The interest in security solutions is increasing because of the risks one is subjected to when connecting to the internet. And two of the most popular ways of creating a private connection are VPNs and proxies. But there’s a big difference between VPN vs proxy.
One common question that circles around is Are VPN and proxies the same thing?
The easy answer is no.
VPN and proxies are two completely different things. Actually, the only thing they have in common is that they both allow you to connect to the internet like you’re connected from a different location. But the way they manage to do that and the level of encryption on both sides is totally different.
I’ll go through the traits of both VPN and proxies so you get a better understanding of how each of them works and what’s the big difference between VPN vs proxies.
What is a VPN connection?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network connection and it’s a way of accessing the internet in a private and secure manner. Besides nobody being able to see your IP address and your internet browsing behavior, VPNs are highly popular because they let you access websites like you’re being in a different location.
How does VPN work?
To use a VPN, you first need to register for a VPN service. After the registration, you’ll need to install a software on your device which is usually referred to as a VPN client.
You’ll see that VPN providers have servers located in multiple locations around the world. Meaning you can pick your desired location (really useful when you want to access region-restricted services).
When you set up a VPN connection, the connection is established at an operating system level. Meaning all applications connected to the internet will connect through the VPN server. This includes the web browsers, games, BitTorrent, and even the apps updates taking place.
How a VPN works is it creates a secure tunnel between your device and the internet and all the data that’s being transferred between your device and the VPN server is encrypted.
You can use a VPN server on devices like your laptop, PC, smartphone, or tablet.
What does a VPN hide?
Besides hiding your IP, a VPN server creates a secure and private connection.
A VPN encrypts the connection between your device and the VPN server. Meaning no one, including your ISP and the Government, can’t see the data exchange between your computer and the VPN server.
- A VPN does hide your browsing from your ISP, the Government, and from possible attackers.
- Your IP address, meaning your real location is not visible.
Why use a VPN?
VPNs were originally used by big organizations to protect their confidential data and to make it easy for remote employees to connect to the business network. But, nowadays, a personal VPN is a great idea both for small businesses and individuals because of the high risks of scams and getting attacked by hackers.
Your data can be at risk in various cases and a VPN will make sure nobody can sniff your information.
There are multiple reasons why one should use a VPN server.
- When you connect to public WiFi networks (E.g. coffee shops, hotels).
- If you travel to foreign countries.
- When you want to access your home network remotely.
- If you want to bypass regional restrictions on specific websites (e.g. Netflix).
So you do need a VPN if you’re:
- Often connecting to public WiFi networks
- Work with confidential information
- Run a digital business
- Share sensitive files with others
- Travel a lot
- If you don’t want your ISP to be able to sell your data to third parties
- If you work in a place where certain websites are restricted – a VPN will bypass the restrictions
- To keep yourself safe when downloading torrents
How to get a VPN
If you want the protection a VPN gives you, you have to invest in a service.
There are free VPN providers out there but you should never use a free VPN server. You can be more at risk with a free VPN service than without a VPN. The VPN provider can keep a record of your internet traffic and sell your information to third parties.
Also, a paid VPN service doesn’t guarantee total security as they can keep logs of your browsing which can be given to the Government if necessary. That’s why you need to pay attention when choosing a VPN provider. Before registering for a service, look to see if they keep track of your data.
What is a proxy server?
A proxy server works as a gateway between your device and the internet. When you send a request to access a website, the request will first go through the proxy server and the data from the website will be forwarded to you.
There are two main types of proxies
- HTTP: These are the older types of proxy servers and they can only support web traffic.
- SOCKS: There proxy servers can also handle traffic from FTP servers and BitTorrent clients. They are slower than HTTPs because of their increased complexity.
How do proxies work?
A proxy server acts as a middleman between your browser and the website you’re accessing.
When you access a website, a request for connection is sent from your ISP to the website. In this process, your IP is visible to the site. When you use a proxy server, the request goes from your ISP to the proxy server and then to the website. In this case, your real IP is hidden and you’ll appear connected with the proxy server’s IP.
Unlike VPNs, when you set up a proxy connection, you don’t redirect the whole internet connection.
To connect to a proxy server, you need to configure the specific web browser you want connecting through the proxy. Meaning only the internet connection that’s made through that configured browser has the IP changed. The rest of the web browsers will still connect with your local IP.
What does a proxy hide?
A proxy hides your IP address.
When you connect to a website through a proxy server, the site you’re accessing is not able to see your real IP but the IP of the proxy server you’re connected to.
Let’s say you’re in São Paulo and you want to see a YouTube video that’s only enabled for US users. By connecting through a proxy server that’s located in the US, YouTube will see the traffic like it is coming from the US.
Unfortunately, the IP is the only thing a proxy hides.
