessible to spammers and scammers. Noe that individuals registering .CA domains receive this protection FREE by default.
  • Keep your eyes peeled, scrutinizing any such communications and trusting your instincts. If it seems illegitimate, it probably is! Read through the content critically and if you continue to have doubts then Google search the company’s name or email address. If the results share talk of scams, immediately discard and ignore the communication.
  • When a scam email is received, mark it as spam in your inbox and forward it to spam@fightspam.gc.ca. The antispam filters will make a note and should be able to reduce the number of messages of this type in the future.

If you receive a scam email or letter, or have been the victim of one of these scams, keep in mind you’re not the only one who’s been duped and that it’s not any reflection on your smarts. Canada has an Anti-Fraud Center which you can contact as well as Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) where email scams can and should be reported.