Proxy Server vs VPN
When looking for a tool to increase your online privacy, the option falls between a proxy server and a virtual private network (VPN.)
Because both options are similar, it’s easy to confuse them. VPN services are considered the golden standard of online privacy but are also pricey. On the other hand, proxy servers also keep your IP address hidden and cost less.
So which is best for you?
- Proxy Servers and VPNs: Both serve as intermediaries in network connections but differ significantly. A proxy server only reroutes your internet traffic, masking your IP address, but lacks encryption, hence doesn’t provide the full security of a VPN.
- VPN Superiority: VPNs offer robust security by encrypting all data sent and received. This not only hides the user’s IP address but also protects sensitive information from potential eavesdropping, making VPNs a preferable choice for secure browsing and privacy.
- Usage Cases: Proxy servers are typically faster and ideal for low-stakes tasks such as bypassing geo-restrictions on content. VPNs, while potentially slower due to encryption, are essential for secure operations like online banking or confidential communication.
What is a Proxy Server?
Let’s start with defining a proxy and the purpose of a proxy connection. A proxy is essentially an intermediary server that hides a specific user’s internet traffic.
The proxy server stands between your computer and the internet and hides your IP address. Before connecting to the internet, your browser connects to the proxy server, and then the proxy server connects it to the internet.
Proxy servers are incredibly useful for keeping your browsing activity hidden and allowing you to access Geo-restricted websites.
Essentially, a proxy server is a remote public server, typically managed via a web app or software program.
Also, proxy servers are designed to work on an application level, usually only the browser or one app. They cannot cover the entire internet activity from a single device.
What is a VPN?
A VPN or a virtual private network works by creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and a host server.
Virtual private networks rely on a public network to connect to websites or other users. A VPN provider creates “virtual” connections via the internet between private networks and remote sites.
A VPN server provides end-to-end encryption and protects your sensitive data. It allows you to access certain websites safely and even use a video streaming app without Geo-restrictions. VPN services are like secure couriers of web traffic and deliver requested information directly to your screen.
Like a proxy server, a VPN server hides your IP address and allows you to choose a different location. A well-established VPN provider typically has numerous servers all around the world, allowing clients to choose the desired location.
Types of Proxy Servers
Not all proxy servers are the same, and there are several options users can consider. They differ in their functionality and application.
Understanding these differences can help you research proxy service providers and choose the right option.
This type of proxy server only caters to web pages. They’re the go-to choice for those who want to access websites with certain restrictions and generally surf the web without roadblocks. HTTP proxies are limited to internet traffic on an HTTP level and usually work with a browser only.
A SOCKS proxy is not as limited as an HTTP proxy but still only operates on the application level. However, instead of just a browser, you can use a SOCKS proxy to safely play online games, use video streaming services, or navigate a P2P platform.
A SOCKS proxy server doesn’t interpret online activity and is generally quite flexible. But if the proxy server handles too much traffic, the connection slows down.
Public Proxy Servers
What makes public proxy servers special is that they accept multiple proxy connections from multiple users simultaneously. Many proxy servers these days offer this type of service for free, which makes them appealing to many users.
However, free proxy connections are not the most stable, and they vary in speed significantly, depending on the proxy server provider.
A free proxy service sounds great, but you can never be sure whether to trust the providers with online activity.
Private Proxy Servers
Of course, private proxy servers are more exclusive and usually require a monthly subscription. In return, this type of proxy server is more reliable and reputable and usually comes with comprehensive customer support. Furthermore, private proxy servers offer customized software to their clients.
Transparent Proxy Servers
The proxy servers’ main purpose is gaining access to restricted websites. But did you know they are often used for the exact opposite reason?
Schools, universities, and parents use proxies to prevent students and their children from reaching specific websites.
These transparent proxy servers are “transparent” because the user is not aware of their existence. They can establish an internet connection without understanding why some pages are restricted.
Types of VPNs
When a device communicates with a VPN server, the VPN client uses data encryption to access remotely a website you want to reach.
VPNs encrypt your request and hide it from your internet service provider, making sure any sensitive data remains protected.
A VPN service enables this type of data security using different VPN protocols, and here are some of the most common examples.
Remote Access VPN
Without a doubt, this type is the most widely used VPN. A remote access VPN protocol connects a client with a private network via a remote access server.
It creates an internet connection tunnel between the user and the virtual private network, typically ensuring a secure connection and excellent data protection.
Many large corporations rely on site-to-site networking because they have numerous users at many different locations.
Because they share resources, a site-to-site VPN service allows safer data transfer and protects the company against data breaches.
The point-to-point tunneling protocol, or PPTP, is one of the oldest VPN protocols. It’s fast but outdated in terms of protecting data, and rarely any premium VPN service offers it to its users.
This VPN protocol has been around for 20 years and is considered to ensure the most secure VPN connection, both by experts and users.
One of the best features of OpenVPN is that it is open-source and has the support of a large community that continuously improves it.
Proxy vs VPN: Crucial Differences
We’ve defined proxies and VPNs, their similarities, and which types are available to users. But when choosing what type of solution you need for managing your online activity, highlighting the differences is more important.
