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What Is a Distorting Proxy & How It Works?

Yelyzaveta Nechytailo

2022-11-23
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Whether you’re looking to successfully bypass blocks while scraping at scale or simply want to surf the internet anonymously, a high-quality proxy solution is exactly what you need. It’ll mask your identity, help access geo-restricted content, and make sure you don’t run into complex anti-scraping systems implemented by websites.

Since numerous types of proxies, such as anonymous, transparent, shared, reverse, etc., exist, you first have to clearly understand each of their functionalities and only then choose the most appropriate one based on your business’s needs. 

In this article, let’s focus on distorting proxies. You’ll learn what they’re, how they work and understand if they fit your specific use case.

What is a distorting proxy?

A distorting proxy is the type of proxy server that masks the real IP address of the user by passing a false one in the HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) header. This way, it creates the impression that a user is from a different location, giving them a chance to access remote websites while successfully preserving anonymity. 

How does distorting proxy differ from other proxy types?

One way a distorting proxy can be distinguished from other types of proxies is based on the three levels of anonymity available in proxy servers: high anonymity, anonymous, and transparent. Among these, a distorting proxy can be placed in the middle – below “elite” (e.g., residential proxies that use real IP addresses, making it harder for targets to flag them) but ensuring more anonymity than transparent proxies. This makes a distorting proxy a good solution for bypassing content restrictions and protecting oneself from targeted marketing.

To learn more about other types of proxies and compare them effectively, read this article on our blog. You can also check out a detailed blog post on transparent proxies for an even deeper dive into this specific proxy type.

How a distorting proxy works

As you probably know, any device on the internet is assigned a unique IP address. An IP is exactly what reveals your current geo-location and gives access to the user's details, such as city, street name, ZIP code, etc. Just like other proxy servers, a distorting proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the internet and, ultimately, protects your identity by passing a false IP address to the HTTP header. Then, it sends your request to a website of your choice and forwards its response back to you. 

Distorting proxy use cases

Now that you know what a distorting proxy is and how it differs from other proxy types, let’s take a look at some of its most popular use cases.

Identity protection

IP address shielding is the ultimate function of a distorting proxy. By assigning you with a false IP, it significantly increases the level of privacy and prevents hackers or malicious websites from accessing your sensitive information. 

When should I hide my IP address?

A simple example of a situation when it might be beneficial to use a distorting proxy to mask your IP is connecting to a free Wi-Fi network. Public internet is available almost everywhere these days (coffee shops, airports, shopping malls, etc.), which makes it attractive for individuals on the go. However, one should remember that using free Wi-Fi comes with its risks. These networks are notorious for allowing hackers to easily compromise personal data and even use it against the owners. 

Location-restricted content 

A distorting proxy is also a popular solution for people who want to access geo-blocked content. It creates an impression that you’re surfing the internet from a different location, thus making it easy to bypass geo-restrictions and get hold of the public information you need. Yet, it’s important to note that targets can still identify a distorting proxy and prohibit you from visiting a specific URL.

Caching

Similar to transparent proxies, distorting proxy servers can be used for caching purposes. By supporting fast caching, which is the process of storing copies of files in a cache, distorting proxies help users to access different websites with decreased load time and reduced usage of bandwidth.

Web scraping 

Individuals and businesses can also choose to implement distorting proxies in web scraping as they prove to be great at shielding one’s identity and, eventually, bypassing IP blocks and giving access to highly-localized information. 

Again, it’s essential to keep in mind that distorting proxies are not as reliable and anonymous as premium proxies (residential or datacenter). This means that remote websites still have an opportunity to identify and block them after some time. One way to go around this issue is by using high-quality rotating proxies in your scraping jobs. By assigning a new IP address for every connection, rotating proxies will make your activities untraceable and, therefore, allow for smooth and block-free data gathering.

Advantages and disadvantages of distorting proxies

In order to decide whether distorting proxies are the right solution for you, it’s integral to weigh all the benefits and drawbacks. The following are especially important to note:

Pros of using distorting proxies

  • Improved anonymity – while using a distorting proxy, your IP address isn’t simply hidden but presented as a different one. This feature is exactly what provides you with the desired amount of privacy when surfing the web or performing scraping jobs.

  • Easy access to geo-blocked content – with governments closely monitoring online activities and websites implementing location-based restrictions, a distorting proxy is definitely one of the best workarounds. It assigns you a false IP enabling access to content from a completely different location.

Cons of using distorting proxies

  • Inconsistent – as mentioned earlier, distorting proxies are not trustworthy enough to be used in complex processes, such as web scraping. Remote websites can identify and block them, leaving you without a chance to extract the required public data.

  • Security risks - on one hand, it may seem obvious that by masking IPs, distorting proxies successfully protect users from hackers or cybercriminals. But once you dig deeper, several important questions arise, such as where these IP addresses come from, whether they’re sourced ethically, and what purpose they served before you acquired them. While in the case of distorting proxies, it’s hard to give clear answers to these questions, the likelihood of your security being compromised becomes high.

The risks of using free distorting proxy lists

Just like with any other type of proxy server, it’s never a good idea to use free distorting proxy lists. Apart from contributing to slower loading time, increasing the risk of being monitored online, and often presenting users with tons of malicious ads, free proxies put you at risk of sensitive data leaks. This happens due to their tendency of not using HTTPS protocol that makes sure your connection is encrypted. As a result, hackers can steal such data as credit card and bank login information, usernames and passwords, your search history, and actions on the websites you visited.

To read more about why you shouldn’t use free proxies for your web scraping and other online activities, check out our extensive blog post on this topic.

Summing up

The general concept of distorting proxies, which is to provide a user with a false IP address in order to stay anonymous online, sounds like a great solution. However, these proxy servers also have some serious drawbacks that, eventually, can bring you and your company more harm than good. 

While these proxies can cope with easier tasks (e.g., protecting your identity during online research), we still recommend choosing premium proxies, such as residential or datacenter ones, whether you want to perform complex web scraping jobs or simply surf the internet safely. 

About the author

Yelyzaveta Nechytailo

Content Manager

Yelyzaveta Nechytailo is a Content Manager at Oxylabs. After working as a writer in fashion, e-commerce, and media, she decided to switch her career path and immerse in the fascinating world of tech. And believe it or not, she absolutely loves it! On weekends, you’ll probably find Yelyzaveta enjoying a cup of matcha at a cozy coffee shop, scrolling through social media, or binge-watching investigative TV series.

All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.

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IN THIS ARTICLE


  • What is a distorting proxy?

  • How a distorting proxy works

  • Distorting proxy use cases

  • Advantages and disadvantages of distorting proxies

  • The risks of using free distorting proxy lists

  • Summing up

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