As we spend more of our working and personal lives online, information about our location and identity are becoming increasingly sought after by the websites and services we connect to.
There are times when you may not wish to tell every shop you visit your home street name and number. And in the same way you might not want every website you visit to recognise you and your location from your IP address.
Because whenever you surf the net, a unique IP address that can be matched to you and your home is broadcast to every website you visit. You can easily avoid this by using a proxy server.
Proxy servers are the mainstay of power users but require more than a little know-how to setup and maintian. Netshade 4 from Rayner Software is a Mac application that makes the whole operation painless.
Netshade is 64-bit Intel app that diverts all your websurfing through a choice of proxy servers. You can use your own if have the resource, or browse through a list of hundreds of freely available public proxies that Netshade can find.
These are scattered all over the world, with varying levels of quality and anonymity. After the app is opened, it populates a long list of available proxies, listing its IP, which ports it uses, its ping time, and the level of anonymity, from Low, Med and High.
A Low Anon rating probably means that proxy identifies itself to any connected website that it is a proxy server and not endpoint. Worse, your personal IP address is potentially retrievable by that site, making the service not dependably anonymous.
A Med Anon rating means your connection will be identified as via proxy, but your actual IP is not being passed through.
A High Anon rating suggests that your IP is shielded, and the remote site probably cannot identify you connection as being through proxy.
The public sites are always available after a one-off payment for the app. But Rayner Software also offers subscriptions to its own collection of proxy servers, sited in the US and Europe.
As of February 2012, there are siz proxies – two in Fremont, California; one in Chicago, Illinois; and one each in the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic. You get the first year for free, and subscription thereafter of these high-bandwidth services is $19 per year.
Netshade 4: setup and use
The default interface of Netshade is appropriately named Fancy, and features a picture of the earth against a dark window, with a flag planted in the city of currently selected proxy server. At a glance you can see the server’s plain-text address and anonymity rating.
The Plain interface gives a simpler brushed metal look with no globe graphic.
You can expand this either of these windows by clicking on Proxy List, to view the full list of options. When cruising public proxies, for instance, it’s possible to filter the hundreds listed – by ping time, IP address, flagged, ping time, country or anonymity. And against each list proxy server is a small coloured national flag to help. Our only quibble here is that you cannot drag open the window to see the long list in one view.
Once you’ve selected a proxy, all your main browsing traffic will be routed through it. For public proxies, this is just http protocol, but Rayner Software’s proxies also allow https for secure transactions.
When you first setup Netshade, you’ll need to configure your browser to use the Rayner proxies. For Safari, a dropdown sheet appears the first time you use it, into which you type login and password details supplied by Rayner Software. For Firefox, simple instructions are provided to manually add a proxy configuration in the browser’s Preferences.
In use, Netshade works very well. It obviously cannot be responsible for the quality or security of public proxies, although it does update the list of working servers regularly.
Its own proxy servers do the job splendidly. You can check on the status of any proxy using a Verify button, which takes you to a page hosted by Rayner that audits the connection for IP, hostname, proxy type and forwarding information. A good anonymous proxy shows just the IP; hostname should not be discoverable, proxy not detected and forwarding info unavailable.
We also checked Rayner’s proxies using online pages such as whatsmyip.com, which indicated only the proxy IP address. Some such sites could detect a non-direct connections, such as Steve Gibson’s ShieldsUp!! at www.grc.com. Strangely, online geo-location would place our Czech connection in Chicago. But as Ty Rayner told us,‘geolaction is a bit of a dark art, and even the best geolocation databases have quite a few errors.’
In addition to this Mac app, Rayner Software has just launched Netshade for iPhone and Netshade HD for iPad. These offer similar functions for mobile computing, and will be covered in a separate review.