In this proxy vs VPN showdown, you will learn what a VPN or proxy server is, the difference between the two, when to use each, and which one to choose to ensure your online privacy.

Whether you just want to surf the web anonymously or avoid social hackers and cyber-attacks, setting up a proxy server or a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service might be all you need. But since both VPN and proxy services will change your IP address, and re-route your internet traffic to provide you with a higher level of online privacy, they must be the same thing, right? No, they aren’t!

What is a proxy server?

A proxy or proxy server is a server that sits between the internet and your computer or smart devices and acts as a middleman in your internet traffic flow. It works as an IP scrambler; it hides your IP from the website you’re accessing and display the IP of the proxy server instead so that your online activities will look as if they come from somewhere else.

For instance, let’s say you’re physically located in the United Kingdom, and you want to access the contents of a website that is geographically restricted to those who are physically located in New York City. You can use a proxy server that is located within New York City to connect to and access the contents of that geo-restricted website. That website will not see your real IP address; it will only see the IP address of your proxy server and think that you are browsing its contents from the unrestricted geographical location.

Proxy servers are often used for low-stakes tasks such as bypassing restrictions on IP-based services, bypassing content filters, or accessing region-restricted contents. However, proxy servers do not include other security measures; all they can do is hide your IP or swap it for one that is located somewhere else and unblock websites with IP blocker. And since they utilize no other security measures, anyone can pry into your connection and access the information flowing through it.

Lastly, a proxy server cannot tunnel a whole system or device; it only works on an application level. That means the whole system will not connect to the net via a proxy server; you’ll have to set up certain applications to connect to the internet via a proxy.

There are different types of proxies; the most common ones include:

Web (or HTTP) Proxy

This type of proxy is specifically designed for web-based traffic. It allows you to connect to a proxy server by using a browser extension or by plugging the proxy server into the configuration file of your web browser to route all your web traffic through the proxy.

This type of proxy is generally free and easy to use. However, most HTTP proxies cannot work with complex websites or handle websites that run Java, JavaScript, and Flash. Also, it will not encrypt your web traffic, so you’ll have to provide yourself with encryption when connecting to any sensitive web service like your bank or email. So, when you’re connecting to a sensitive web service using a web proxy, make sure you use it for a website that is compatible with SSL encryption using a browser that is SSL enabled.

SOCKS Proxy

This type of proxy is an extension of the HTTP (web) proxy system; it is more versatile than the HTTP proxy in that it can handle more traffic and does not care to interpret the type of traffic passed through it. While HTTP proxies will try to interpret the type of traffic passing through it and allow only web traffic, SOCKS proxy servers will simply allow any traffic it comes across with, whether it’s for a BitTorrent client, FTP server, or web server.

However, SOCKS proxies are slower than web proxies. Also, they do not encrypt your connection, so the encryption you apply personally to your connection is what you’ll get.

Advantages of using a proxy

Proxies come with lots of advantages, which include:

  • They are readily available (you’ll find thousands of proxy servers on the net)
  • They are usually completely free to use
  • Proxies can help you bypass web restrictions
  • They can help you bypass geo blocks and access geo-restricted web contents
  • They offer a little bit more privacy (hide your IP) for simple internet browsing

The drawbacks of proxies

  • The proxy server owner will know your real IP address
  • Most proxies have no encryption; this means someone can intercept the information flowing through your connection
  • Finding out who is running a proxy is difficult, the server owner can pry into your private information
  • The internet connection provided by public proxy servers is usually unstable (this makes them unsuitable for streaming)
  • The data passing through a proxy connection can be altered
  • Someone else could be using the same proxy you’re using for illegal activities
  • Proxy servers are usually not long running; some websites can block them

Why should I use a proxy?

Generally, you should use a proxy server when needed for simple online activities or tasks. Below are some of the most common situations where you should use a proxy server:

  • When you want the basic levels of online privacy protection
  • When you need a fast or immediate online privacy solution
  • When you want to get away from targeted ads
  • When you need to access the contents of a website with geo-restriction

Proxy servers should be used sparingly as most of them are not safe to use. If you must use a proxy service, take time to find a reliable provider, and be careful not to transmit or share any of your personal information while using a proxy.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (otherwise known as VPN) works similarly as a proxy server in that it’ll make your traffic look as if it is coming from somewhere else instead of your real IP address. However, it differs from a proxy server in its mode of operation. While proxy servers only work for a single application, VPNs works at the level of the operating system of the device to route the whole device.

That means that when you set up a VPN on a device, it will capture the all network connection of that device and route all the application you run on it, be it your online games, web browser or system update.

Moreover, all your internet connection will pass through an encrypted connection via the VPN server the moment you install and establish a VPN connection. That’ll give you a higher level of security and encryption to ensure that you have a secure connection and escape from the prying eyes of hackers, third parties, ISP and anyone trying to access the information you transmit over the network.

For instance, if you connect to a public or unsecured Wi-Fi, you wouldn’t have to worry about anyone intercepting the information you transmit over that network since your VPN will encrypt all your traffic. However, you may have to sacrifice your computing power and speed for the added increased level of security you’ll get. Also, a solid or good VPN is not free, unlike the proxies, so you should be ready to pay for it.

Benefits of using a VPN

  • VPN masks IP addresses, this means that it will hide your IP and help you remain anonymous online
  • If you select a quality VPN provider, you can trust their services always to keep you secure and safe
  • Your connection will be encrypted to provide you with a higher level of protection and online privacy
  • Some VPN services offer additional security features such as Nat firewalls, DNS leak protection, and private DNS
  • VPN services have different logging policies, so you can easily find and choose one that matches your standard

The drawbacks of using a VPN

  • It reduces the speed of your network connection
  • You need to pay to use a VPN especially the ones with a good quality
  • Unlike proxies, some VPNs will make use of your device’s processor and memory thereby reducing its processing power and speed

When to use a VPN

You should use a VPN service when:

  • When you want to remain private and fully anonymous online (most VPN providers offers a strict no-log policy which means that they do not store or keep your IP address so that you can remain 100% anonymous when you surf the web).
  • You want to stay protected and secured over every internet connection on your computer device
  • You want to access the contents of a website with geo-restriction
  • Avoid torrent throttling

Proxy vs VPN – which one should you use?

Looking from online security and privacy perspective, VPN is the best due to the higher level of security it provides. But when you consider the financial aspect, proxies scored a higher point because they are often offered for free.

However, we recommend to use any of the best VPN services as they’ll give you the same benefits of using proxies but with a higher level of anonymity, security, and protection. So, if you’re really concerned about your online privacy and security, then selecting a VPN would be the right thing to do.

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