The traffic between your device and the proxy server is not encrypted. None of your connection is encrypted, the only thing that’s changed is the IP address.
Meaning, with only a proxy server, you’re not protected against hackers trying to sniff your data. The ISP and the Government also have access to your data.
Why use a proxy server?
Proxies are usually used for easy tasks like:
- Watching YouTube videos that are restricted in certain regional areas.
- Bypassing content filters.
- To bypass restrictions to certain websites that are often met in workspaces and schools.
- If you’re traveling to locations that block your access to specific content.
- If you don’t want the websites you access to know your real IP and location.
For example, some services track they users based on their IP and not by the login credentials. Which can pose a problem in households. For example, if you want to give your vote on a contest, your vote is most likely registered based on the IP. Meaning another person in the same household can’t give his vote because you will both have the same IP. With the help of proxies, all the people in the house can vote for they favorite contestant without any restrictions.
For this kind of tasks, a proxy server is perfect. So if you only want to bypass some regional restrictions, you can happily use proxies. But they are not suited if you want to prevent your data from being stolen or to safely connect to public WiFi networks.
How to get a proxy
There’s a variety of proxy solutions out there. And you’ll find there are also a lot of free proxy servers. But, how it happens in most cases with free stuff, they are not the best option to turn to. Free proxies are slower and their uptime is usually low.
You can opt for a free proxy for a quick single task that’s not extremely important. But if you plan on using a proxy on a regular basis, your best bet is to pay for a proxy service.
You can find affordable proxy services out there. One of those is ChangemyIP.
The difference between VPN and Proxy
If you’ve gone through the explanation on both VPN and proxies, you might’ve noticed that the difference between VPN and proxy is quite obvious.
- Both proxy and VPN hide your IP address.
- A VPN encrypts the data sent from your device to the internet so nobody has access to it, not even your ISP. A proxy server only hides your IP but it doesn’t encrypt your connection.
You should use a proxy server only if you’re interested in connecting to the internet using a different IP.
If you want to add a layer of protection and security to your connection, a VPN will do that for you.
Advantages of a Proxy server
- It hides your IP address.
- Proxies are usually faster. A VPN service will slow down your connection as it’s a more complex service.
- Proxies are cheaper.
Disadvantages of a Proxy server
- Only your IP is hidden, the rest of your connection is not encrypted.
- It must be set up on the specific application you want your IP hidden in.
- Your IP can still be visible on some websites.
- If you use a free proxy it will be slow and not always working.
- While proxies make you somewhat anonymous, this doesn’t translate in security.
Advantages of VPN
- It encrypts all the data that’s being transferred between your device and the internet.
- The ISP and the government don’t have access to your browsing behavior.
- You can download and transfer data and torrents without the fear of being tracked.
- It creates a secure tunnel where you can use public WiFi networks without being vulnerable to hackers.
Disadvantages of VPN
- It’s more costly than a proxy.
You can better see the difference between proxy and VPN in the bellow visual.
Make sure you check the laws in your country regarding VPN as in some locations there are stricter laws on VPN services.
The difference between VPN vs proxy for torrenting
When it comes to torrenting, you can use both a proxy server or a VPN.
But of course, the disadvantages of proxies not encrypting your connection still hold true. If you use a proxy for torrenting, you set up the proxy server on BitTorrent, but the traffic on the browser you download the torrent file from will still use your IP. You can also set up your browser to use the proxy server, but this means having to take an additional step.
With a VPN, both BitTorrent and your browser are connecting anonymously without having to configure them separately.
One advantage of using a proxy server for torrenting is that a proxy is faster than a VPN. But this might not hold true for free proxies, because they are being used by various people at the same time.
If you choose to use a proxy for torrenting, you should use a SOCKS proxy rather than an HTTP one. You can read more about why here.
VPN and Proxy together
One question that remains is if you can use proxy and VPN at the same time.
And the answer is yes.
Using both proxy and VPN will boost the level of security for your internet connections. The most common reason why people choose to use both of them at once is for having a backup security layer. If the VPN stops working, your real IP will be showing. And by also having a proxy set up, the proxy server IP will kick in when the VPN crashes, keeping your real IP hidden.
But using a VPN and a Proxy together also comes with disadvantages. Because there are more protocols and encryption taking place, it will slow your connection.
The easiest and most stable way to use a proxy and a VPN at once is to purchase them from the same provider.
What’s better: VPN or Proxy
The answer should be clear until now.
A VPN is way better than a proxy server as it creates an encryption and not only changes your IP.
Still, it all depends on what your needs are. If you only want to access YouTube to see a video that’s restricted in your country or to watch a football game, then a proxy server is enough.
But if you want to create a secure connection for your internet browsing, only a VPN can help. A proxy server provides no security.