Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Need a Proxy, Everybody Wants a Proxy!

Do a search for the phrase "I need a proxy" and you'll see what I'm talking about. Requests for the latest proxies are normally encountered on Q&A communities like Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers and Answerbag, but you will also find people on forums, constantly asking for the latest proxy to bypass Internet filters at school or at work. Unfortunately, these people fail to realise that firewalls and Internet filters are there for a reason.

I guess I'm not going to be very popular after publishing this article, but this is really a big problem and one that needs to be addressed very quickly before it grows into another digital snowball like spam and malware. IT departments spend a lot of time and money on network security. Restrictions are put into place, not only to protect corporate data, but also for the safety of everyone working on the corporate network. However, network restrictions are not only for the corporate world, these restrictions are also present at schools and even in our homes. But what is the use of protecting your data and privacy if you constantly have to deal with cyber rats eating their way through your defences from the inside?

A proxy is often blocked as soon as the network administrator becomes aware of the fact that it is used to gain unauthorised access to websites and other networks. That's the reason why people are constantly in search of brand new proxies and what scares me the most, is the rate at which these new proxies become available, it is so bad you can even regard it as another form of spam. The sad reality however, is that the people who use these proxies, either do not know a thing about PC security, or they don't give a damn about it. Browsing restricted sites via an illegal proxy exposes your computer to malware and hackers, putting the whole network at risk. Confidential and sensitive corporate information can easily be leaked and the privacy of every employee using the corporate network could be compromised due to the selfish acts of employees who can't walk between the lines. So you are not only putting your colleagues in a tight spot, your compromising your own security as well.

The most popular reason for a proxy is to gain access to social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut or Twitter. Social networking sites are time and money wasters in terms of productivity, bandwidth and company resources. Instead of doing their jobs, people waste hours and hours of productivity during the day, by hanging out on social community sites. To add insult to injury, they don't use their own bandwidth to chill on these sites, they use company bandwidth, company computers and company printers to do what they should be doing after work. Kids browse these social communities instead of attending to their schoolwork, wasting their parents's money, or the money of the taxpayer if the government funds the school. Speaking of the government, what about government workers? Instead of delivering the services we pay for, they browse MySpace, Facebook, Orkut or Twitter with our tax money. (Some governments do not even have any network security to speak of, so they can access any site without the use of a proxy).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the use of social networking sites, but there is a time and place for everything and social networking sites do not have a place at the office or at school (unless you are the PR manager of the company maintaining the company profile on MySpace). Before everyone starts to call me a party pooper, accusing me of taking the fun out of the office, think about this: If everyone spent more time on their job and less time on social networking sites during working hours, we will get a lot more work done and will therefore have plenty of time to hang out with friends and family on our favourite social networking sites. Don't be mad at your boss for limiting your Internet access, the fact that you are using a proxy to bypass Internet filters and other limitations imposed by your employer, already tells me that you can't use the Internet responsibly. If you really need to use these sites, visit them after work or after school and if you don't have a computer at home, use a friend's computer or visit an Internet café. It has to be mentioned though, that 3rd party proxies are not only used to access social networking sites, but they are also popular for porn surfing and the downloading of pirated software, music and movies. These sites are far worse than social networking sites, because they do not only waste valuable man-hours, they are often loaded with nasty malware, a direct threat to the safety of everyone working on the network.

The bottom line is, companies invest a lot in computer security, computer labs at schools do their best to keep their networks safe and clean and parents invest in parental control software to keep their young ones from accessing harmful content on the Web. Still you get people who want to break down all these barriers, ignoring the damage they cause and the risks they create during this process. Bypassing the parental control software on the family computer can easily lead to a prohibited site where a sneaky rootkit finds its way into your system. It may log a credit card number here and a password there and before your folks know what's going on, they could be staring bankruptcy in the face. The same can happen at work or at school, your infected PC can cause a lot of problems for other people using the same network. Do you want something like this on your conscience? Proxies may have their uses, but they should not be used to cross digital borders illegally. If you are not allowed to visit a specific site at work or at school, then there's most likely a pretty good reason why you shouldn't visit it. If you choose to visit prohibited sites without proper authorisation, you risk loosing your job, getting suspended or even harsher network restrictions may be implemented. Think about it, is it really worth all that?

People are so touchy about this subject that when they ask for new proxies in forums or Q&A communities, they often warn you in advance not to bitch about why they shouldn't be using one. So next time when you run across someone asking for a proxy to bypass firewalls and Internet filters, don't waste your time explaining why they shouldn't be using one, don't expose yourself to insults and swearing, just refer them to this article.

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, analysers of security software and raising awareness about spam and malicious software.

No comments: