VPN vs. Proxy: What is the Difference?
Proxy connects us to a remote computer, and VPN connects us to a remote computer.
We often hear about VPN and Proxy services; they help us surf the Internet anonymously. But what are they?
As you might have read on the Internet:
Considering this, both proxy and VPN must be identical, right?
While both of these technologies help you be anonymous, they work differently.
Let’s look at when you might want to use them and when they are a poor choice to use instead of the other.
Choosing Between the Two
We hear about cybercrimes, hacks, breaches, zero-day attacks, vulnerabilities, data leaks, and security concerns every week or month.
We read hundreds of news articles and blogs that shed light on how to surf safely on the Internet. These articles discuss the importance of safely surfing the Internet, like using a VPN on public Wi-Fi or in a coffee shop.
While it is an essential element of our security, these articles have one thing in common. They often talk lightly about the details; they only tell us to use VPNs and Proxy services. But they understand how VPN and Proxies work and which one to use when is also an essential element.
Often, VPN and Proxy services come at a cost. So, if you invest your money and time, you want to be sure you’re doing it for the right tool.
Although both of these technologies are slightly different, they have one thing in common: they make you appear to be using the Internet from another location.
What is a 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 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 it).
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 traffic appears to be coming from somewhere else.
Let’s say you live in the UK and want to access a geographically restricted website to only the United States. You can use a proxy server 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 a dummy IP address that belongs to the proxy server, not you.
Proxies are suitable for low-stakes tasks like watching regionally restricted videos on YouTube, creating another Gmail account when your IP limit runs out, accessing region-restricted websites, bypassing content filters, request restrictions on IP.
On the other hand, proxies are not so great for high-stakes tasks. Brokers only act as a middleman in our Internet traffic; they only serve a webpage we request.
Proxies don’t encrypt the traffic between your computer and the proxy server. They don’t strip away your identity information from your transmission beyond a simple IP swap.
Anyone with access to your traffic, like Government, ISP, or a guy snooping your data on open Wi-Fi, can snoop on your traffic.
Conversely, proxy connections are not computer-wide; they are set up on the application. You can set up proxies for applications like your web browser, BitTorrent client, or any other proxy-compatible application.
This is great if 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 web browser’s configuration file, and all your web traffic will be tunneled through the remote proxy server.
If you use a proxy server to connect to sensitive sites like banking, I urge you to use a browser only with SSL enabled and only surf websites with SSL encryption, as proxies don’t provide any encryption.
SOCKS Proxy Server
As HTTP proxies only allow web-based traffic, SOCKS is indifferent to the types of traffic that pass through it.
SOCKS allow any traffic to pass, whether from FTP, server, or BitTorrent client. The only downside of SOCKS proxies is that they are slower than good old HTTP proxies, and just like HTTP proxies, they don’t provide any encryption.
If you are looking for free proxy servers, you can find many proxies at proxy4free.
What is VPN?
VPN or Virtual Private Network is a secure tunnel (a 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, tablet, or any other) connects to a VPN, all your traffic gets diverted through a VPN server over a secure connection.
VPN Encrypt Your Connection
Just like the proxy, VPN makes your traffic to have appeared from a 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 upon. Whether it is your web traffic, BitTorrent client, game, or Windows Update, it captures traffic from all the applications on your device.
Another difference between a proxy and VPN is – VPN tunnels all your traffic through a heavily encrypted and secure connection to the VPN server.
VPN is ideal for high-stakes tasks where security and privacy are paramount. With VPN, neither your ISP, Government, nor a guy snooping over open Wi-Fi connection can access your traffic.
So the next time you are on a business trip and worried about accessing important business sites, logins, bank sites, and financial sites, you can easily set up a VPN using your laptop and access them securely.
Even if you are not out on a trip, you can benefit from a VPN to access blocked websites at your college, securely access important sites over open Wi-Fi, bypass ISP restrictions, and access regionally blocked websites.
But with all those securities comes a cost. All those heavy encryption takes its toll on computing power, bandwidth, and your pocket.
While not all VPN services are paid, good ones will take some money out of your pocket. Another cost you are going to have to pay is in terms of performance.
Proxies only pass along your traffic without any process and take little latency and no extra bandwidth. On the other hand, their encryption protocols and overheads bring both processing power and bandwidth.
VPN requires suitable hardware to run, and no matter what the VPN provider might say, VPN takes at least a 5-10% toll on your capacity. So, if you have a 100KBPS connection, expect it to run at 90-95KBPS.
The better the VPN server hardware is, the less the overheads and less impact on your capacity and performance.
For in-depth information about VPNs, you can read our detailed article here. Selecting a good VPN is a hectic task; tons of software are available on the internet.
If you don’t want to spend any money and want to use VPN for primary purposes, our recommendation is Betternet. It is free, super easy to use, and gives you unlimited data use.
As we have seen earlier, Proxies are great for low-end tasks such as IP masking and accessing region-restricted websites. But, it would be best if you used a VPN for high-stakes missions like protecting your privacy.