VPN vs. Proxy: How Are They Different from Each Other?
Sep 23, 2023
If you are concerned about your privacy while browsing the internet, you may have considered either using a VPN or a proxy. VPNs and proxies are the most popular choices for people who don’t want their data to be tracked. However, which one is actually better for you? In this article, we’ll do a detailed ‘VPN vs. Proxy’ comparison and recommend the one preferable for your needs.
Many people think VPNs and proxies are very similar and have the same functions. That’s not true at all. Even though they may serve the same purposes in some instances, there are considerable differences between the two. You can protect your IP and location information with both of them, but they don’t necessarily follow the same method in doing so.
Before we talk about the major differences between VPNs and proxies, let’s take a look at what they actually are.
What is a VPN?
The full form of VPN is ‘Virtual Private Network,’ which provides a layer of protection when using public networks. In simple words, VPNs work by encrypting the user’s internet traffic and disguising their online identity. VPNs make sure the encryption takes place in real-time.
The most important component here are the remote servers run by VPN hosts. When you browse the internet with a VPN, it redirects the network through remote servers. Those servers become your data source to third parties, even your own ISP. You can hide your online activities through this process, as no one can see what websites you are visiting.
The most popular usage of VPNs is to access restricted content. Due to multiple reasons, some contents can be restricted in your location. By using a VPN, you can effectively change your location and access restricted content. Your new location will be the same as the location of the remote server through which the VPN redirects your network.
What is a Proxy Server?
Proxy servers work as intermediary servers, which separate the user from the websites they visit. They basically work as a gateway between the user and the internet. If you are browsing the internet with a proxy server, internet traffic will flow through that server instead of the server of your ISP.
This way, proxy servers can provide you with an additional layer of security. They work as a web filter and firewall. When you send a request through the proxy server, it can change your original IP address on your behalf and send you the data you requested for. Third parties won’t be able to track you or your internet activities. In some cases, proxy servers also block malicious web pages and trackers that may want to breach your privacy.
Like VPNs, accessing restricted content is one of the most popular usages of proxy servers. As proxy servers can also change your location, you can easily access restricted content with a proxy server by simply having a location where the content is available.
There are three types of proxy servers.
HTTP proxies only work on web pages and browsers. If you set up a proxy server with your browser, any data that goes in and out of the browser will be routed through the proxy server. This works fine for private browsing.
SOCKS proxies are a bit more advanced than HTTP proxies. You can set up SOCKS proxies for applications. Lately SOCKS proxies have become more popular than HTTP proxies. This comes with a caveat. Due to more load, they are usually slower than HTTP proxies.
Transparent proxies are not usually set up from the ‘user’ end. These proxies are used to monitor online activities. Employers and supervisors very often use transparent proxies to track online activities of their subordinates. Also, these proxies can be used to restrict access to certain websites and contents.
As an average user, you won’t really need to use transparent proxies. However, if you want to track the browsing activities of your students, children, or employees, then you can try a transparent proxy.
Difference Between VPNs and Proxies
Now let’s get deeper into the differences between VPNs and Proxies!
Most popular VPN protocols are point to point tunneling protocol (PTTP) and layer 2 tunneling protocol (L2TP). Proxies, on the other hand, use protocols like file transfer protocol (FTP), simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP), hyper text transfer protocol (HTTP), etc.
When it comes to protecting you from malicious online activities, VPN protocols are more effective than proxy server protocols.
Though it may seem a bit similar, VPNs and proxies have different mechanisms when it comes to keeping your privacy secured. VPNs give utmost importance to data encryption. While browsing the internet with a VPN on, whatever data you send and receive is encrypted. Even if hackers, government agencies, trackers, or any other third party can see the encrypted data, it won’t mean anything because of the encryption.
For example, if you are logging in to a website while the VPN is on, hackers won’t be able to have access to your username or password. The same is true for other information such as credit card number, bank account numbers, and so on. Proxies, on the other hand, don’t encrypt your data. Proxies try to hide the information by flowing the information through a different server, but there is no high level of encryption involved.
Level of Security
VPNs secure your browsing activity across multiple applications. If your device has a VPN installed, it will protect any data going to or from that device, no matter what application or browser you are using. Proxies don’t work like that. Proxy servers only provide you with a layer of security for your browser or a specific application. This means, VPNs are more advanced than proxy servers in protecting your data.
