If you are looking to improve your security and browse the internet anonymously, then you will likely have come across both VPNs and proxy servers.
Both these products do similar jobs.... in that route your traffic through a server in another location, but have pretty big differences when it comes to the security they offer.
This article will look at proxy servers vs VPNs and try to find out the pros and cons of using each product.
Top Rated VPN Services
Ok, Tell Me, What Is A VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is basically a way to keep your data secure, and avoid geo restrictions on the internet. Most of the time you will download software from a VPN provider and when you connect, this on it will redirect your internet traffic through a VPN server.
While your data is traveling to the VPN server it is sent through an encrypted tunnel which keeps your data more secure than it would otherwise be. At the VPN server it then travels on to the website you are trying to connect to.
This has a number of useful applications.
Firstly, the fact that a VPN encrypts your data means that it is generally a safer way to access the internet. This is especially the case if you are accessing the internet on a public network or, even worse, a public network without any security.
If you use a hacked network without a VPN, the hacker will have easier access to all the data you send and receive including passwords, account details, and the websites you visit. While many sites will use HTTPS to give you some protection, if you use a VPN, however, the encryption provided by the VPN will give you an extra layer of protection.
Hide Your IP
The second use of a VPN is that because your data travels through a VPN server before reaching a website, people monitoring said site should only see the IP address of the VPN server, not the IP address of your actual location. As well as this, if your ISP wanted to see what you're browsing, they should only be able to see encrypted, unviewable data.
Access Geo-Blocked Content
Another use is when you want to access geo-blocked content or content blocked in your country, using a VPN server in another country can allow you to access this content. This is because the website you are trying to access will only see the IP address you are coming from, as the VPN server (which is in the country that allows the content).
Video: VPNs Explained
Anything I Need To Look Out For?
Think About Firewalls
There are of course downsides to using a VPN. One major problem is that when you use a VPN to access the internet your VPN tunnels through your router’s firewall which essentially means that you are browsing the internet without a firewall. This can leave you more open to outside attacks.
It is possible, however, to counter this by choosing a VPN that has its own NAT firewall. If you do this you will be offered the same firewall protection as when you use a router, plus all the extra benefits that a VPN brings.
A VPN that offers a NAT Firewall also has an added benefit when browsing on mobile devices. When you use your phone data (rather than wifi) to browse the web, your device doesn't have to go through a router, and as such is making a direct connection to the internet.
Choosing a VPN with an NAT firewall can, therefore, offer your smart phone the protection that you would usually be provided by a router.
While some VPNs do provide their own NAT firewall, many either require you to pay extra or simply don't provide it a NAT firewall as an option.
Another downside to a VPN is that when compared to your usual internet connection, you may find things run a little slower. This is especially the case if your location, the VPN server, and the website you are trying to access are all located far away from each other.
As well as this, it is possible (but thankfully not o common) that the VPN server could be compromised and your data could be stolen. This is much more likely to happen if you are using a free VPN although it can also happen with paid ones. To avoid this make sure you thoroughly research the VPN you plan to use before signing up to its service.
If you're using public 'open' wifi, you're probably more likely to be hacked locally at the source, than by a hacker at the VPN side - especially with a reputable paid VPN provider.
Pros Of A VPN
- A VPN increases security when using a public network by sending your data through an encrypted tunnel.
- A VPN hides your IP address from the websites you visit and can stop your ISP from monitoring your browsing.
- A VPN can allow you to access content normally unavailable in your location.
Cons Of A VPN
- Using a VPN can cause your internet speed to slow down, especially if you, the VPN server and the website you are visiting are all far away.
- As a VPN tunnels through your router's NAT firewall you are essentially browsing the internet without an external firewall. While some VPNs do provide you with an NAT firewall for you encrypted traffic, many don't or only provide it if you pay extra.
- Unlikely, but be careful....You should also be aware that the chances of a VPN stealing your data is significantly increased if you use a free VPN. Please note: In most cases a VPN is safer than no VPN when connecting to public wifi.
What Is A Proxy Server?
A proxy server works in a similar way to a VPN server. This is in that when you access the internet via a proxy server, all data sent through your browser (or other compatible apps) is routed from your device to the proxy server.
This means that it will appear to the website you are accessing, that your browser will be coming from the location of the server. One huge benefit is that a VPN a proxy server can sometimes be used for accessing geo-blocked content.
As well as this, a proxy server can help hide your IP address from your ISP or the authorities when browsing the internet, much like when you when you use a VPN.
However, there is a problem. It is generally much easier for an ISP or the authorities to find out your true IP address when you use a proxy server instead of a VPN and also easier for websites to stop people using a proxy from accessing their geo-blocked content.
Likewise, a proxy often does not provide any encryption for your traffic and the ones that do can generally be decrypted by the proxy admin fairly easily - which makes this a security concern. Because of this, your ISP may be able to see what you are doing online and you won’t get any security if you are using the internet on a locally hacked network.
Of course, when it comes to proxy servers, it isn’t all bad news. The fact they don’t have as much encryption to deal with means they often work faster than VPNs (depending on how much 'load' the proxy server is experiencing). This means that if you are planning on downloading or streaming content a proxy server could be better than a VPN…
Although even this does come with a slight caveat.
When using a proxy you must make sure the program are using is able to work with the proxy server. While you won’t have a problem with many internet browser or some downloading software, other applications such as some games etc may not work with a proxy.
Proxy Server Pros
- Provides basic security when it comes to hiding your IP
- May allow you to access some geo-restricted content
Proxy Server Cons
- Only works with browser or applications that allow you to configure a proxy. Any other traffic will not run via the proxy
- Doesn’t provide as much security as a VPN
VPN vs Proxy: Which Should I Use?
If you read the article above you will likely have a good idea about whether a proxy or a VPN will be the best product for you. If you are concerned about security or hiding your IP address then a VPN is likely to be your best option.
If you plan to use either of these products when using a large variety of applications and software types then a VPN is certainly the way to go.
Both a VPN and a proxy will allow you to access geo-blocked content. Having said that, you may find that a VPN gives you a more reliable connection.
One time when it is certainly worth using a proxy is if you are accessing geo-blocked content that is both accessible via a proxy and also too slow when used with a VPN.
Can I Use A VPN And A Proxy Server Together?
Absolutely! Using both a proxy an a VPN will give yourself an extra layer of security when it comes to browsing the internet. When doing this, should your proxy server fail, anyone checking your traffic will simply see the IP address of your VPN.
This means that you get the benefits of being able to use multiple IP addresses, with the added security gained from a VPN.
In conclusion you can see that while both proxies and VPNs to a similar job, they are actually pretty different. VPNs offer more security and more encryption, while proxies can be faster.
Hopefully, you have found this article useful! If you have any questions please leave a comment in the box below.