What is SOCKS proxy?
SOCKS proxy stands as a negotiator between users and the internet. It mainly serves as a circumvention tool, allowing users to bypass geographical restrictions. Due to this feature, people assume that it is an equivalent of a VPN. However, this belief is not accurate. While both technologies manipulate IP addresses, only one can truly conceal browsing habits and private data. Hence, a SOCKS proxy is one of the options for ditching some digital trails we leave online. Nevertheless, it might not be enough to reject all privacy-invasive tracking.
Meaning and purpose of SOCKS
SOCKS (Socket Secure) is an internet protocol for traversing UDP and TCP packets between clients and servers using proxies. Differently than other proxies, it is not mainly for HTTP communications. It is more versatile, meaning that other forms of network traffic have no issue traveling through it. Hence, the SOCKS protocol works on any port. SOCKS5 is the latest version, and it offers a higher level of authentication. As a rule, there are three authentication options for the SOCKS proxy:
- Null authentication. Represents connections that do not need to follow any authentication steps.
- Credential format. Requires clients to verify their connection with a username and password.
- GSS-API authentication. Steps that clients perform at the operating system level to confirm their identity.
Defining the SOCKS proxy
A proxy is an instrument described as a firewall or a web filter. It is a server that connects to web hosts on your behalf, protecting your identity in the process. How does a SOCKS proxy differ from a typical one? Well, SOCKS proxy must comply with the SOCKS protocol and follow a thorough procedure when accepting connections. For instance, the SOCKS protocol usually imposes strict authentication processes and traverses the data according to the listed standards. Hence, only connections that pass the imposed qualifications can use them. The SOCKS proxy works as follows:
- A client sends a connection request. Verification steps will be in the request as well.
- The approached server determines the best-suited authentication method. If not found, the server refuses to accept the request and sends an error.
- If everything works out according to plan, the client receives a response from the server.
SOCKS proxy vs. VPN: how to choose?
SOCKS proxy does not get a black belt in the evasion of digital tracking practices. It is a more authentication-oriented proxy that introduces a larger scale of protection than typical HTTP ones. Due to the slightly refined nature, they get misinterpreted as equals to VPNs.
- They share the feature of modifying users’ whereabouts attached to their IP addresses. For some, this feature is enough. However, the equation is much more complex than it looks.
- A SOCKS proxy prioritizes speed, especially when using it for performance-sensitive activities such as gaming. Hence, it does not encrypt network traffic fully. So, there might be some evident cracks left after the presumed protection of traffic.
- A VPN protects your digital identity from an array of potential trackers. ISPs, government agencies, marketers, and corporate entities have very little means to track such camouflaged users. A SOCKS proxy is not as far-reaching. Its main perk is the IP address spoofing, versatility, and speed-oriented functionality. However, if your concerns surpass the mere manipulation of location, you need a more effective solution.
The digital environment we course through operates on a fundamentally flawed concept. Netizens criticize the current state because intrusive data collection and retention practices are out of their comfort zones. Such concerned visitors attempt to return to their private bubbles. While the SOCKS proxy might seem like the way to go, it has limits. It is application-specific, meaning it might not cover all programs you use. Additionally, data encryption and encapsulation are seamless and automatic with a VPN.
With the SOCKS proxy, this process requires more server configuration to reach adequate results. However, the majority of torrent clients offer options for configuring a SOCKS proxy. Additionally, a SOCKS proxy might be more useful when performing performance-critical activities. The bottom line is that a VPN will cover everything automatically and leave nearly no room for common tracking practices. So, it is the optimal tool for bypassing internet filtering, surveillance, censorship, bandwidth limitations, and geo-restrictions.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.