Proxy Servers are used for many different reasons. Services like AOL use proxy servers for Internet traffic load balancing, while others use them for a thin layer of privacy. The most common or preferred use of a proxy server is for privacy (aka anonymisation). That’s often achieved through a large network of various servers located all over the world. The key factor in using a proxy server for privacy is that it masks your IP address and presents a different one to the website you’re visiting.
Proxy servers sound like a great idea — and they are — but until recently, I’ve found proxy servers to be more trouble than they’re worth. They’ve been traditionally too slow, making all Web surfing excruciating. And for some people, they can be difficult to setup. Fortunately, that’s all changed with the introduction of Tor and a Firefox Add-On called FoxyProxy.
The Tor software works with Windows, Mac and Linux (note: I’m on a Mac, so this entry will be Mac-centric, but the details are mostly the same for all platforms). Using Tor with the FoxyProxy Add-On will allow you to setup what are called patterns. Patterns allow you to only turn on the proxy server when you visit a particular website. That way, you can pick and choose the websites that you want to use a proxy for, and the proxy server will be used automatically when you visit one of those sites. A good example would be if you wanted to always use a proxy server when you visit social networking sites. Doing so would allow you to use different personas protect your privacy.
Setting Up a Proxy Server
Step 1. Download and Install Tor
Visit http://www.torproject.org/download.html to download the latest version of the Tor software. Then install the software. You may have to restart your computer after you install it (I had to). After you finish, open the Vidalia application.
Step 2. Download and Install FoxyProxy
In Firefox, visit http://foxyproxy.mozdev.org/ to download the latest version of the FoxyProxy Add-On. Click on the install link and then restart Firefox.
Step 3. Configure FoxyProxy
After you install FoxyProxy and restart Firefox, it will ask you several setup questions. When it asks you if you want to setup it up with Tor, say yes. Also check the rest of the defaults until you get to the FoxyProxy Options window. Click on the Mode: drop down menu and select Use proxies based on their pre-defined patterns and priorities. Then click on the QuickAdd tab and enable the QuickAdd feature.
Step 4. QuickAdd Websites to Enable the Proxy Server
Now you should be ready to visit any website that you want to use a proxy server for. When you reach a website that you want to use a proxy on (cough…Digg), simply click on ALT+F2 to quickly add it to your patterns list (the key combination may be different for Windows and Linux). From then on, FoxyProxy will initiate Tor to use a proxy server on that site.
Proxy Server Tips
Changing Your IP Address
Let’s say for some reason you’re using our Persona Manager. Now let’s say that you want to login to the same social networking website, but with a different user account. You may want to consider changing your IP address on the proxy server before logging in with that user account.
One of the simplest ways to assign yourself a new IP is to go to the Vidalia application and click on Stop Tor and then Start Tor. That will automatically change your IP and you’ll be good to go.
Monitoring Proxy Activity
You can test if Tor and FoxyProxy are working by visiting one of many what is my IP websites. You can also click on Bandwidth Graph on the Vidalia application. If it’s setup properly, you won’t see any activity until you visit a website that you’ve assigned a pattern to.