We often hear about VPN and Proxy services, they help us to surf the Internet anonymously. But, what actually are they?
As you might have read on the Internet –
“Proxy connects us to a remote computer and VPN also connects us to a remote computer”.
Considering this, both proxy and VPN none the less, must be same, right?
While both of these technologies help you be anonymous but, they work in a different way.
Let’s look at when you might wanna use them and when they are a poor choice to use instead of the other.
Choosing Between the Two
Every week or month we keep hearing about cyber crimes, hacks, data breach, zero-day attacks, vulnerabilities, data leaks, and security concerns.
We read hundreds of news articles and blogs which shades light on how to surf safely on the Internet. All these articles talk about the importance of surfing the Internet safely like using VPN on public Wi-Fi or in the coffee shop.
While it is an important element of our security, but all of these articles have one thing in common. They often talk lightly about the details, they only tell us to use VPN’s and Proxy services. But, understanding how VPN and Proxies work and which one to use when is also an important element.
Often times, VPN and Proxy services come at a cost. So, if you are going to invest your money and time, you wanna be sure you’re doing it for the right tool.
Although both of these technologies are slightly different, they provide one thing in common: they make you appear as you are using the Internet from another location.
What is Proxy?
Let’s start with the meaning of the word “Proxy“. According to the web, “the Proxy is a substitute acting in place of other”. Usually, proxies are used to bypass the firewall restrictions. To understand better think of it as your friend, who signs for attendance in case of your absence (if the teacher doesn’t detect).
Proxies only Hide your IP address
As I have mentioned above, proxies only act as a middleman between you and the Internet traffic, so that your Internet traffic appears to be coming from somewhere else.
Let’s say you live in the UK and you want to access a website which is geographically restricted to only in the United States. You can use a proxy server located in the United States and log in to the website. The traffic from your browser would appear to be originated from remote IP located in the United States instead of yours.
A proxy server acts as a middleman between you and the web server you are trying to access. The website you visit doesn’t know who you are because they get dummy IP address which belongs to the proxy server, not you.
Proxies are good for the low-stakes task like: watching regionally restricted videos on YouTube, creating another Gmail account when your IP limit ran out, accessing region restricted websites, bypassing content filters, request restrictions on IP.
On the other hand, proxies are not so great for the high-stakes task. As we know, proxies only act as a middleman in our Internet traffic, they only serve a webpage which we are requesting them to serve.
Proxies don’t encrypt the traffic between your computer and proxy server. They don’t strip away your identity information from your transmission beyond a simple IP swap.
Anyone with a access to your traffic like: Government, ISP, or a guy snooping your data on open Wi-Fi can snoop your traffic.
On the last note, proxy connections are not computer-wide, they are set up by application basis. You can setup proxies for applications like your web-browser, BitTorrent client, or any other proxy compatible application.
You Might Also Like: 3 Quick Ways to Setup Proxies On Your PC.
This is great in case you want only a particular application to redirect your traffic. But, not much in case you want your whole traffic to be redirected.
There are two common types of proxy server protocols – HTTP and SOCKS
HTTP Proxy Server
It is the oldest type of proxy server protocol designed for web-based traffic. You can set up the proxy server in the configuration file of web browser and all your web traffic will be tunnelled through the remote proxy server.
If you are using a proxy server to connect to sensitive sites like banking, I urge you to use browser only with SSL enabled and only surf websites which has SSL encryption as proxies don’t provide any kind of encryption.
SOCKS Proxy Server
As HTTP proxies only allow web-based traffic, SOCKS is indifferent to types of traffic that pass through it.
SOCKS allows any type of traffic to pass through it, whether it is from FTP, server, or BitTorrent client. The only downside of SOCKS proxies are that they are slower than good old HTTP proxies and just like HTTP proxy, they don’t provide any kind of encryption.
If you are looking for free proxy servers, you can find tons of proxies at proxy4free.
What is VPN?
VPN or Virtual Private Network is a secure tunnel (private network) between two or more devices across the Internet (public network). VPN helps you to create a secure connection with others over the internet. When your device (computer, smartphone, tablets or any other) connects to a VPN, all of your traffic gets diverted through VPN server over a secure connection.
VPN Encrypt Your Connection
Just like the proxy, VPN makes your traffic to have appeared from the remote IP address that is not yours. But, that’s when all the similarities end.
Unlike a proxy, VPN is set at the operating system level, it captures all the traffic coming from the device it is set up on. Whether it is your web traffic, BitTorrent client, game, or a Windows Update, it captures traffic from all the applications from your device.
Another difference between proxy and VPN is – VPN tunnels all your traffic through heavily encrypted and secure connection to the VPN server.
This makes VPN an ideal solution high-stakes tasks where security and privacy are of paramount of importance. With VPN, neither your ISP, Government, or a guy snooping over open Wi-Fi connection can access your traffic.
So the next time you are on business trip and worried about accessing important business sites, logins, bank sites, financial sites, you can easily setup VPN using your laptop and access them securely.
Even if you are not out on a trip, you can benefit from VPN for accessing blocked websites at your college, securely accessing important sites over open Wi-Fi, bypassing ISP restriction, and accessing regionally blocked sites.
But with all those securities comes a cost. All those heavy encryption takes their toll on computing power, bandwidth, and your pocket.
While not all VPN services are paid, but good ones are gonna take some money out of your pocket. Another cost you are gonna have to pay is in terms of performance.
Proxies only pass along your traffic without any process and take an only small amount of latency and no extra bandwidth. VPN on the other hand, because of their encryption protocols and overheads they take both processing power and bandwidth.
VPN requires good hardware to run and no matter what VPN provider might say, VPN takes at least 5-10% toll on your bandwidth. So, if you have 100KBPS connection, expect it to run at 90-95KBPS.
The better the VPN server hardware is, less the overheads and in turn less impact on your bandwidth and performance.
If you want in-depth information about VPN you can read our detailed articles on VPN here. Selecting good VPN is a hectic task, there are tons of software available on the internet.
If you don’t wanna spend any money and just wanna use VPN for basic purposes, our recommendation is Betternet, it is free, super easy to use and gives you unlimited data to use.
As we have seen earlier, Proxies are great for low-end tasks such as IP masking, accessing region restricted websites. But, for the high-stakes tasks, like protecting your privacy, you will be needing to use VPN.