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The Role of Reverse Proxies in Protection of Web Applications

The Role of Reverse Proxies in Protection of Web Applications
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 11 Dec 2015

With an increasing number of web applications being handled by vendors, the question of security has often been answered with the help of reverse proxies. A reverse proxy is a server side concept while a forward proxy is a client side service.

While forward proxies help users to maintain anonymity and challenge rules related to censorship and lack of Internet freedom, a reverse proxy ensures that the characteristics and existence of original servers are hidden or safeguarded; thereby, preventing malicious attacks on web applications. Reverse proxies behave like intermediaries for associated servers and effectively mask the location and technicalities of the originating server. This is very important in safeguarding the integrity of web applications and tools.

As one witnesses an increasing number of hacking attempts and other security-related attacks, the importance of reverse proxies has begun to be recognized by most IT professionals. Most importantly, reverse proxies are used to move managed file transfers to internal networks where they can be protected from attacks originating from an external source.

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In short, one can understand the role of forward proxies to assist clients or users in safeguarding their identities and anonymities. On the other hand, a reverse proxy assists servers on which web applications are stored to protect themselves from malicious threats originating from external entities.

Protecting the privacy of original servers

In computer networks, DMZ or the demilitarized zone does not refer to the space between North and South Korea, which incidentally happens to be the world’s most militarized border, acting as a buffer between the two countries. In the context of a computer network, a DMZ offers a buffer zone between a private host or an internal network and the outside public network. The computer DMZ ensures that outside users do not get access to data stored within private or original servers.

However, information placed within the DMZ is not entirely safe. By simply placing sensitive information within the DMZ, highly motivated hackers and outside entities may somehow gain access to them. Reverse proxies when placed within these private networks, mask the location of the data and protect user credentials and information.

As one moves towards the creation of innumerable web applications and storing large amounts of user data on private networks, reverse proxies have become very important for protecting the privacy of original servers.

Reverse proxies protect servers from web-based attacks

A reverse proxy creates a buffer zone within the buffer zone of computer DMZs. This way, it reduces risks to sensitive data central to running web applications. One must remember that all the information that is required to run a web application is usually not available to the public.

Much of it is stored on a private network and may include technical blueprints, trade secrets, financial and personal information which must not fall into the hands of online criminal and malicious entities. Reverse proxies essentially make it impossible for outside entities to locate where this sensitive data is located and thus protect web applications from hacking attempts and other security threats.

Placing a reverse proxy within this buffer zone ensures that private and internal networks are not vulnerable to malicious hacking attempts from the Internet.

Bringing reverse proxies to the context of IT and web security

The trend towards web applications has created a situation where large amounts of user-data and confidential information are stored on company’s private networks. While one may like to believe that this information and data is safe from malicious entities and hackers, they unfortunately are not. The buffer between public networks and the company’s private networks are illusory and a motivated hacker can almost always access what he wants, with a little bit of effort.

To protect sensitive information that is required to run web applications and to protect user data, it is important to use reverse proxies that effectively mask the location of the original servers where information is stored. Reverse proxies are increasingly being used to add an extra layer of security between public and private networks and empirical data shows that this is one of the most effective ways to protect web application from external threats.

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