Last Updated 12 July 2019
To the ordinary user of technology, perhaps the terms ‘Proxy’ and ‘VPN’ don’t hold much significance. And then again, why would they?
From an outsider’s perspective, both the words have vague implications and even more foggy meaning since the terms are regularly being interchanged with one another, in conversations related to cyber-security.
However, to aid you in your understanding of what a Proxy and VPN are, compiled below is a proper guide which will help you understand the differences between a Proxy and a VPN, but before you get to that, let’s go through why the comparison matters in the first place:
Why Does The Comparison Between Proxy Server and VPN Matter?
The reason why the comparison between Proxies and VPNs is at the forefront of this article is actually because of the similarity between them. Both VPNs and proxy servers have the same, essential function that is to hide your IP address from any websites or third-parties that might be tracking your online movement.
The way that proxies and VPNs hide your IP address is by masking your original IP address with a fake one, which provides users a certain unprecedented level of anonymity. The primary difference between a VPN and proxy server lies in the way that they give the user anonymity.
To better understand which one to use and integrate into your browsing habits, you first need to have an in-depth look into the workings of a proxy and VPN.
What Exactly is a Proxy Server?
Well, simply put a proxy server provides the functions of a ‘middle man.’ Typically, proxy servers are found online, and you enter the website you would like to visit onto them, and they’d take you there.
To better understand how proxies work as a middle man, you need to take into account the fact that proxy servers are present between you and the websites you want to visit.
Proxies work by creating an indirect connection between you and the website, by connecting to the site you want to visit, loading the content and then passing it onto you so that you can browse through it.
Perhaps the primary benefit of using a proxy is that since they create an indirect connection, websites can’t trace your IP address back to you. Instead, the proxy server’s IP address is revealed to the sites, which helps you maintain invisibility.
Moreover, many proxy servers provide users with the choice of selecting what country they want to use. This allows users to trick websites and other spying third-parties into thinking that you’re viewing the contents of that website from the country you’ve selected.
Another advantage of using a proxy server is that it allows users to surpass geographical restrictions placed on certain websites. This means that if you want to access a website that’s blocked in your country, you can do so by via a proxy, as it plugs the proxy server’s IP address instead of your IP address which contains your real location.
What are the Advantages of Using a Proxy Server?
Some other merits of using a proxy server include:
- Using a proxy is hassle-free. Unlike the other arsenal of choices available, proxies are entirely free from fuss. You don’t need to install anything on to your device; instead, all you need to do is simply enter a website address.
- Proxy Servers are free: Unlike VPNs, proxy servers don’t cost a single penny. As mentioned above, all you need to do is enter a web address from the thousands of free proxy websites available, and you’re good to go.
- Proxies require no external software: Since proxy servers are found online, it works regardless of what operating system the user has, which provides an effective solution to gaining access to that one website that might be disrupting the user’s online experience.
- Proxy servers mask the user’s identity: Another advantage of using a proxy server is that it allows users to surpass geographical restrictions placed on certain websites.
This means that if you want to access a website that’s blocked in your country, you can do so by via a proxy, as it plugs the proxy server’s IP address instead of your IP address which contains your real location.
What are the Disadvantages of Using a Proxy Server?
As far as browsing anonymously goes, without the hassle and fuss, proxies are the way to go. However, all good things must come to an end or at least have some disadvantages. Some drawbacks of proxy servers include:
- Allows limited browsing only. Perhaps the most significant flaw with proxies is the limited scope of their functionality. If you’re looking for an advanced level of security, surpassing the anonymity offered by most proxies, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
- Slow speed: Another disadvantage to using proxy servers frequently is that with prolonged use, they tend to get very slow and annoying, frustrating the user out of their wits.
If you’d like to take your online security up a notch to include things other than anonymity on specific websites, you should consider other options as a more permanent solution.
What is a VPN?
At surface level, a VPN and Proxy Servers appear to share many features. Just like in a proxy, a VPN sends your data to a server, which then passes it onto its destination, collects the reply and shares it with the user.
The main difference between a VPN and a proxy server lies in the way that the message is conveyed to the server in the initial part of the process.
Unlike a proxy server, a VPN requires a rather long and tedious installation process. To avail the perks that come with a VPN, you’ll first need to download it to whatever device you’re using and then run it.
The VPN would encrypt your data before sending it to the server, which in turn renders your data unreadable to any prying eyes. This encryption of data is referred to as a ‘tunnel.’
Keeping the word ‘tunnel’ in mind, the functionality of a VPN can be understood by considering the example of a car traveling on the road versus a car traveling inside a tunnel, all the way to the destination. A vehicle traveling inside a tunnel doesn’t reveal information about the specifics of the car, similarly that a VPN encrypts the data before sending it to the server.
What are the benefits of using a VPN?
To help you analyze how a VPN allows users, some advantages of a VPN include:
- Anonymity is key. One thing that you can be utterly sure of while using a VPN is that they completely anonymize your online presence, in many ways that a proxy can’t.
- Prevents third parties from gaining access to your data. Since a VPN encrypts your data, even when it’s being sent to the server, it prevents any government or any other spying entity to have any data on you.
- Helps users establish a secure connection. With cyber-security at an all-time low, VPNs have established themselves into the scene as a sort of a messiah. Since the VPN creates a tunnel, it secures the internet connection from any identity thieves, etc.
If someone does gain access to your information, all they’ll see is piles of unencrypted data, which they wouldn’t understand a word of.
What are the Disadvantages of Using a VPN?
Drawbacks of using a VPN include:
- Most VPNs are expensive. Few things surpass the security that VPNs provide. However, the luxury comes at a costly price, which a vast majority of the population can’t afford. You should only splurge on VPNs if you’re planning to do some serious anonymous browsing.
- VPNs can slow your computer down. Since a VPN needs to be downloaded from an external source, your data needs to be encrypted as it leaves your PC, which might slow your computer down as it works on encrypting the information being sent to the server.
Should you use a VPN or a Proxy Server?
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with VPNs and proxy servers, as we’ve gone in depth about the two, you might be left to choose between the two.
Well, to put things into perspective for you, try comparing the advantages of both proxies and VPN against each other.
Proxies are a fuss-free short term solution to gaining access to a website that might be blocked in your region; however, if you want to protect your privacy and maintain anonymity in the long run, you should use a VPN.
In the race to providing cybersecurity, it’s evident that there isn’t a precise number 1. However, as a responsible user of technology, users should make sure that they choose a security option that caters to their needs specifically.