6 Major Differences - VPN vs Smart DNSUpdated: March 08, 2019
Keeping your online identity and activity private and secure has become a major interest for many people. As well as accessing location-restricted data. But what should you choose between a VPN and a Smart DNS? Because each one comes with a different primary use.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. As the name implies, it’s a virtual network (a private one, to which not many have access to).
You might have heard this “explain to me like I’m five” on Reddit. I thought I should use this opportunity and try to explain to you how a VPN works using this method.
I first heard of a VPN a few years ago, at a company. To access the server of the company in order to work from home, you had to first connect to this private network. It was the only possible way to access the documents you needed.
If you were at the office, you didn’t need to connect to it. It was kind of like a cloud service, but that cloud was in a secure room, all by itself. Back at home, it was like I had the possibility to access that room through a tunnel that required a password.
It’s just how I saw things, and I thought I should share this with you to picture the whole VPN “thing” in another way.
Letting this aside, VPN providers exists to also help the online community. Here, things go a little different than the situation above. Rather than arriving into a secret room through a tunnel, you are passing through a room that completely changes your appearance. That room has the ability to alter your appearance in such a way that on the other side of the room (remember, you’re just passing through), you’ll be unrecognizable.
This means that nobody will know who you are, hence you’ll have a level of privacy and a level of security. If they don’t know you, how can they reach you?
This is mainly how a VPN works in the online world but put into an easier and simpler to digest way.
Now you’ll have to try to understand how the VPN works by reading the explanations in a specific language, I might say.
There is a whole article that’s dedicated to how VPNs work, but you’re here I will summarize the information for you.
On the Internet, “you” is mainly represented by your IP address. This IP address can be used to identify your location, and in the end to identify you. The IP address is stuck to the network you’re connecting through, and to your computer or smartphone.
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) if it wants, can see your whole online activity. Which is not that great for you to know that you can be watched. It’s a matter of personal life, professional life and privacy as a whole. Not to mention that if the Government wants, it can watch you, too.
Maybe at some point, there was this idea that only hackers are and should be using a VPN. Nowadays, with this immense sea of information and people online, you as a common person, are totally entitled to want and to use a VPN. Simply for your own good.
Continuing, let’s take the basic example: when you search for something online, you are transmitting to a server a signal; that signal is identified and in just a matter of milliseconds, you’ll receive the information that you requested.
The VPN comes like another step in this whole process. Using a VPN, your request will first reach the VPNs servers, that are in a whole other area than yours. Through it, your IP address is basically changed; you’re “assigned” to a different location.
The signal received by the final destination server will transmit it back to the VPN servers. From there, the information is transmitted to you.
Here’s a picture that will help you visualize this process:
First of all, there is the privacy-related benefit. If someone were to search for your activity, they couldn’t. They would see and maybe even trace an IP that’s totally not yours. You’ll be the only person that will know about your online activity.
Secondly, there is the security-related benefit. This has two implications: one that is related to your privacy, and one that is related to your online activities. The first one is about that being private, you’re also ensuring your security. IF no one is able to identify you online, that also means that you have a certain degree of online security.
The second implication is about the fact that you’ll be able to do online activities, without worrying that your data can be stolen by hackers or that a similar situation can happen. Once the info gets to the VPN, the VPN encrypts it, so that on “the other side” everything is...encrypted.
Another benefit of using a VPN that is related to this online security part. The fact that your connection is secure (through a VPN), means that you’ll be able to do the following:
- Use a public Wifi with a VPN
- Make online purchases
- Safely connect to your hotel’s Wifi through a VPN
Regarding other aspects of your life, your online life, there are other main benefits that a VPN offers you.
Access any website - there are websites that restrict their visitors for a number of reasons. You might be from Asia, and you’re trying to access an American website, but that website might have a location restriction, hence you won’t be able to access it. Using a VPN will solve this issue.
With the GDPR regulation in place, non-European websites started to restrict their access. Even though they are based in USA, for example, if they’re are selling products or services to the European Union market, they should change their rules in order to be able to respect the GDPR regulation. Some don’t want to deal with this, hence they restricted the access.
Using a VPN will allow you to navigate to whatever website is restricted. Keep in mind though that if you’re from the EU, doing this may strip you off any rights you have as a user according to the GDPR. BUT the fact that everything is encrypted, nobody will actually know it’s you, so you’re still safe.
If you want to read more on the VPN and GDPR matter, here’s our article.
Watch movies and other similar things that are not available in your country - Services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime etc. offer different content based on the location. You can use a VPN to get through this. It’s true that some VPNs won’t work, because these video content providers have managed to identify the use of a VPN. Check whether a VPN will work for this before using it if you solely want to use it to stream content from other countries.
