Proxy vs VPN: 5 Main Differences
Did you know that every 39 seconds hackers launch a new attack somewhere on the web? Quite spooky, right? That said, it doesn’t come as a surprise that in today’s data-driven environment, online security has become a big deal. Accordingly, many people have become highly conscious of their privacy online, seeking solutions that can help them worry less when navigating the dangerous internet realm and dodge all the snoops.
If you’re one of those people, you’ve probably been looking for some effective security solutions. And maybe using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a proxy server has already crossed your mind. Some may ask whether a proxy is the same as a VPN. Spoiler alert — it’s not. And in this article, we’ll shed some light on the difference between the two. So, if you’re curious about how both security solutions work, keep up the knowledge spirit and don’t fret — we’re about to help you.
Proxy servers and VPNs overview
First things first, both proxies and VPN servers provide the means for protecting user identity online and accessing geo-restricted content, rerouting your network’s internet connection and masking your IP address. But while sharing the same functionality in this respect, VPNs and proxies are actually very different. Let’s find out in what way.
What is a proxy server?
A proxy is a middleman server, acting as a gateway between a user’s network and the internet. To put it simply, it separates a user from the visited site. Excelling at masking IP addresses and misdirection, a proxy helps carry out basic functions like anonymous web browsing or accessing content unavailable in specific regions.
How does a proxy server work?
A proxy is like a filter allowing only authorized content to get through. You can apply proxy settings to the needed application (or browser extension), and then a proxy server masks your original IP address for the intended site to see the IP of the proxy. This way, needed web pages are routed to you via the proxy with all the benefits the proxy provides, for instance, security, speed, another geographic location, and so on.
There are three types of proxy servers:
- HTTP proxies — are used only to access HTTP and HTTPS web pages, including those with geo-restricted content. For example, you could use a HTTP proxy to watch an online video limited for view in your region. HTTP proxies are of two types: the HTTP-client proxy and the HTTP-server proxy. While the former filters content and lets only authorized files be downloaded, an HTTP-server proxy enables most HTTP connections to get through, but stops any malicious attempts to upload or delete files to or from the web server.
- SOCKS (Socket Security proxies) — work like HTTP proxies, but you can connect them to other applications, not just web pages. They are low-level proxies that can tackle any program or network protocol on any port. They’re commonly used for traffic-intensive tasks, like content streaming. Besides, users turn to SOCKS to ease communication with websites with a firewall and limit regular client access.
- Transparent proxies — are mainly used to control and monitor web traffic. Offices and schools usually use these proxies to keep tabs on users’ online activity and block access to specific websites, like Netflix, to keep employees and students focused. You might’ve even used a transparent proxy without realizing it (unless you’ve been blocked from a specific website while at work, of course), hence the name.
Are there free proxy servers? Should I use them?
Yes, you can indeed locate numerous free proxies. We have to warn you, though, that many of them come with a lot of vulnerabilities. Free proxies usually provide already flagged or banned IPs, which can’t be put to good use. And even if you aren’t paying for a proxy in money, you may be paying for it in data sniffing, poor support, or poor setup. So, it’s better not to risk it.
What is a virtual private network?
On to the next solution — what’s a VPN? It’s a tunnel that establishes a secure connection between several devices, allowing for surfing the web in a private and safe manner. Much like a proxy, a VPN reroutes your internet traffic through a remote server and masks your IP address.
How does a VPN work?
Here’s where VPN is different from a proxy. Creating a secure tunnel with the VPN server, A VPN client replaces your local ISP (Internet Service Provider) routing. This way, VPN connections encrypt and protect all of your network traffic (not just the HTTP or SOCKS calls from your browser like a proxy), and the ISP can no longer see what you’re doing online. A VPN allows you to preserve your privacy, keeping at bay snooping shadow agencies, website owners, advertisers, and government, bypass geo-restrictions, and protect your data. Most importantly, unlike a proxy, VPNs work on a system level, meaning that once the VPN client is activated, it encrypts all of your traffic, from the browser to all of your apps.
(Source: Satori Web Academy)
Are there free VPNs? Should I use them?
As with proxies, there are free VPN providers as well, although their number may be smaller. But the question to ask here is whether they’re safe. Spoiler alert #2 — they’re not. Once again, you won’t pay in money, but in limited protection or your data being exposed. So even when a free VPN client may seem reputable, it most likely has many restrictions. That said, you don’t really get to reap all the benefits. You can, for example, get hold of geo-restricted data but skate on thin ice with a data breach possibility at the same time. So if you value online security, you may want to skip out on using free VPNs.
