SOCKS5 Proxy: An Explainer For Non-Techies

SOCKS5 is often flung around the internet to attract you to get proxy services. However, what is it exactly? This article will tell you what it is. Note that this targets non-techies, but it could be helpful to those who are tech-savvy as well. Yet before knowing what SOCKS5 is, you need to understand a little more about how computers talk.

Computer Networking

Suppose that there are two computers: computer A and computer B. Computer A needs a file from computer B. These two computers must connect to the same network to transfer that file. Of course, two computers can directly connect to one another, but that’s a different story.

Anyway, with the two computers connected—say, they’re connected to the internet or WAN (wide area network) through VPNs that work in Thailand—they now have a way to send signals or files to one another. However, how can they talk? How can computer A say its request for a file from computer B? The answer is a communication protocol.

Communication Protocol

Computers need communication protocols because they set a standard or language for them to talk. It dictates how computers read and write messages. Remember that computers can only send 1s and 0s—on and off signals. Without a standard or a guide to sending these bits of information, these computers won’t understand the messages they are receiving.

One of the best examples of a communication protocol is the Morse code. With this code, people could communicate without saying words through a series of short presses, long presses, and stops. Communications officers formed letters through short and long beeps, creating sentences through these words. The same goes for computer communication protocols.

Internet Protocol

There are many communication protocols; some are still used, whereas others are already defunct.  Each of these protocols has a specific purpose and job to do. With the popularity of the internet, a massive group of communication protocols has fallen under the internet protocol (IP) suite. SOCKS or ‘socket secure’ is one of them, often offered as a selling-point feature of SOCKS5 proxy provider companies worldwide.

Going back to the previous example, many protocols can be used to let computer A get a file from computer B. Some of them are Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), User Diagram Protocol (UDP), and File Transfer Protocol (FTP). So, where does SOCKS come in, and what is its purpose?

SOCKS

As its name implies, the purpose of SOCKS is to add a layer of protection between a server and a client. Say, computer A is the client asking for a file, and computer B is a server hosting the file. However, the client doesn’t want to let the server know that it’s the one requesting the file.

Know that most IP—particularly TCP/IP—require computers to provide their IP address. These IP addresses can allow people to track someone down or even launch a cyberattack against them.

To circumvent this, clients can take advantage of SOCKS. SOCKS is a communication protocol that lets clients reroute their requests to a proxy server and let the proxy server forward the clients’ requests to the server. Here, the proxy acts as the client—proxy being the keyword—and all information the server may collect will be of the proxy’s instead of the client’s. This effectively hides the client from the prying eyes of the server.

SOCKS5

What about SOCKS5? You can safely assume that SOCKS5 is the latest ‘version’ of SOCKS. Before it, there were SOCKS4a and SOCKS4_C. The main differences between SOCKS5 and the ones before it are that it offers multiple options for authentication, can use UDP instead of just TCP, and supports IPv6 (IP version 6). Currently, most computers are still in IPv4.

As you might have surmised, SOCKS5 is primarily used for proxy servers and virtual private networks. One can say that this protocol provides a decent amount of security and anonymity on the web. However, like other proxy-related services and protocols, it’s vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

Although proxies can protect you against policies and other concerns servers may impose, they don’t protect you from the proxy itself. For example, a client gets a sensitive file from a server through a proxy. Nothing stops the proxy or a person who has access to the proxy within from acquiring the same file. This is just one of the many ways man-in-the-middle attacks can happen.

While that’s true, it doesn’t mean proxy servers are all bad. Besides, such attacks aren’t that severe, and typical internet users shouldn’t be too wary about it too much. Nonetheless, if you use a proxy server, be sure to get a reputable one that uses SOCKS5.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, SOCKS5 is an internet communication protocol. Its primary purpose to most internet users is to allow their client computers to use proxy servers to connect to other computers on the web securely. Most proxy servers also use it as a selling point to sell their services on the web. Compared to other forms of proxy service features, it has tangible effects when it comes to security and anonymity.

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