Cybersecurity has become a hot-button issue for businesses in the last couple of decades. Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a significant increase in the sophistication of the attacks that businesses face, as well as the frequency at which they occur. Modern businesses, therefore, need to take their cybersecurity seriously, even if the subject is totally alien to them.
There are a number of steps that businesses can take, some of which are simple and others of which are more involved. If a business is large enough to maintain a round-the-clock IT team, they can utilize active security measures to counter cyber threats. However, even with support staff on hand who specialize in cybersecurity, the most effective measures that businesses can take are those that act passively.
Passive measures don’t require any input from a person, they are either triggered automatically or they are constantly active. One example of a passive security measure would be for a business to begin using proxy servers.
What Is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is a server that is configured to act as a middleman between an individual computer or network and the wider internet. By connecting to the internet through a proxy server, a number of things can be achieved. In order to understand these, we need to take a look at how a proxy server works.
When you want to connect to the internet normally, you do so by typing a URL into your web browser. When you do this, your web browser then uses a DNS lookup to convert the URL you typed into the IP address of a physical server. This is kind of like the digital equivalent of a person looking up a telephone number for a business in the phonebook, which is a real thing that people used to do.
In this case, the phonebook is the Domain Name Service Registry, a database of domain names and the IP addresses of their physical servers. Once your device connects to the right server, it can then send requests and receive responses; this is how you interact with the website.
Connecting Via Proxy
Consider the above scenario from the perspective of the server that you connect to. This server accepts incoming connections and opens up a (usually) encrypted communications channel with the associated device. The server receives requests from these devices, processes them, and returns the result.
Servers automatically identify the devices that are connected to them so that, if necessary, they can return specific results. A common example of this is websites that maintain a mobile version. When these websites detect that you are using a mobile device, they will automatically return mobile versions of their website.
The server doesn’t look beyond the device that it is interfacing with. This means that if a device connects to another server, and then asks that server to contact another server on its behalf, the web server will see this proxy server as its client.
Benefits to Business
By connecting to the internet through a proxy server, businesses can benefit in a number of ways. First and foremost, connecting through a company-wide proxy will keep the IP addresses of their devices hidden. When a client device connects to a web server, the server will see the device’s IP address. If that device connects through a proxy server, the web server will see the IP address of the proxy server instead.
IP addresses can be used to ascertain the physical location of a device. The most sophisticated cybercriminals operating today have been known to infiltrate physical locations to aid their attacks, so you don’t want them knowing your location. If they know the IP addresses of individual devices on your network, they can begin looking for vulnerabilities. A company-wide proxy protects the business from both.
If one device on your network is compromised, it can undermine the entire network. Attackers can also snoop on traffic coming from individual devices. This can then lead them to the IP addresses of sensitive company servers such as email and data servers. If these are compromised, it can have serious consequences, both financially and from a reputation perspective.
The Dangers of Cyber Attacks on Businesses
If attackers make their way to your most sensitive corporate servers, they can bring your entire business to its knees. For example, if they identify the IP address of your main servers, they can launch distributed denial of service attacks. DDOS attacks involve overwhelming a device by flooding it with a large number of simultaneous incoming connections. This is usually achieved by utilizing a network of zombie or slave devices; often, their owners have no idea they are involved in an attack.
However, if attackers can’t find the IP addresses of your most important servers and services then they will have no way of targeting you with a DDOS attack. A company-wide proxy is an effective passive measure that will ensure all of your outgoing connections go through a proxy server.
The communications channel that is set up between your network and the proxy service is encrypted, meaning that even if an attacker were to intercept the data flowing between them, it would be completely unreadable and all but impossible to decrypt. A company-wide proxy is, therefore, one of the most effective means of ensuring that your network is difficult for an attacker to locate or identify, and therefore, to attack.
Businesses of all types and sizes need to take their cybersecurity arrangements seriously. Even if they aren’t the targets of a crippling cyber attack, the penalties for security breaches that expose personal data are potentially huge, not to mention the damage to a business’ reputation. A company-wide proxy is not going to make your network completely immune from attack and needs to be paired with other measures. However, it is an incredibly effective means of improving your corporate cybersecurity and making you a much less tempting target.