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SOCKS is a protocol for handling traffic through a proxy server. It can be used with virtually any TCP/UDP application, including Web browsers and FTP clients. It provides a simple firewall because it checks incoming and outgoing packets and hides the IP addresses of client applications. Using Socks proxy is a good solution for internet anonymity and security (pay attention to VPN Virtual Private Network too).
There are two types of Socks proxy protocols: Socks 4 and Socks 5. Socks 4 proxy will allow working with TCP protocols only, like HTTP (web browsing via IE, Opera, Firefox, Safari,..), NNTP newsgroup access, IRC. Socks 5 proxy is more advanced, allowing to anonymize UDP protocols as well (ICQ for example).
Many popular applications support SOCKS proxies: Firefox, Google Chrome, Thunderbird, Safari,..
Read more about socks: Socks and security and Socks myths
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