Q: My Windows 10 computer is no longer able to connect to my private network to download Windows updates, and connect to network for IE11 or Edge.

The private network consists of primary an XP computer direct to router connected wireless to XP Pro and Windows 10 computers. There were no problems until mid-July when attempting to download for Windows 10 and I received an error notification that the computer couldn't connect to proxy port 8080 (by the way Firefox works fine and proxy setting was always off). Troubleshooting report - The remote device or resource won't accept the connection. This device or resource (web proxy) is not set up to accept connection to port "8080."

Ran the Troubleshooter several times, one of the corrective actions was to delete the download history, which I did thinking perhaps a download had caused the error. Now there's no download history available after May 2017. Turning on Manual Proxy Setup to default Windows port 8080 with "Don't use for Local" checked kills my network. I attempted again with anitvirus and firewall off momentarily to eliminate they were causing the problem. No change. If I turn off the manual proxy everything works except the Windows 10 updates and browser problems. Presently, I have an indication that the updates are current as of May 2017, however, I'm unable to download updates due to lack of connection. You've helped me in the past, I need your help again. Thanks.

– Corwin D., Mary Esther

A: Corwin, this sounds suspiciously like a continuation of your problem that appeared in the column back a few years ago (I.G.T.M. No. 498, Feb. 5, 2011). In my response back then, I advised you to make sure your system is set up to automatically detect the proper settings to use, and to turn off the use of proxy servers. It sounds like you either didn’t fully implement my suggestion, you’ve started using a Virtual Private Network since you last contacted me, or something has forced an unwanted change to your PC’s proxy settings.

Geek Note: I e-mailed back and forth with Corwin a couple times trying to figure out some things. The following is a combination of text from the emails, and other information that I’ve added to boost the understanding of those not familiar with the concepts we’re talking about.

First of all, I questioned Corwin on his use of the “Private Network.” That is very close to, but not quite the same as “Virtual Private Network” or VPN. It turns out that “Private Network” is just Corwin’s colloquialism for his home LAN. He probably means all the PCs and equipment that are on his side of his router, or what I would call his Small-Office/Home Office (SOHO) Local Area Network (LAN). Since Corwin is not using a VPN on his system, there is no legitimate reason it should be configured with a proxy, or with anything other than the standard ports. That requires a bit of explanation.

A proxy is an intermediary server that handles network traffic for a PC. When your system is configured with a proxy, all network traffic is redirected to the proxy server, which communicates with the actual destination server on your behalf. The process is reversed for data sent from the service. Instead of being sent to your PC, they are sent to the proxy, which forwards them on to your local PC. It may sound complicated, but having a proxy offers several advantages, such as being able to secure the data flowing between the two PCs (one of the key benefits of a VPN). If can also be used to surf the web in relative anonymity, since only the VPN knows who the actual end user really is.

One other, more nefarious use for a proxy is to re-direct your network traffic to a scammer’s server, so it can be scanned for personal information, such as account numbers and passwords. Incoming web browser traffic can also be adulterated to do anything from showing a completely different page than requested to inserting in-line or pop-up advertisements. There are a number of pieces of malware that attack by doing exactly this. They install a web proxy into your browser, causing all your traffic to be rerouted. Since most people don’t even know that proxies exist, they have no idea they’ve been hacked.

In your case, Corwin, whatever proxy is set-up is balking at the use of port 8080. This port has no firm definition, but it is often used for home web servers, which I’m confident you are not using. The standard port for http (most browser traffic) is 80. Your system will configure this automatically for you if you follow the instructions I put in the column from February (which is available on my website) and turn off that proxy. It’s possible there is malware on your machine that will reconfigure the proxy at your next boot. I suggest a good anti-virus scrub-down is in order to make sure you squash this problem once and for all.

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