It happens because VPNs work on an operating system level and reroute all traffic that goes in and out of that operating system. Proxies only reroute the traffic that goes in and out of a specific application.
Both VPNs and Proxies have free options. If you are a light user, you may get by with a free version of either option. However, VPNs offer a lot more for free compared to proxies. There are free VPNs that don’t slow down your connection by much. This is not the case when it comes to proxies. Free proxy connections are not as fast. They don’t usually come with many configuration options and support.
One of the key selling points of VPNs is more privacy. A good quality VPN does not log your data and sell it to third parties for profit. However, free proxies will log your data in most off the cases. If you want to keep your information as private as possible, free proxy servers are not a good choice at all.
Proxy servers are mostly one dimensional. Most you can do with a proxy server is availing private web browsing through changing your IP address. VPNs, on the other hand, allow you to change your IP address, protect your browsing information from hackers, block annoying advertisements, and even prevent your ISP from tracking your online activity.
Transparent proxy servers allow some supervision on the devices and browsers connected to your network. This feature is not available on VPNs. However, only transparent proxy servers can offer this feature, but they lack other features. It is not very common to find a proxy server that offers multiple features.
Due to the additional features offered, VPNs usually cost more than proxy servers. This is understandable, as you only get what you pay for. If you don’t really need the additional features, you can choose a proxy server over a VPN to save some money. Anyways, most VPns have starter packages that have limited features and cost less.
VPN vs. Proxy: Which One to Choose
By analyzing the differences between VPNs and proxies, it is very evident that VPNs are the better choice if you have to choose one between the two. VPNs offer a lot more than proxies. For security and convenience of browsing, VPNs are way ahead of proxy servers.
Even if we consider the similar things offered by both, VPNs win in that regard as well. Both VPNs and proxies allow you to change your IP and location. VPNs, however, come with multiple locations. This is not the case for a proxy server. One proxy server will offer you only one location. If you want your IP to show a different location, you’ll have to set up a different proxy server for your browser. Switching between proxy servers is not as convenient as switching locations in VPNs. You can switch locations in just one click with VPNs, but not proxy servers.
Proxy servers are only recommended to people who use just one browser and whose online activity is mostly done through that browser. In that case, a proxy server may work just fine. SOCKS proxy servers work on applications too, but they are not as fast. If you are very active online and use different kinds of applications, then you should use VPNs.
VPNs don’t allow you to track the online activities of your subordinates or children. This is one area where transparent proxies have an edge over VPNs. If tracking and controlling the online activities of the personnel connected to your network is a priority to you, then transparent proxy servers are highly recommended.
Another reason you may want to use proxy servers over VPNs is the cost. However, there are tons of free VPNs available, though they are not very good at providing you with security. You need to do some research on finding a good free VPN.
Even though we recommend VPNs, in the end, it comes down to your own convenience. If you are more comfortable with proxy servers, you can definitely choose them over VPNs. Our suggestion is to give a try to both of them, browse for a while, and then decide which one suits best for your needs. Different individuals have different needs, and it is not right to recommend one over the other to all types of users.
Whatever option you choose, don’t forget to read the reviews of the VPN or proxy server you want to use. There are tons of VPNs and proxy servers out there, and some of them are really shady. That’s why reading the experiences of users who previously used the VPN or proxy server you want to use helps a lot to make a wise decision.
Remember, it’s the question of your online security. You should not try to cut any corners and end up using fishy services that compromise your security and expose you to different types of online threats.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Proxies and VPNs the Same?
No, proxies and VPNs are different from each other. While both of these can hide your IP address from third parties, their mechanism is totally different. VPNs are far more advanced than proxies. VPNs mask your data by encrypting it, while proxies do it by routing the data through a different server than your ISP.
Can I Use a Proxy and a VPN Together?
Yes, you can definitely use a proxy and a VPN together. In fact, in some situations, it is a wise decision to use the combination of both to stay safe from different areas of threat. However, you’ll need to know first if you actually have the need to use both together. The type of online activity you do will determine the need. If you don’t have the need, using them together would be an overkill.
Are Proxies Free?
There are many free proxy servers out there. You can certainly find a free proxy server for your browser. However, free proxy servers don’t provide that much security. On top of that, most free proxy servers will slow your browsing speed down.
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