VPN vs Proxy. Who wins the head to head you might be wondering?
You may have heard or come across the words Proxy or Virtual Private Network (VPN) before but what do they actually mean and what exactly is the difference between them? In this article we’ll take a look at what each system offers, how they differ and which is right for you.
Over the past few years, I’ve been using, testing, getting angry and being thankful at a whole range of proxies and VPN’s so I know exactly what to look for and what to keep well away from. And now you will too.
Let’s dive in.
At the very basic level a Proxy server acts as an intermediary between you, the user, and the internet, separating you from the websites you browse via either a dedicated computer or virtual server and establishing an indirect connection instead. Depending on your desired needs proxies can provide differing levels of protection and functionality but does not encrypt traffic.
*Unlike a VPN, a proxies ability to circumnavigate ever-changing security in place by companies such as Amazon or Netflix is always going to be difficult when many subscription VPN services struggle themselves. That being said, there are some who have shown they can access geo-blocked content on a regular basis.
How do Proxy servers work?
Without completely geeking out, each time you visit a website whether it be on your computer, smartphone, etc, your device is communicating directly with the web server that hosts the website. Simple and direct.
All of the websites that you visit or communicate with are able to ‘speak’ to your browser directly making your IP address public knowledge. When you use a proxy server, all of the information you send that would going directly to the website is instead funneled through a different IP address as set up by the proxy masking your IP address from the public.
The difference between a proxy and a VPN in this regard is although the traffic is routed through a different server, the actual traffic is not encrypted like you would get with a VPN and therefore still open to attacks / malware.
Types of Proxy servers
Proxies are not all built the same and there are several variations that are used for different reasons:
This is the most common proxy used mainly for internal usage such as schools and cooperate environments as there is no added security. When you use it, the web servers receive your actual IP address and they can also tell that you’re using a proxy.
SSL Proxy (also known as HTTPS Proxy
Standing for ‘Secure Sockets Layer’ this proxy is used to protect your data using the SSL protocol which is commonplace on the internet (when you visit a secure website and either see a padlock to the left of the URL, you know it’s using HTTPS security).
This stands for ‘File Transfer Protocol’ and is something that you may have come across either at work or if you send large files to friends and family, usually to different locations (think WeTransfer) but houses a server in a secure location with additional protection typically with caching functions.
On a basic level, a VPN, just like a proxy, provides a second connection between you and the websites you’re visiting but that’s about where the similarities end.
How do VPN’s work
On the surface it may seem like proxies and VPN’s do pretty much the same thing but a VPN does much much more in the name of security.
You still connect to a server which hides your IP address as you would with a proxy but now the traffic is encrypted and sent through a secure tunnel on a remote server. All this is being done on an operating system level meaning that if traffic is coming from your web-browser or background apps then it is still encrypted and therefore secure from malware / spyware and hackers can’t intercept any data along the way.
With a virtual IP address to hide where you are and encrypted traffic to stop any security issues, a VPN should be all you need to stay safe online.
The only downside to all this additional security and encryption is your upload and download speeds will be affected no matter what. How much or how little it is affected can be down to a number of different factors such as which provider you go with, which server you are connecting to and so on.
As a general rule, the better the VPN, the less you will notice a drop in speed.
Types of VPN
There are really only 2 types of VPN:
Remote access VPN
Originally used for employees to connect to a company’s LAN (also known as virtual private dial-up network (VPDN) as a nice throwback for some people), a Remote Access VPN allows a user to remotely connect to a private network and access all its services and resources. A connection between the user and private network occurs through the internet making it perfect for employees such as salespeople to access data securely from a remote location.
A site-to-site VPN is used to allow multiple fixed locations the ability to establish secure connections with each other over a public network like the Internet. Think of one corporation having offices in different countries.
Which one is right for you?
Choosing between a VPN and a proxy is relatively easy – do you want the quick shortcut to hiding your IP or trying to watch the latest show on Netflix and take a chance with the security risks? In this case then a proxy may be for you.
Or you can choose a VPN and not have any security concerns, benefit from consistent unblocking of streaming services and end to end encryption.
It’s between the cheap and sometimes not so cheerful or the new industry standard in secure online browsing.
Which will you choose?