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The difference between VPN and Proxy: pros and cons compared

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VPN and Proxy servers allow you to hide your true IP address and hide your location, but that’s just one common thing between those two technologies. While they serve somewhat the same feature, the biggest difference between VPN and Proxy is their focus on the real-world problem they are trying to solve.

What is a proxy server and how does it work

To understand the difference between the VPN and Proxy we need to take a closer look at what a proxy server actually is and what it does. A proxy server primarily works as a gateway between the user device and the internet. Initially, a user connects to the proxy server and then asks for services such as a web page, file, or any other resource that is available on a different server on the net. The proxy server makes such requests on behalf of the client and uses its IP address to obtain the data the user is requesting. It then relays the information to the user this way allowing the user to browse the website without connecting directly to it. Using this method instead of seeing your home IP address, the website sees the proxy server’s IP address hence hiding the location of the user.

How proxy works scheme

The proxy services will often ask you to choose the location for your proxy server. The proxy service then fools websites and other services into thinking that you are browsing from that country you selected. If you want to access a website that is blocked in your country, you can use a proxy server. When the website checks your location, it will see the proxy server’s location instead of yours and then grant the proxy server access to the website.

Types of proxies

Not all proxies do exactly the same thing, they might vary in functionality and the way they work with a specific type of internet traffic, therefore there are a few main types of proxy sServers that differ in some way:

HTTP Proxies

HTTP Proxies work exclusively with web-based traffic. For example, if you configure your web browser to run with such a proxy all your browser traffic will be routed through it. This type of proxy is useful for web browsing and accessing geo-restricted websites.

SOCKS Proxies

Unlike HTTP Proxies, these proxies are not limited to web-based traffic only. However, they still only work on the application level. For example, they can be set on a game app, P2P (torrenting) app, or video streaming platforms. They are usually slower than HTTPS proxies because they have a higher load.

Transparent Proxies

These proxies are different from the other two since their users are usually unaware of their existence. They can be used by perents or employers to monitor the user’s online activities or to filter out and restrict access to specific websites. They sometimes serve an important role in caching the websites to reduce the loading time of requested information.

Now when having an idea that a proxy is a gateway between the user device and the internet, let’s talk about a VPN since it actually acts as an intermediary as well, but with one huge difference.

How does a VPN work

A VPN creates an encrypted data tunnel between your device’s local network and an exit node (a VPN server) in another location. The exit node could be several miles away, for example, you may be physically browsing in a local network in California, United States, and yet a VPN could create your exit node in London, UK. Browsing under such conditions would allow you online freedom.

Here is a close look at how a VPN works: when someone is browsing on a Wi-Fi network, data is sent over the Wi-Fi network. A VPN scrambles this data through encryption hence making the data unreadable. VPN secures personal data, especially when on a public Wi-Fi network – it will prevent any other people on the same network from eavesdropping on your internet activity. 

A VPN also hides the entire search history of a network user from the internet service provider. When using a VPN, the web activity of the internet user is associated with the IP address of the VPN server, not the one for the internet user. VPN service providers usually have servers in many parts of the world, therefore, the search activity of the network user may appear to originate in any of these servers. Thus, even if the search engines track the search activity of the network user, they will associate the information with a different IP address than the user’s original one.

The main differences between VPN and proxy servers

Both Proxy servers and VPNs achieve the common goal of hiding the user’s IP address from the website they visit when acting as an intermediary. Therefore, they may seem quite similar when viewed from this bearing, but this is the only similarity between these two services.

Here are some essential differences between VPN and Proxy servers:

1. VPN encrypts all internet traffic while proxy servers do not

VPNs strongly encrypt the data from the network user hence making it unreadable by any other party who has access to the same network. VPNs are very secure to use when dealing with highly sensitive data.

How VPN connection works scheme

Proxy servers, on the other hand, do not encrypt the data from the network user. Instead, it allows the user to access the details from the website or application they would want to browse by acting as a man-in-the-middle. They connect to the website using the URL the user types in a browser, load the content and then pass the details onto the user to browse the website.

How Proxy connection works scheme

Not only proxy servers do not encrypt the traffic between the computer and the proxy server, but they also do not typically strip away identifying information from the user’s transmissions beyond the simple IP swap. Proxy servers do not provide additional privacy or security consideration built-in.

When using a proxy server, anyone with access to the stream of data, say your government or your ISP, or proxy server administrator can still access your traffic. Also, some exploits such as Java Script elements and malicious Flash in the user’s browser can still reveal the true identity of the user.

2. VPNs configured system-wide while proxies are app-specific

It is also important to know that proxies usually work and are configured with a single application such as a browser and does not route all system-wide traffic through the intermediary server as a VPN does.

VPN connections are configured computer-wide hence all the traffic is encrypted and routed via a VPN server. On the other hand, Proxy server connections are configured on an application-by-application basis. Proxy servers work on the application level and only reroute the traffic of a specific app (ex. browser). The network user can only configure their web browsers and other compatible applications such as BitTorrent clients to use a proxy, while VPN is set up system-wide.

3. Proxies are slightly faster than VPN

VPNs need to encrypt your data; hence may prove slower than the proxy servers. However, there are many ways that you can use to improve your connection and browsing speed. Some of the factors that influence VPN speed include distance, server loads, and encryption type. However, sometimes, VPN can make your internet faster by evading bandwidth throttling and efficient routing due to advanced network architecture.

4. A connection with VPN is more reliable than with a proxy

VPN is focused on securing the data and keeping a stable VPN connection to prevent any information leakage. To ensure that VPNs have better server configurations and hardware, compared to Proxy servers. Consequently, these servers are constantly maintained to ensure the entire system is running efficiently hence highly reducing breakdowns that are experienced when dealing with proxy servers.

5. VPN is usually paid while most proxies are free

Running a VPN requires proper hardware and advanced configurations as well as maintenance. As a result, most VPN services have subscription fees that would cost you just as much as one cup of coffee per month. Even though some providers offer free packages they are usually limited by the amount of data, which is usually barely enough to stream a video. The performance difference between VPNs and Proxy servers also influences the cost. Proxy servers pass the user’s information along, there is no bandwidth cost incurred when using proxy servers. On the other hand, VPN servers consume more power for the process as well as bandwidth on account of the overhead introduced by the encryption protocols.

VPN or Proxy: compared the pros and cons

If you want to access a website that is blocked from your region, you can use either a proxy or a VPN server. The basic proxy server options are free and can be used in nearly all computers, but they are not the best for privacy, thus is not advised to be used when dealing with any sensitive data or when you don’t want to be tracked online.

VPN is always a better option when considering long-term browsing or when dealing with private online activity. A VPN offers a secure, anonymous connection with added layers of protection to keep you safe. A VPN can help the user to manage the transfer of funds and personal data over a public network without compromising the security.

VPNs usually cost just a few dollars per month and it offers more reliable and better services in terms of privacy and accessibility. It must be noted that one has to be very careful with free VPN services. Paid VPN providers offer better gateways, unmatched speed, proven security, free software, and some of them – strict no-log policies.

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