Proxy vs VPN: Major differences
Now let’s pinpoint particular differences between both solutions.
Proxies act as an intermediary and mask your IP address from the web server you visit.VPN’s role for ensuring privacy is broader in this regard — a VPN provider offers complete encryption of your data when it travels to its destination. That means intruders will have a hard time snooping on sensitive information. Whether you’re on your home Wi-Fi network or an open one, the encryption provided by VPN protects your data from being seized by cybercriminals.
While proxies mask your identity from the website you’re visiting, they don’t encrypt your connection to the proxy server itself. Besides, free proxies don’t provide secure connection. And while paid options with HTTPS connections and password protection are usually safe, they’re still limited compared to the end-to-end encryption provided by a professional-grade VPN.
Security gets better with VPNs. Because not only do they hide user’s identity from your ISP and network, but they also provide total data encryption, protecting it from prying eyes of hackers, government, or employers. Besides, a VPN shields your device from DDoS attacks and other malices.
VPNs work on the operating system level, rerouting all your traffic through a VPN server. As to proxies — they work on the application level and only reroute the traffic of a particular app or browser. So while VPNs encrypt all of your online activity, no matter the number of websites or apps, proxy servers only mask one website or app at a time.
Yes, you’ll more likely spend more with a VPN. Proxies are usually free, while VPNs are more limited in their free options (many have free trials, though). And while paid VPNs usually charge a monthly subscription fee, it’s highly unlikely they’ll bankrupt someone. So, once again, you shouldn’t trust using either a free proxy or VPN server if you don’t want to risk your security and safety online or come across limited functionality (the last one is more about VPNs). Apart from that, free proxy and VPNs connections can be slower due to less support, less configuration options, and slower infrastructure.
- Connection speed
Keep in mind that both solutions will set back browsing speeds at least a little. But proxies do tend to be slower than VPNs, although a general speed of proxy and VPN connection largely depends on a provider. Also, while the encryption of sensitive data by a VPN may delay a connection by a few milliseconds, it isn’t very crucial unless you’re a professional gamer or streamer. Finally, using a VPN can also even speed up your connection as many major VPN providers use a large network of data centers around the world.
Having explored the difference between a VPN and proxy as well as their similar features, here’s what we have:
|Cost||Usually free||Usually paid|
|IP address encryption||Yes||Yes|
|Web activity encryption||No||Yes|
|Coverage||1 website or app||All website or apps|
|Slowing down browsing speeds||Yes||Yes (usually)|
|Number of uses||1||Unlimited|
Proxy vs VPN: What to choose and when?
All that said, now a relevant question poses itself: “What should I choose — proxy or VPN?” And to answer it, we have to consider why you’d need to turn to proxies and VPNs in the first place. If you’re thinking about using proxy vs VPN for profound security and wider coverage, the VPN is the most viable option. Its encryption will keep your online activity safe from the intrusions of third parties. And if you want to get the best out of VPN clients and keep your sensitive data protected, consider investing in a paid option (as VPNs will not make you go bust, anyway). But, if you need to just hide your IP address or mask your identity from a single website or app, a proxy will suffice.
Can I use proxy and VPN together?
Last but not least, if you’re also chewing over whether it’s possible (and more effective) to use proxy and VPN together, technically yes, you can use both at once. But the thing is… it’s not necessary. Basically, a proxy is redundant if you’re using a VPN since the latter already comprises proxy’s features. So, don’t waste your energy (perhaps, money as well) trying to pursue both options.
Ensuring security with VeePN
To wrap up, proxies and VPNs are similar in many ways. They both help protect user identity and access geo-restricted content. Still, these are two distinct security solutions. It all comes down to encryption — VPNs encrypt your data while online. Proxy servers don’t. So when deciding on proxy vs VPN, keep in mind a broader functionality of the latter and your initial purpose of turning to these solutions.
If you’re considering building up your online security efforts, a trustworthy VPN provider is your best bet. Thinking about test-driving one? Give VeePN a try — it provides an automatic Wi-Fi protection feature in addition to top-grade 256-bit AES encryption, smart location, double VPN, custom proxy, and strong bandwidth. Signing up for VeePN is a sensible choice for those who value privacy and security. If it’s you, click the button below.