The connections to and from a computer should be managed properly so that it can be blocked as and when required to protect the security of the network. Both a Firewall and a proxy server will serve that purpose by residing between the network and the local computer.
So, you may ask what is the difference between the Firewall and a proxy server then. Well, it is all in their working process and purposes.
In This Article
- A Firewall will simply block access to unauthorized connections residing outside the network working on the packet level.
- A proxy server will act as an intermediary between the internet and the local computer working on the application protocol level.
- A network will be more secure when a proxy server is made a part of a Firewall.
11 Differences Between Firewall and Proxy Server
1. Basic Differences
Ideally, a Firewall performs at an IP packet level to filter data packets while they enter into a private network.
It is a failsafe application or software that monitors, protects, and even audits the local computer network to save it from external security threats.
A proxy server on the other hand, is a program or a device that is responsible to improve and secure access to a site.
It typically acts as a barrier in order to do so between the internet and the local computer.
This prevents establishing any direct communication between them.
2. Working Process
The working process of a Firewall involves a set of rules or access control policies.
These policies are typically set by the administrator and it controls the type of data packets that will be allowed or disallowed.
These sets of rules are referred to as ACL or Access Control List.
On the other hand, the working process of the proxy servers involves sending the request of accessing a specific site on the internet to the server, searching the cache for similar requests made, and producing it right away if available, thereby saving the bandwidth.
If it is not available in the cache, the internet will be accessed by the proxy server to produce the result which will be stored in the cache thereafter.
A Firewall will filter access requests on the basis of the IP packets of the incoming traffic and will block the ports and programs that attempt to make any unauthorized access.
On the other hand, a proxy server will typically filter the websites that are banned by an organization so that the users cannot use them.
It will also hide your computer network from the internet.
4. Network Layer
The Firewall typically works on the transport layer data and network data.
On the other hand, the proxy server works on the application layer data as well.
The existence or place of application of the Firewall is between the public and private network.
On the other hand, the proxy server will typically reside on both sides of the public network.
Typically, the Firewall will generate more overhead since it is the primary source for the approval whether or not a specific request can enter into a network.
On the other hand, the proxy server will produce less overhead since it uses the cache to search for a request and also due to the fact that it receives fewer requests.
7. Works on
A Firewall typically works on the packet level as opposed to a proxy server which normally works on the application protocol level.
If you consider the architectural design standpoint, there are usually five types of Firewalls such as packet filtering Firewalls, stateful inspection Firewalls, circuit-level gateways, application-level gateways, and next generation Firewalls.
On the other hand, the different types of proxy servers are forward proxy, public proxy, shared proxy, residential proxy, anonymous proxy, high anonymity proxy, transparent proxy, distorting proxy, data centre proxy, rotating proxy, reverse proxy, SSL proxy, TOR proxy, I2P proxy, and suffix proxy.
9. Blocking Viruses and Malware
A Firewall typically blocks the ports that are used commonly by malicious software and viruses to prevent them from infecting your computer.
However, you may specify the specific ports to be left open or closed to Firewall.
On the other hand, a proxy server simply creates a barrier to block the malware and viruses.
It actually restricts the window of opportunity to the viruses and malware through which they can enter into a network.
10. Blocking Programs
A Firewall can block specific types of programs from running on the computer such as instant messaging apps, a few particular games, and services.
It can create exceptions however for programs that you want to run on your computer.
On the other hand, a proxy server does not have such ability to prevent any program from running on a computer.
11. Blocking Websites
A Firewall can also block websites by blocking a few specific types of ports, for example, port 80 which is used by the HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol to serve web pages. However, this will not allow accessing any website at all.
A proxy server, on the other hand, can do this task in a much better way being able to be more discriminating while filtering websites.
It can block all social networking websites as you want them to be during office hours but may allow accessing them at lunch breaks and after office hours.
You may even categorize websites in some proxy servers so that you do not have to type the web addresses individually.
Which is Better to Use – Firewall and Proxy Server?
After going through the list of differences between a Firewall and proxy server you now know what their usefulness in protecting a private network are but still it may be difficult for you to decide which one among them is better to use.
Well, here are a few other facts and information about them which will help you further to decide which one among a Firewall and a proxy server you should integrate with your computer and network.
In fact, you may even be interested in using both together to get a better and higher level of protection.
Ideally, when a proxy server is used as a part of a Firewall, it will be more efficient in providing the desired security to your network, which makes it all the more feasible to use both together.
Here, efficiency means the reduced risks of different occurrences that may compromise your network such as:
- Cyber attacks
- IP spoofing and
Typically, these types of attacks are made by using several password attempts to enter into a network, out of which one may turn out to be the valid password. Also, the systems are usually targeted by using automated bots.
If any of such attempts are successful, not only all of the crucial data stored in your computer will be wiped off but it will also destroy the computer system on the whole.
A look at the working process of both in detail will make things clearer to you and help you in making your decision as well.
As said earlier, the Firewall works on the basis of the Access Control List. This list typically contains the following:
- The allowed and restricted port numbers
- The allowed and restricted IP addresses and
- The allowed and restricted Internet Protocols used by the request.
This list is however customizable. This means that the network administrator has the power to determine what can enter the network.
In addition to that, the administrator may also decide what will leave the network. This makes the private network quite secure.
The functionalities of a Firewall include:
- Monitoring all the incoming traffic
- Monitoring all the data leaving the network as well as encrypt them if it is a two-way Firewall
- Limiting the Trojan horse from affecting the computer files and damaging the whole network
- Stopping the hackers from entering the network and
- Reducing the threat of key logging.
On the other hand, the proxy server typically makes use of an anonymous IP address rather than the original one.
This means that the original IP address of the computer will not be visible or available to the external users or any potential hacker.
This feature along with searching for the access request stored in the cache by the proxy server helps it in more than one way such as:
- It helps it to access the blocked services in a particular country
- It helps it to act as a repository and store the information about the internet, website usage and those visited
- It helps it to hide the IP address of a local network from malicious users on the internet
- It helps it to act as a filtering tool that can block access to specific websites and
- It helps it to improve the performance of the network overall.
Therefore, in simple words it can be said that both a Firewall and a proxy server are essential components to ensure network security today.
They accomplish the goal of limiting or blocking connections to and from the network in different ways.
However, these are pretty similar to some extent, especially the fact that a proxy server, as said earlier, also blocks the network from being revealed to the internet by diverting the web requests when necessary makes it quite similar to a Firewall.
Ideally, in such situations the proxy server will not block the communication with a disallowed site in the real sense but will simply redirect the request to a web page that is in the network by using a specific internal mechanism.
This makes it look like the specific website is blocked but, in reality, it is that your request has been simply redirected to something else.
With such similarities and differences in a Firewall and a proxy server, making them work together will be much better for a network since it will make it doubly secure.
After reading this article it should be clear to you now that the real difference between a Firewall and a proxy server lies in their respective purposes and in their level of functioning.
Otherwise, they both have the same motive of safeguarding a local network from malicious activities and users.