It used to be that, as the saying goes, “as long as you kept your nose clean and minded your own business”, you had nothing to worry about and nobody was going to bother you. Unfortunately, the Internet has changed that. While knowledge has always been power, data is now king, and nothing has become more important that data security. Still, one of the best and easiest ways to help keep your data secure employs a term as well as a concept that have long been used for other applications, because, sometimes, it’s best if you’re not linked with your data.
Entering English as a contraction of the Anglo-French procuracie, meaning, essentially, ‘administration’, and originally derived from the Latin procurare, meaning ‘manage’, our word proxy revolves around the concept of administering affairs, notably for someone else.
Linking it with procuracy, or the management while in representation of another, the term was initially mentioned in the first English-Latin dictionary, the Promptorium Parvulorum, circa 1440, which simply equated the word with its Latin meaning: “Proxy, procuracia.”
Moving ahead approximately 140 years, our term soon came to represent the document giving the authority to represent, such as Sir Thomas Smith’s 1583 De Republica Anglorum (“The upper house, whose consent and dissent is given by each man severally and by himself, first for himself, and then severally for so many as he hath letters and proxies.”). A mere 2 years later, our term was also employed to represent the representatives themselves, first noted in Thomas Bilson’s The True Difference between Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion, recalling: “The Abbesses and such as cannot come to send their proxies the lieutenant to bring with him his under officers and hundreders.”
In the early 1900s, the term began to be incorporated on the grand scale: a proxy fight between competing factions to control a corporation was first mentioned in a New York Times headline from 1906, and the term for a limited war fought on behalf of powers which aren’t directly involved – a proxy war – was first used in a Chicago Tribune article from 1907.
Though all of these usages still can be applied in the modern day, perhaps the most relevant use of our term is relative to computers and data privacy/security. Appearing in a Usenet Newsgroup on 2 December, 1986 under the title Re: Milking Machine Performance in comp.dcom.lans (Usenet newsgroup), stating: “To use proxy ARP [Address Resolution Protocol], you set things up so that your host issues an ARP request for every destination. The appropriate gateway responds to the ARP with its own Ethernet address”, this innocuous post- along with a similar post in 1988 regarding proxy servers- marks the dawn of Internet proxy use.
To understand the importance of a proxy as it relates to Internet usage, it’s first important to understand what it does and why. Much like earlier usages of the term, a proxy acts as an indirect intermediary for your Internet communication: in other words, your data gets sent to the proxy and then the proxy forwards it to the correct recipient.
OK, logically this doesn’t make sense; however, thinking about it in terms of deception (the kind that’s good for us and bad for anyone trying to access or steal data), it can be a security asset. Essentially, using a proxy means that you’re making sure that anyone spying on you or trying to steal your data will only see your data going to an unrelated third-party proxy service, and not the intended recipient. This sort of assurance can add a lot of peace of mind when working on company projects or accessing company servers from afar.
Additional to privacy and security benefits, proxies can also allow (in some cases) better speeds and bandwidth savings, give companies better control of employee Internet usage, and allow access to resources that may be blocked on location-specific servers. Of course, there are different proxies for different needs, so the key is – finding the right fit for your needs. Nevertheless, as an enhancement to your data’s privacy and security, proxies can be a huge benefit by, rather ironically, giving your data to someone else.