Play games that are not available in your area - sometimes a VPN can be useful for a gamer, too. There are various reasons for this, so go ahead and check our article that presents the full discussion regarding using a VPN for gaming.
Another benefit is the Kill Switch function. In case your VPN gets disconnected somehow, the Kill Switch will instantly kill your connection. In this way, you’re protected from receiving any packages that aren’t encrypted. Therefore your security will still be at a high level.
Regarding the gaming part, a benefit of the VPN is that it can help you block those DDoS attacks. Because your IP has been changed, the attack will go to the changed one, not actually to yours.
In case you somehow receive an IP ban on some gaming site or another type of website, the VPN comes to your rescue (it fools the IP ban). You’ll be the same person, but with a different IP.
Looking over to the downsides of using a VPN, I have to be honest, there aren’t many. I wouldn’t even consider them downsides, but let’s go with this.
First of all, there’s this idea that a VPN will slow down your connection. I am here to say that it may, or it may not. It depends on some things.
- Your internet connection speed - let’s say you already have a slow connection. If the VPN was to slow down connections, this will be the case where it will be pretty visible. What I mean by this is that if you have a speedy connection, you won’t even notice if the VPN is slowing it down (in most cases). The speed related problem usually happens because the VPN encripts the data: it receives it unencrypted from you, then it sends it and receives it encrypted, as well as sending it back to you encrypted.
- The type of VPN - paying that extra money will sometimes pay off, and you know this. Free VPNs are free for a reason (they don’t offer you as many servers to connect to, they are poorly built or something else). The ones that you have to pay for, have a really big chance to be much better built and have much more servers. Hence, you’ll have a smoother connection, without slowing it down.
Second of all, your online security falls right into your own hands. The VPN protects you in the cases I’ve mentioned above. A VPN won’t protect you if you have poor passwords, or if you don’t use two-factor authentication whenever it’s possible.
The last downside or inconvenience related to VPNs is money. As I said above, for a good one you might need to pay some money, even though it’ll be like $5 per month. For some, that isn’t priority expense, so they’ll stick with the free ones. There are also the reasons that one might not use a VPN every day; maybe one is using it only on travels, so the subscription method isn’t something that helps.
Just keep in mind that it can happen for free VPN services to have other kinds of problems; for example, your data might be at risk. Be careful with what you choose.
Let’s start with the DNS part.
It’s is the translator: it transforms the text form (like www.drsoft.com) into IP addresses so that computers can understand what you’re “saying”. In a general way of saying this, DNS is the one responsible with showing your location to the World Wide Web.
A Smart DNS is a DNS that has special abilities. It’s like the translator has the ability to hypnotize the websites, to make them “believe” something else.
Remember what I’ve told you about the process of navigating online. You request a piece of information, the signal arrives to the servers, and it triggers them into sending the requested information. In this process, your IP address is connected (related) to your location.
A Smart DNS will trick the servers into “thinking” that you have a different location, without changing your IP address. It does this without adding another step in the connection. That “step” already exists, it’s basically just transmitted slightly different.
You should know that only parts of your traffic will benefit from this process. A Smart DNS, being smart, knows what websites you shouldn’t be exposed to, and it only tricks them.
Taking into consideration the process of how does a Smart DNS work, some say that it is a fast option to use. It doesn’t change the speed of your internet connection, because there’s no other step in the process that needs to be completed.
At this I should add the part that I mentioned above: the Smart DNS will only trick the websites that “need” to be tricked. It will not run all of your traffic through this process.
Smart DNS it’s also good for playing games. Some Smart DNS providers help you play games from PlayStation.
Another benefit is that it is simple to install. Actually, you don’t even have to install an app or software for this. You just have to pick a SmartDNS provider, and change the DNS of your device; “tell” it to connect to the Smart DNS server, and voila! That’s it.
The Smart DNS server will have that list of websites that are blocking users because of their location. It will read your location and will connect you through a server that will allow you to access a website that has restricted access. Some Smart DNS even let you input the exact website you want to access.
Having this in mind, the Smart DNS is a quite easy and efficient solution if you want to get past the geo-location barrier. The benefit of using a Smart DNS is that you’ll access the websites that you want, making your life easier. Or you can use it to access location-restricted content, like the one from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and other platforms.
In case your ISP is blocking social media platforms, well...this is can be a good option to use.
Let’s not forget that a Smart DNS is compatible with almost all devices. The easy “installation” makes this possible. You can use it on Smart TVs, gaming stations, laptops, and all of that.
