Proxy vs VPN: What’s the Difference?

What is better for anonymous Internet connection: proxy or VPN (virtual private network)? Read which purposes they serve for, and in which situation this or that solution can be better.
Proxy vs VPN: What’s the Difference?

What is better for anonymous Internet connection: proxy or VPN (virtual private network)? Read which purposes they serve for, and in which situation this or that solution can be better.

Both proxy and a VPN serve for the same purpose: they connect you to a remote computer to access websites and Internet resources. However, these are not the same things. Let’s find out when you may want to use each, and why proxy isn’t a good substitute for VPN.

Choosing the Right Tool is Crucial

Data leaking, encryption issues, snooping and other digital privacy violations have become very widespread. A lot of specialists talk about boosting the security of your Internet connection by using VPN (virtual private network) while you’re in a public place, but there’s not so much information about the details. How do proxy servers and VPN connections that we hear about every day actually function? If you want to improve the security of your project, make sure that you choose the right tool with suitable features.

Although they’re different in their essence, proxies and VPN have one thing in common: they allow you connecting to the Internet virtually from another location. However, how they perform this task and the degree to which encryption, privacy and other features are present, varies considerably. What is the difference between a Proxy and VPN Service?

Proxy Hides Your IP Address

A proxy server is a kind of mediator in the flow of your Internet traffic, it allows you performing Internet activities as if they’re coming from somewhere else. For instance, you’re physically in China and want to log into a website that has access limitations: only people from United Kingdom can log into. Then you can connect to a proxy server that’s located in the UK, and open that website. The traffic from your website will originate from a remote computer, not your own one.

Proxies are suitable for some unimportant tasks like watching YouTube videos, bypassing content filters or IP restrictions for some services. This can also be applicable, when you need to imitate visiting one and the same website from different accounts or IP addresses (for instance, to get a daily bonus).

However, proxy servers are not very good for high-stake tasks. They can only hide your IP address and act like mediator for your Internet traffic. The traffic between the proxy server and your computer isn’t encrypted, and there are no additional privacy and security considerations. The information about your transmissions can be obtained.

Anyone with access to the stream of information (service provider, state security services, or someone sniffing Wi-Fi traffic in a public place, etc.) can snoop your traffic. Besides, certain exploits like JavaScript elements and Flash can show your real identity. That makes proxy servers not suitable for mission-critical tasks, because the operator or a malicious user of Wi-Fi spot can steal your data.

Besides, proxy server connection is application based, but not computer-wide. You cannot configure the entire computer to connect to the proxy – you can configure your browser and BitTorrent client and other proxy-compatible applications. That’s great, if you just need a single applications to connect to proxy, but not suitable, if you want to redirect the entire Internet connection.

The two most widespread proxy server protocols are HTTP and SOCKS.

HTTP Proxies

HTTP proxy is the oldest type of them that’s created for web-based traffic. You just need to plug the server into browser configuration file (if your browser doesn’t support proxy, you need a special extension), and all your traffic will be routed via a remote proxy.

If you need an HTTP proxy to connect to a sensitive service like a bank or email, you need to use a browser with SSL enabled, and connect to a website that supports SSL encryption. Proxies don’t encrypt traffic, so you need to provide it.

SOCKS Proxies

The SOCKS proxy system is an extension of the HTTP proxy system. SOCKS is indifferent to the type of traffic that passes going via it. While HTTP proxy can only handle web traffic, a SOCKS server simply passes along any upcoming traffic, whether it’s for an FTP server, web server, a BitTorrent client, and so on. If you want to secure BitTorrent traffic, you should use BTGuard, an anonymizing SOCKS proxy service established in Canada.

The main drawback of SOCKS proxies is that they work slower than simply HTTP proxies because of higher overhead, and like HTTP proxies they don’t have encryption in-built, so you need to apply it to your connection.

How to Choose a Proxy

Although the Net is full of free proxy servers, almost all of them offer pretty poor uptime. Such services can only be suitable for simple tasks that take a few minutes, but it’s not appropriate to rely on free proxies when you have something more or less important. If you know for sure which servers won’t violate your privacy and they are worth your trust, that may be a sensible option. Some specialists recommend a free and well-established database called Proxy4Free.

Although there are some stand-alone commercial services like BTGuard, development of faster computers and mobile devices together with quicker communications (that reduce the impact of encryption overhead) made proxy inferior to VPN (virtual private networks).

What Makes Virtual Private Networks Superior?

Like proxy, a virtual private network makes your traffic look like it comes from a remote IP address. But the principle of action is completely different. VPN is set at the level of operating system, and VPN connection captures the whole network connection of the device used. Therefore, VPN captures the traffic of every application on your computer starting from your web browser and finishing by software updating. It’s not just a mediator for a single application or a web-browser.

Besides, the whole process goes through a deeply encrypted tunnel between your computer and a remote network. That makes VPN connection perfect for all impotant tasks when security is of high concern. With a VPN, no one can access the information transmitted between you and the VPN server. For example, if you travel to another country ad want to login to your financial website, email or home network, you can easily set up the configuration using your laptop. Besides, with a VPN you don’t have to worry about security issues and Wi-Fi in coffee shops and other public places full of security gaps.

Although VPN is a great option, it also has a few drawbacks. If you get whole-connection-encryption, that costs you computing power and money. Using a VPN requires good hardware, and decent VPN services are not free (however, some providers offer frugal free plans). To use a reliable and robust VPN service, be ready to give at least several dollars a month (VPN guide, StrongVPN and SurfEasy are highly recommended).

To top it off, a VPN comes at the cost of performance. Proxy server just pass data along, there’s not bandwidth cost, and they cause just minor latency. On the contrary, VPN server requires a lot of processing power and bandwidth that goes with the overhead caused by encryption protocols. The more advanced a VPN protocols, the better is remote hardware, the less overhead you have.

Moreover, selection of VPN is also a bit more complicated than choosing a free proxy server. If you need a reliable and efficient VPN, opt for Strong VPN. If you need to dig deeper into the details and features of VPN servers, continue your search.

All in all, proxies are cool for just hiding your identity when doing simple tasks, but when it comes to daily mission-critical tasks with concerns over security, VPN is a better option.

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