Both VPN and proxy help you maintain your online anonymity by masking your online identity so they may look the same to the inexperienced users. Explained simply, both these tools change your IP address connecting you to a different server than your own thus making it seem like your computer is in a different location than it actually is.
However, the technologies they use and the degree to which they protect you are completely different. Understanding these differences is crucial to choosing the right tool for your needs and staying protected at all times.
So, here's how proxy and VPN compare.
How Does Proxy Work?
A proxy server poses as the intermediary between your computer and the Internet. This means that all your traffic goes through the proxy server first and can't be traced back to you.
There are numerous benefits to using a proxy. This tool allows you to bypass geo-censorship, privately use BitTorrent and avoid IP restrictions that certain services have.
Let's see how that works in reality.
For example, you want to use a streaming platform that can only be used in the US. The problem is, you live in Europe and the content on that platform is not available in your country. Connecting to a proxy server in the US will mask your real location, make it seem your computer is located where your chosen server is located and you'll be able to access the content without any problems.
However, a proxy server has several downsides. Namely, your online activity is not encrypted. Anyone who wants to can still spy on your computer's online activity, although they won't actually know it's you. Those running the server will know your real IP address and be able to monitor your traffic.
A proxy also doesn't do anything to protect your online safety, which means that you can still be a target of cybercrime and have your sensitive data stolen.
On top of that, you can only configure one app to the proxy server at a time – like your browser or your BitTorrent client – not your whole computer.
There are several types of proxies, the most important ones being: HTTP proxies, HTTPS proxies and SOCKS proxies.
HTTP proxies are the oldest kind of proxies and they are used only for web-based traffic meaning that your browser is configured with the proxy so you can browse safely.
Most reputable websites nowadays use HTTPS proxies. These basically encrypt your data on the given website. They are much safer because your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or your proxy server owner can see that you are on a certain website, but they can't track your activity there.
SOCKS proxies are the safest option because they are used for all types of traffic. That means you can use them for safe browsing, gaming, torrenting, file sharing, etc.
Note: Stay away from free public proxies. They may seem like a good idea but they are often unsafe, even run by cybercriminals, very slow and may insert additional ads to the websites and apps you visit online.
How Does VPN Work?
Similarly to the proxy server, a VPN service hides your IP address and shifts your traffic to a different server. But unlike a proxy, a VPN encrypts the data coming and going from your device, thus making it impossible for anyone to spy on your online activity, whether it's your ISP, the government or cybercriminals.
A VPN has another important difference – it functions on the level of the whole operating system. This means that it covers your whole Internet connection and encrypts everything you do online, from browsing and file sharing to financial transactions and private communication.
While proxy server owners can easily monitor your online activity, all reputable VPN providers have a no logs policy which ensures they can't track, record or share your data with a third-party. This definitely adds another layer of security to the users.
Due to their powerful technology and versatility, VPN services have numerous advantages that make your life easier on a daily basis. You can safely use public WI-Fi, work remotely and share files securely, stream your favorite content online, handle your financial accounts and much more.
Even with all its benefits, VPN has a couple of downsides.
First of all, there are many shady VPN providers out there, and you need to know how to recognize a bad VPN and choose the one that is really worth the investment.
Since they give you a better protection alongside many other perks, VPNs will also cost you more. And since they use stronger technologies than proxies, they might slow your connection down a little.
However, VPNs actually prevent ISP bandwidth throttling which means that your connection stays fast and stable when you're streaming and gaming.
Although they might seem similar to the untrained eye, there is a world of difference between a proxy and a VPN.
A proxy can be very useful for smaller online tasks when you're not concerned about your safety that much. For example, it can be great for sneaking onto foreign servers to watch an episode of your favorite show.
But, a VPN offers you a much wider range of possibilities and gives you a much higher level of protection. With a strong and trustworthy VPN, you can rest easy knowing that all your online activity is encrypted and you can enjoy the Internet freely without any fear.