One of the most common methods to stay safe online is by masking your IP. There are many reasons that you might want to hide your IP and your digital activities, such as privacy, hiding your geographical location, preventing web tracking, avoiding a digital footprint, or to bypass any content filters, bans or blacklists. Both VPNs and proxies can protect you online, but what are the differences between them and which one is the best to use?
Today we’re going to compare a proxy versus a VPN.
What are Proxies?
Most of us know what a VPN is. They’ve become increasingly common, with VPNs like NordVPN and Surfshark all over the internet as a popular way to access streaming services abroad, amongst other reasons. But you might not have come across a proxy.
Put simply, a proxy server acts as a gateway between you and the internet. It’s an intermediary server separating end-users from the websites they browse, thus hiding the user’s IP address.
There are three main types of proxies, SOCKS 5, HTTPs, Transparent. And they have a few differences that you need to know about.
SOCKS 5 isn’t just 5 socks attached to your router. It’s a versatile proxy that is often used for things like file sharing, video streaming and online gaming. HTTPS is a faster type of proxy commonly used to access geo-restricted websites.
Transparent proxies take a different approach and are most frequently used by organizations – particularly libraries and schools – to prevent access to certain sites, and are so-called because the client is usually unaware of the proxy firewall.
When you’re looking to stay safe online, the most popular proxies to use are SOCKS 5 and HTTPS.
How VPNs Function to Maintain Privacy
A VPN, or virtual private network, essentially creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server operated by the VPN provider. All data flowing between your device and the internet is routed through this tunnel.
This provides a few core benefits:
- Masks your IP address and physical location since your traffic appears to come from the VPN server.
- Encrypts data so your online activity is shielded from snooping by your network provider.
- Allows accessing geo-restricted content by making it seem you’re browsing from the VPN server’s location.
- Prevents network throttling based on usage, since the provider sees only encrypted VPN traffic.
So in practice, think of a VPN as an encrypted tunnel that hides your digital identity and makes the remote website believe you’re connecting from the VPN provider’s server instead.
So let’s take a look at the key differences and similarities between proxies and VPNs. First, let’s take a look at some of the differences.
A proxy only hides your IP, not your activity. A good VPN fully encrypts your online activities, while a proxy will only encrypt your IP, and not all of the traffic that goes through it. Which means that your activities will still be partly visible if you use a proxy.
With a VPN, all traffic and all apps you use go through the VPN unless you set a specific exception. With a proxy, however, it’s the reverse. They are configured on an individual level to each app or usage.
3. Paid vs Free and Data Logs
These two factors go hand in hand, and here’s why. Most proxies are free, but often use ads to make money. So they log your data in order to generate that ad revenue. VPNs usually offer a paid service and go out of their way not to take any logs of your traffic. So proxies are free but take logs, and VPNs are paid but don’t log anything.
1. Hiding IP addresses.
Both proxies and VPNs will encrypt your IP address as standard, hiding it from any nefarious ne’er-do-wells. This means that you can keep your user identity
private, hide your location, and avoid leaving a digital footprint.
2. Streaming Service Compatibility.
You can still watch your favourite Netflix shows on either VPNs or proxies. Both have the same principle of using a proxy server
in a different location, so that you can access streaming services from your home country, even if you’re on holiday abroad.
Whether you’re getting around streaming restrictions or government blocks, both VPNs and proxies get the job done. This is particularly useful for country-specific blocks where certain topics and services are banned, but you need to get around them.
4. Slowing Down Browsing Speeds.
Both proxies and VPNs will slow down your browsing speeds just a little, as taking the traffic through an additional server to mask your IP adds that extra processing layer, which can mean it takes a little bit longer to load content as you browse.
Proxy connections tend to be even slower than VPN connections, but this does depend on the VPN you choose.
I should note that some emerging services like Anonymizer offer combined VPN and multi-hop proxy access through one subscription for a layered privacy solution.
Is Complete Anonymity Possible?
While VPNs and proxies boost privacy substantially, understand that no single technology offers unconditional, bulletproof anonymity. Your digital footprint likely can’t ever be erased entirely.
Rather than seeking utter invisibility, it’s better to be thoughtful about what potential risks most concern you based on your browsing habits and evaluate tools accordingly. combining VPN and proxy capabilities does greatly expand your privacy armor.
Which One Is Right For You?
If you need a cheap, one-time use option, then a proxy could be an excellent and cost-effective choice. However, for everything else, including regular use, a VPN is the safest and most secure way to go.
A VPN simply offers everything a proxy does and much, much more, which makes it the best option in the vast majority of cases. As for which one? Well, we would highly recommend NordVPN or Surfshark. Both are highly rated, reliable, and secure.
They usually have a great sign-up deal for new customers, so you can save even more money while keeping yourself secure when you browse online.
While you might have to pay a little extra for a VPN over a proxy, we do believe it’s worth it. After all, would you rather get a free, cheap lock to secure your valuables, or pay a little extra for a sturdier, stronger lock that gives you a greater peace of mind?