You probably know all about the threats on the internet. A global connector, the internet has also led to the rise of unique threats against us as individuals. With cyber threats like ransomware, data leakage, hacking, phishing, etc. all on the rise, the need for protection is higher than ever before.
If you’ve been paying attention to the potential for cyber threats and how you can keep yourself from becoming a victim, you’ve likely heard the words VPN and proxy brandied about. So, what are they? How do they work? And, which is better for you?
For starters, VPNs and proxies are incredibly similar. They both aim to protect your privacy online. They allow surf the internet anonymously and grant you access to geographically blocked content. But how they work differs and so does their efficiency/effectiveness.
In this article, we will be exploring these differences, and identifying critical factors you should consider when making a selection. This will be discussed under the following headings: definition, uses, and differences.
Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN conceals your IP address to make it seem like your internet traffic is coming from a different source. In fact, a VPN could entirely place your traffic origins to an entirely different location.
How does a VPN work? Simple! Using a combination of encryption algorithms and remote servers. When installed and connected, a VPN encrypts the data from your device and routes it through this server, before transmitting it to its target destination.
During this process, the server masks your original IP address and spoofs your geolocation. By the time the data reaches its destination, it will have originated from the server’s location.
So, when you use a VPN, it keeps your internet traffic from being traced back to you or your device. And with the added encryption, third parties looking to snoop around your data – whether these are hackers, your internet service provider (ISP) or the government – will have no access to this data.
A proxy is eerily similar to a VPN. Like a VPN, it plays the role of intermediary. When connected to a proxy, your device first sends your web traffic to the proxy. The proxy sends this request to your target website, obtains the desired information, and returns same to you.
At this point, the similarities are clear. Both proxies and VPNs anonymize your data. By routing your traffic through third party servers, they help protect your online privacy by hiding your original IP address.
But proxies aren’t security systems. Unlike a VPN, a proxy doesn’t encrypt data. They also only work on the application level. This means, a proxy can only be configured for a single application on your device at a time.
The type of proxy you use will be dependent on your needs. HTTP proxies work only with web pages and are set up on your browser. SOCKS proxies, on the other hand, are slower, but they work with more than just web pages. They can be set up on video streaming apps or games.
When you use a VPN, your online activity becomes completely anonymous. By masking your IP, it makes your activities untraceable by third parties. So, if, for instance, you’re torrenting in a country where torrenting is prohibited, it makes it impossible for this activity to be traced your way.
Content restrictions come in different shapes and sizes. Some companies may setup firewalls to keep you from visiting particular sites on their websites; Countries may censor what kind of information you have access to; And, streaming services or websites may block users outside particular countries.
Whichever the case, VPNs bypass these restrictions. By spoofing your geolocation, a VPN makes the target website believe your traffic comes from a different location. This leads them to open up access to the content, rendering existing firewalls irrelevant.
VPNs typically come with some form of encryption. The best VPNs today come with heavy 256-bit AES encryptions. And some like NordVPN may even provide you with an option for 2048-bit encryption.
What does this achieve? Simple, an encryption scrambles whatever data you transmit through it. With an encrypted VPN connection, every traffic data you send cannot be viewed by outsiders. This means no ad giants seeing your connections, no hackers stealing your data, and no ISP checking out your activities.
Your ISP is not your friend. They’re only in bed with you for your money. It’s no surprise, then, that once you’ve paid for that unlimited subscription, they get worried when you begin endlessly streaming movies. What follows is usually some form of throttling that frustrates your activities.
Because a VPN blocks your ISP from seeing or detecting what it is you’re up to, it also stops this throttling entirely. This means you can stream as many movies as you please without having to look over your shoulders. VPNs also help speed up your connection when there’s some form of network congestion.
Like VPNs, proxies run your connection through a third-party server. When this happens, your original IP address is replaced by one from the server. This makes it seem as if your connection is coming from a different location. It also removes any links between your traffic and your device.
By masking your IP, a proxy changes your geolocation. This allows you access content that is blocked from your particular location – work, school, or country. This means your proxy can get you past certain geographic blocks.Unfortunately, proxies are barely sophisticated enough to deal with more advanced geo-blocks like those on Netflix. They are also unencrypted. This means, even if they get past the advanced blockades in countries like China, they open you up to legal troubles.
Clearly, there are a number of differences between proxies and VPNs. Some of these include:
A proxy is a simple alternative to a VPN. They’re typically free and do well to mask your IP. They’ll also get you past the simple geo-block or firewall. Interestingly, proxies are also ideal for older systems with limited resources due to their lack of native apps.
But proxies aren’t strong enough. They’re almost certain to fall when faced with tough anti-proxy technologies like those used by Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Many of them also struggle with the recent advancements in China’s famous firewall.
If you simply want to get past school/work firewalls, though, proxies are great. They’re also great for not very sophisticated geo-blocks.
If your desire is to get past tougher, more robust blockades, though, a VPN is ideal. A VPN is also ideal if you want to protect your online privacy, not just mask your IP. And if you must download torrents, you’d be best served trusting the encrypted bowels of a VPN over the open secrets of a proxy.
If you’re just starting to look into put together a data security strategy for your home or business, you’d soon find that there are too many factors to account for. The entirety of these factors places your data at the risk of costly cyberthreats.
By their very definition, proxies are great. But the world of today throws up more complexities than they’re able to deal with. Rather than paying for a “premium” proxy service that’d still fail you anyway, go for a VPN.
Although VPNs are generally more expensive than proxies, they’re also more effective. They give you incredible value for money, by achieving much more than proxies. If you want to go ahead with a VPN, be sure to check out this list of the best VPNs of 2021 so far.