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Whenever I put up a post about using proxies for watching British Television like the BBC, I nearly always get a load of comments asking about a free method. Now it is true that you can find a lot of free proxies online, in fact there are literally thousands popping up every day – however there is a reason for this and it may not be the reason you thought.
To explain just go through the thought process of someone setting up a free proxy based in the UK that would allow anyone to watch their favorite TV shows. They’ve set up a server, configured it securely to ensure nobody has access to other people’s data. Then they’ve connected it to the internet using a couple of high speed network cards and a high bandwidth throughput. Finally it’s ready the server is opened up and literally within minutes sometimes – thousands of people will be connecting and running automated spamming tools, streaming media sites and downloading P2P torrents using this server to hide their location – all for people for free who will never even say thanks !
So the cost of opening up a server – is a lot of time, expense for the hardware and ongoing charges for bandwidth costs unless you leech it from someone else. All these costs are incurred and paid by somebody – not to mention the legal risk of the server being used for criminal activities and the extensive monitoring and tweaking needed to keep it running.
So Who Would do this to provide a free proxy server?
I’m hoping now that the answer will become obvious – it’s nobody! No one in their right mind is going to spend thousands of dollars and hours of their time, supplying a server to be abused by complete strangers for absolutely no rewards. Would you pay your employer for the privilege of going to work? Of course you wouldn’t, it would be utter madness and it simply doesn’t happen apart from possibly worthwhile charities where people obviously have other driving forces. But as enabler for strangers to stream Strictly Come Dancing in Tokyo or to download porn anonymously – I think not.
Here’s a quick video that kind of agrees with me, whilst showing you how to use a commercial BBC iPlayer proxy.
So if these proxies are not set up by free thinking, wealthy anarchist benefactors – where are they all appearing from? Well I’ll tell you, they come from a variety of sources and in the vast majority of cases the owners of these servers have no idea that they are available. IN fact the majority of the servers have been left open by accident. Their administrators have mis-configured a firewall setting, installed a piece of software which has enabled a proxy service or perhaps failed to lock down a legitimate proxy so that it can only be used for specific users. In reality a huge number of companies and organisations use proxies to allow access to the internet – it’s a cheap and controllable way to allow internet access to employees, but only if the proxy servers are configured correctly.
Not all servers are just mis-configured proxies, some are just servers with internet access which have been taken over by hackers, spammers and identity thieves. These people scan the internet looking for vulnerable servers, hack into them and then install proxies and mail relays on them. It is why most free proxies fall over very soon after becoming available, they become completely overloaded, and the owners simply don’t care or where unaware that it was acting as an open proxy to the world.
There are of course, many legal issues with using a free proxy without permission from the owner, but how serious depends on where you are based? In the UK and the US there is specific legislation to make it a criminal offence like the Computer Misuse Act. In reality you are unlikely to get caught however simply because of the thousands who will be using each proxy, however there is a tangible risk.
Perhaps of more worry is that by using a proxy you are redirecting all your information through a third party it is important that this connection is secure. But of course in this scenario that is not going to happen, your web connections will potentially be accessible to all. The worst case scenario is where someone is actually using the proxy to steal personal information or infect anything connecting with a trojan or virus to gain access to their PC.