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How Does a Proxy Server Differ From a Packet Filtering Firewall?

Proxy servers and packet filtering firewalls both help organizations block and limit access to their networks. Both provide varying levels of protection against security threats and sit between devices and networks, but there is a distinct difference between a proxy server and a packet filtering firewall.

proxy server is an intermediary that acts as a gateway between a user’s device and the public internet. It works by accepting and forwarding connection requests then returning the data requested. A proxy server uses an anonymous network rather than a device’s actual Internet Protocol (IP) address, essentially hiding the user's IP address from other users. The proxy server also provides caching, which stores users’ previously searched websites to lessen the load on the server and improve latency.

packet filtering firewall is a piece of software that prevents unauthorized access. The network firewall sits between two networks and implements access control policies across both. Data packets flow into networks via the firewall, which checks whether they should be granted permission. A firewall operates at the network layer of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, which uses encryption to secure data before it is transmitted. 

Proxy Server vs. Packet Filtering Firewall

There is a range of features that distinguish a proxy server from a packet filtering firewall. A key proxy server vs. packet filtering firewall differentiator is that a proxy server connects devices to servers. It enables internet users to ensure anonymity and avoid regional content restrictions, such as watching streaming services from different countries. Packet filtering firewalls , on the other hand, monitor and filter network traffic and protect users against malware and other forms of malicious traffic.

Furthermore, a proxy server is often considered part of a firewall, which prevents unauthorized access and connections. The proxy is more of a mediator that establishes connections between users and networks.

Another significant difference between a proxy server and a firewall is their location. A proxy server is located at the application layer, whereas the packet filtering firewall will sit at the network layer.

Choosing Between a Proxy Server and Packet Filtering Firewall

The choice between a proxy server and a packet filtering firewall will depend on the user or organization’s objective.

When to Use a Proxy Server

Proxy servers are crucial to providing an extra layer of security for a user’s computer. They are set up via web filters or firewalls, thus protecting devices from internet-borne threats like malware. A proxy server also allows users to secure their internet activity from snooping cyber criminals and hide or mask their location. Organizations can use them to balance internet traffic, save bandwidth, and control website access.

When a user searches for a website on the internet, a request is sent to a proxy server. The proxy server searches the cache for the request and, if it is available, returns it to save bandwidth. If the site is not in the cache, the proxy will access the internet to produce the website then store it in the cache. This means a proxy server can be used as a repository to keep users’ internet activity and website history. 

This makes proxy servers useful for users who want to access services that are blocked in the country they reside in. Proxy servers can also be used to hide a user’s IP address from cyber criminals, prevent access to specific websites, and improve network performance by storing website requests.

When to Use a Packet Filtering Firewall

A packet filtering firewall uses control policies or rules to decide which data packets should be granted or denied access to a network. This is governed by an access control list (ACL), which contains authorized or blocked port numbers, IP requests, and IP addresses as devised by a network administrator. 

As a result, firewalls can be used to monitor then encrypt incoming and outgoing traffic. They also prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access to a network, limiting threats like Trojan horses from attacking computer files and causing damage to a network. A firewall also helps reduce the risk of keylogging, which monitors user keystrokes to steal user credentials and online logins.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet protects internet users and organizations by providing proxies and firewalls. Fortinet FortiGate next-generation firewall solutions enable users to deploy proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect themselves from cyberattacks and data breaches. It also allows organizations to protect their network through VPN and proxy capabilities.

The Fortinet FortiGate next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) provide industry-leading defense against advanced cyberattack vectors. FortiGate combines a wide range of capabilities designed to protect organizations’ entire IT environment against the most sophisticated forms of attack. It also offers future updates that ensure organizations are protected against the latest security threats. FortiGate is a critical part of the Fortinet security-driven approach, which builds security into every aspect of corporate networks.