So, when it comes to proxy vs VPN, there are features that users should keep in mind.
When a data breach occurs, it’s usually discovered that no security measures were implemented. People who are vigilant about their online presence tend to make the effort to protect their data. So, how safe are VPN and proxy internet connections?
By design, proxies provide less secure connections compared to VPNs. This is particularly the case when it comes to public or free proxy services. However, free VPN services are not the safest choice either.
On the other hand, a well-established commercial VPN service is usually pretty safe to use. VPN providers encrypt your data, whereas proxies do not.
They hide your data from websites you visit and internet service providers, ensuring your employer or the government can’t track your online activity.
Keep in mind that not all VPN providers offer the same quality of service, so it’s crucial to do your own research.
Anonymity is something a lot of people strive for when choosing between VPN and proxy services.
Due to privacy concerns, many choose to limit their online activities or rely on a secure VPN server on an operating system level.
That means they install a VPN client to their device and have all of their data encrypted, no matter what they do.
So, even if they use a public WiFi network, they remain protected. VPNs completely hide your IP address and usually don’t keep any logs of your activity.
Proxies hide your IP from websites, but the proxy server owner may still see the IP and store it. Finally, it’s important to point out that remaining entirely anonymous is an increasingly difficult task, even with the best VPN setup.
This is another essential factor to consider when determining which service is best for your needs. Again, the proxy servers vs VPN servers debate is a short one – VPNs offer much faster connection speeds.
If you’re using a free proxy server, the connection speeds will likely be abysmal and quite frustrating. Indeed, private proxies may offer better speeds, but they still can’t compare to a legitimate VPN provider.
Due to encryption, VPN users may experience some latency, but that’s usually measured in milliseconds. Furthermore, some VPNs even manage to speed up user connections because they use networks of worldwide data centers.
Both VPN and proxy providers range in terms of scope of service and cost. Of course, you can always rely on free proxy servers or VPNs, but that’s rarely a good strategy.
For better data protection, you’ll likely need to opt for a paid subscription, and the prices may vary drastically. Usually, the same company has both proxies and VPN servers and several subscription packages to choose from.
But overall, considering that a VPN offers more comprehensive security, privacy, and speeds, it’s a cost-effective solution.
Advantages of Using a Proxy Server
Here’s a quick overview of all the benefits of relying on a proxy server for business or personal use.
It efficiently hides your IP address and brings you closer to online anonymity.
A proxy server allows access to Geo-restricted content.
Transparent proxies prevent access to specific websites while hiding their presence.
Proxies are usually easy to set up and use.
Disadvantages of Using Proxy Servers
Proxies are practical and popular, but they have some vulnerabilities. Here are a few drawbacks of using proxies to manage your online presence.
Most proxies log user IPs, so the server owner can inspect your identity if they choose.
Proxies are usually application-based and do not work on an entire network or operating system.
A proxy server does not encrypt your data, which puts you at a higher risk.
Connections speeds are usually slower compared to VPNs.
Advantages of Using VPNs
Many cyber security experts will recommend a VPN as the go-to choice for online security, and here are a few reasons that support that.
VPNs hide your IP address and provide a new one.
With a VPN, you can safely use a public WiFi network.
Many VPN services offer comprehensive encryptions that thoroughly secure your data.
You have unrestricted access to streaming content.
A VPN reduces the chances of a cyber attack.
A single VPN account can protect multiple devices.
All of your activity is hidden once you connect to a VPN.
Disadvantages of Using VPNs
Of course, VPNs are not perfect, and it’s vital to know what the downsides are before investing in an expensive subscription.
While some services may speed your connection, others will slow it down.
VPN connections often break, which can create various issues.
Some VPN services are quite pricey, especially for commercial purposes.
Some VPNs keep logs, so it’s crucial to check before committing to a plan.
Proxy vs VPN – Which One Is Right for You?
The easiest way to determine whether a proxy or a VPN is right for you is to ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. If your only goal is to bypass certain geographical restrictions, an inexpensive proxy service will do the trick.
The same applies if you want to stealthily implement restrictions on the devices you use at home or at work. But for comprehensive data protection and better speeds, the VPN is a logical solution.
Indeed, VPN services cost more, but it’s the only way to protect yourself properly online and have unrestricted access to content.
Should You Use a Free Proxy or VPN?
Many people rely on proxy or free VPN browser plugins every day to quickly resolve certain restrictions. But even a few minutes online with an unsafe connection leaves your device vulnerable to attacks. If you’re going to use a free VPN or proxy, make sure to research the service as much as possible.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
Can you use proxy and VPN together?
Yes, you can use both services together to enhance the anonymity aspect. Often, the best strategy is to use a VPN client with a built-in proxy service.
Are VPNs better than proxies?
Some might argue that they are, but it’s more a matter of what you’re trying to achieve. For encrypted data, VPNs are a must because proxies do not offer this feature.
Can you use proxies and VPNs for emailing?
Yes, many people use VPNs and proxies for more secure emailing. Sending an email via VPN or proxy changes your IP and prevents the email sender from being identified.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab