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VPN vs Proxy: what are the main differences?

Oct 06, 2020 · 4 min read

VPN vs Proxy: what are the main differences?

VPNs and proxy servers both protect user identities and are great tools for accessing geo-restricted content. Since both of these services can get the job done, people tend to speak of them interchangeably. However, one protects your privacy, and the other one does not.

What is a proxy server?

Proxy servers act as relays between the website you’re visiting and your device. Your traffic goes through a middle-man, a remote machine used to connect you to the host server. The proxy server hides your original IP address so that the website sees the IP of the proxy (in some cases, the computers of other proxy users are used for this). However, proxies only work on the application level, meaning it only reroutes the traffic coming from a single app you set your proxy up with. They also don’t encrypt your traffic.

There are three main types of proxy servers:

  • HTTP Proxies – These only cater to web pages. If you set up your browser with an HTTP proxy, all your browser traffic will be rerouted through it. They are useful for web browsing and accessing geo-restricted websites.
  • SOCKS Proxies – These proxies are not limited to web traffic but still only work on the application level. For example, you can set it up on a game, video streaming app, or a P2P platform. Although they can handle all kinds of traffic, they are usually slower than HTTP proxies because they are more popular and often have a higher load.
  • Transparent proxies – These are a different kind of proxy because their users are usually unaware of their existence. These proxies can be set up by employers or parents who want to monitor users’ online activity and block access to specific websites. Hotels and cafes use them to authenticate users on public Wi-Fi and companies or home users might also set them up to save bandwidth.

What is a Virtual Private Network?

Like a proxy, a VPN also reroutes your internet traffic through a remote server and hides your IP address so websites can’t see your original IP or location. However, it works on the operating system level, meaning that it redirects all your traffic, whether it’s coming from your browser or a background app.

A VPN also encrypts your traffic between the internet and your device. That means the Internet Service Provider (ISP) monitoring your internet activity and collecting data about you can no longer see what you’re doing online – just that you’re connected to a VPN server. The encryption also protects you from government surveillance, website tracking, and any snoopers or hackers who might try to intercept your device. A VPN provides you ultimate online privacy and security.

It’s important to note that both VPN and proxy providers can log user data such as user IP addresses, DNS requests, and other details. You should avoid such providers because they can give this information to law enforcement agencies, advertisers, or hackers if their servers get breached. To keep your activity online truly private, look for a provider that has a strict no-logs policy.

The main differences between VPN and proxy services

Here is a quick comparison between the two:

  • VPNs encrypt your traffic while proxy servers don’t. A VPN service protects you from ISP tracking, government surveillance, and hackers. Proxies don’t, so they should never be used to handle sensitive information;
  • VPNs work on the operating system level and reroute all your traffic while proxies work on the application level and only reroute the traffic of a specific app or browser;
  • VPNs can be slower than proxies as they need to encrypt your data; however, there are ways you can improve your connection and browsing speeds;
  • VPNs are usually paid (you shouldn’t trust free services as they have limitations and tend to mine your data) while many proxy servers are free;
  • A VPN connection is more reliable while proxy server connections drop more frequently.

Is VPN better than a proxy?

Yes, a VPN is better as it provides privacy and security by routing your traffic through secure servers and encrypts your traffic. A proxy simply passes your traffic through a mediating server but doesn’t necessarily offer any extra protection. Moreover, unlike proxies, VPNs work on the operating system level to secure all your traffic.

Do you need a proxy if you have a VPN?

No. Premium VPN services do the same things as proxies and much more. You could use a proxy for a quick IP change, but keep in mind that not all proxies are safe, and some of them may collect your data.

Can I use VPN and proxy together?

VPNs and proxies can be used together but this can take some work to configure. We also advise against it as the proxy would simply add another middle-man that slows down your connection without significant benefits. It’s better to switch to one or the other when using them.

Conclusion

A VPN and a proxy are similar because they both reroute your traffic through a remote server and hide your original IP. However, a VPN is superior to a proxy server in many respects. If you care about your privacy and security, you should, without a doubt, choose a VPN.

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Emily Green
Emily Green successVerified author

Emily Green is a content writer who loves to investigate the latest internet privacy and security news. She thrives on looking for solutions to problems and sharing her knowledge with NordVPN readers and customers.


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