Coming to the downsides of using a Smart DNS, I must say that there’s a pretty big one. It might not interest everybody, but it’s still there.
I’m talking about the privacy part. There is no encryption when you’re using a Smart DNS because it wasn’t built for this.
Also, a Smart DNS doesn’t hide the IP address. It doesn’t actually change it, it just tricks the website that you’re trying to access to see that you’re from a whole different location.
I said that this is a major downside because nowadays people are trying more and more to maintain their privacy as well as they can. If the Smart DNS doesn’t offer this, then it’s a bummer.
Besides, a Smart DNS will still strip you of any rights that the GDPR gives you (if you’re from EU), in case you’re trying to access websites that aren’t from EU and that don’t have any regulations regarding EU users. This is because it doesn’t encrypt anything, your data is not anonymized.
We now, or you now know all about these two options: VPN and Smart DNS. Let’s revise all of the features mentioned above and compare them.
As I said, a VPN is more powerful and it all comes to the fact that it changes your IP, and to the fact that it ecrypts your data. But doing this means that is has a lot more to deal with, than a Smart DNS that only changes your location.
Therefore, depending on the VPN that you’re using and depending on your internet connection, the speed might be slowed down. As opposed to a Smart DNS usage, where this doesn't happen.
A VPN completely changes your IP and encrypts your data. Your security and privacy levels are not even comparable with the ones offered by a Smart DNS.
Why? Because a Smart DNS only offers you a different door through which you can access a website, but it doesn’t change your IP nor it encrypts your traffic.
This leads to fewer situations when you can use a Smart DNS compared to the situations when you can use a VPN. You’ll only be able to make use of a Smart DNS in case you just need to access content that’s location-restricted.
Keep in mind that if you’re from the European Union, using a Smart DNS to access content that’s blocked from your area, you might lose all of your European citizen rights that GDPR offers you. This is because your data isn’t anonymized. Your IP will be visible and stored to the restricted website’s database. Given the fact that you can be identified, in case something happens, you’ll not be able to use your rights of restriction, usage, erase and so on. Why? Because that website restricted its access due to the fact that it didn’t embrace the rules of GDPR; it doesn’t reach to the EU market, so why should it have embraced them?
Worth mentioning is that if you use a Smart DNS for the above purpose on your work laptop, and if something happens, I believe that the company that you work for will be held accountable. So don’t put yourself into this situation.
The advantage of a VPN is that the data is anonymized. Even though the IP is stored to the restricted website’s database, it can’t be traced back to you.
A VPN will help you safely use public wifis, while a Smart DNS will not. This circles back to the anonymization power of a VPN.
If you want to use a VPN you’d have to download an app, install an extension or even download a software. This might make the installation process a bit harder than the Smart DNS’s one.
Those that use a Smart DNS just have to connect to a Smart DNS server. They don’t need another app or software for this.
In order to use a VPN, you need some kind of third party app. Some VPN offer this Kill Switch function, which protects you in case the VPN connection is lost; the internet connection will be cut off so that you’ll no receive any non-encrypted data packages.
A Smart DNS doesn’t have this function.
A Smart DNS only changes your geo-location, it doesn’t change your IP. Therefore, if someone were to push a DDoS attack on you, you’ll not be protected.
A VPN changes the IP and it also encrypts the data. Hence the attack will be sent to another IP, not yours.
Again, because a VPN changes your IP, you’ll not be affected by an IP ban. There’s only the case when the use of a VPN is restricted; some games and some services, like Netflix, managed to create an algorithm that identifies the use of a VPN and doesn’t let you go any further.
You can fool an IP ban with a Smart DNS, though.
Ask yourself what do you actually need - security and privacy or just access. It all comes down to this part.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, then use a VPN. Here’s the list of the VPN benefits I’ve mentioned, as well as the downsides. Take a look at them and make a list of pros and cons.
- It changes your IP
- Kill Switch
- It encryptes data
- IP ban fool
- Access location-restricted content (video, music, games, other websites)
- Protect yourself from DDoS attacks
- Has multiple servers to which you can connect
- It can have some speed problems
- You need a software/app
In case you just want to access content that’s not available in your area, then a Smart DNS is the simplest solution. But you’ll only be doing that. Take a look at the list below and make a list of pros and cons regarding the choice of using a Smart DNS:
- Access location-restricted content (video, music, games, other websites)
- Your data is not encrypted
- The IP isn’t changed
- No speed problems
- You don’t need an app
- Has a list of IP, but most of the time, only one server.
I hope I helped your decision of choosing between a VPN and a Smart DNS. If it helped you, be sure to share it with your friends and acquaintances.
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