The best way to monitor and filter the kind of web traffic that is going into your IT environment is through the use of proxy server. There are two distinct ways of filtering web traffic using proxy servers which include explicit and transparent web proxy.
What is a proxy server?
A proxy server is a gateway between the internet and the user. By acting as an intermediary between the end user and the browser, proxy servers help to provide varying levels of security, privacy and functionality. For a computer that is using a proxy server, whenever you request an address then it will go through the proxy server first and when the request comes back it will go through the same proxy server before it gets to you. The proxy server acts as a firewall and web filter where it keeps the internal network protected by providing a high level of security.
Mechanism of operation
Every computer that has access to the internet has its own unique internet protocol otherwise known as IP address. You can think of the IP address as your street address where the post office will deliver your mail. The internet operates in a similar manner where it identifies your internet usage in terms of IP address.
A proxy server on the other hand is a computer on the internet that is known by your computer. Any request you send on the web will be directed to the proxy server then the proxy server will send the request on your behalf. Incoming data as well goes through the proxy server before it gets to you. The proxy server can encrypt your IP address and the data that is being transmitted to ensure privacy and protection.
Explicit web proxy
Explicit web proxy entails the IT admin configuring all clients that need to be filtered so that they can use a particular proxy. This is achieved through configuring the internet options of all the computers in the network keeping in mind the varying operating systems that are used across the platform. The IT admin will ensure that there are no other ways to access the internet other than through the proxy server and also ensure that users do not get the privilege to change their internet options.
Explicit web proxy does a great job for web filtering in controlled environments. However, maintaining such a process in the long term is very difficult and time consuming. There are limitations with using this kind of proxy servers like mobile support devices is limited. Only the IT admin can deliver the proxy setting for corporate WiFi.
Transparent web proxy
Transparent proxies function in a very similar manner as the explicit proxies only that they do not need to be configured by an IT admin and doesn’t require every client to pass through the proxy server. This kind of technology can be used on an internet gateway where the IT admin will route web traffic through the proxy server. The function of the proxy server would be to look at the network traffic. Identify the exact http(s) and then without the clients knowledge reply through the proxy server.
There are tremendous benefits with using transparency proxy server in that the web traffic will always be filtered regardless of what the end users do with their machines. It is very cost effective as it reduces the need of having an IT department to monitor internet usage and options. The only limitation with transparency proxy server is authentication. Since the users are left in the dark, browser and web applications will not know that they need to authenticate.
Why use proxy server
There are a lot of reasons why you should use a proxy server. One of the reasons is to control the internet usage of children and employees. Most organizations do not want you to look at certain websites or applications during working hours hence can use a web filter to create those limits. It also comes in handy for parental control against explicit web pages. A good proxy server can also be used to save on bandwidth and improve internet speed in an organization. In addition, privacy and improved security is the primary goal of using proxy servers.