What’s the Difference Between a VPN and a Proxy?

Deciding which VPN or Proxy service to go with can be difficult, especially if you don’t know the different benefits each provide, since so many anonymous-browsing and internet security services are being pushed on the web. A VPN and proxy can both conceal an IP address by routing internet traffic through a remote server, but how they work are completely different as are their uses.

Generally people use Proxies or a VPN to conceal their identity/information from their ISP or government for privacy or security reasons, or to get around geographical limits that are enforced by IP Address. Pandora, Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify are all good examples of service websites that users from outside of North America cannot take full advantage of due to location restrictions.

Even though a VPN or Proxy can accomplish the task of changing a user’s IP address, the way proxies and VPNs actually function are quite different and therefore have different “Pros” and “Cons”. If at all successful, this article will answer some of the questions potential users of VPNs and Proxies almost always end up asking: “What exactly are the differences between a VPN and a Proxy?” as well as “Will a feature-packed VPN work or should just I use a simple Proxy?”

What’s the Difference Between a VPN and Proxy?

What exactly is a VPN?

A Vitual Private Network, often shortened to VPN, is a networking service that allows a user to strongly encrypt all of their network or computer internet usage going through their ISP’s servers to a VPN Server which keeps your ISP as well as the government from seeing your browsing information. A VPN can be imagined as a very long ethernet cable that directly connects your router or computer to a VPN Server for internet usage.

All internet-based services and software applications will work through a VPN. Any time a computer, tablet, or phone directly connects to a VPN server, or is running behind a VPN-connected router, all internet usage from those devices will be routed through the VPN server. If users make sure to choose a reputable VPN provider then they can almost consider their private information and security 100% protected.

Generally an open-source or proprietary VPN client will be provided by VPN Providers so that connections to the VPN servers can be made from Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and maybe even Linux operating systems. Proxies usually require a premium standalone program to take full advantage of them, especially in list form, but with VPNs a free open-source client is available on the web that can do almost anything. If a user wants to put their whole network behind a VPN connection then a VPN Router will need to be bought or a currently owned router will have to be flashed to DD-WRT or Tomato firmware to gain VPN abilities.

VPN PROs

  • VPN Internet activity cannot be spied on by ISPs or governments.
  • VPNs have high levels of 128-bit to 2048-bit encryption.
  • All VPN internet activity masked once VPN set up on device or router.
  • Some VPNs offer some kind of proxy service to go with their regular VPN service.

VPN CONs

  • VPNs are more expensive than proxies and rarely free.
  • VPNs can be a bit slow during peak usage times of day.
  • If VPN provider keeps logs then these may be obtained by the authorities.

What exactly is a Proxy or Proxy Server?

A proxy is similar to a relay that a user’s internet browser routers all internet usage through, some non-browser programs can use a proxy as well. Using a proxy to access the internet gives a user extra security, anonymity, and makes the user able to choose a desired place in the world to appear from. Proxies are not perfect, though, and beginners can have trouble learning how to set a browser or program to use proxies properly.

By default, proxies are only used by programs that are specifically setup in their settings to send internet traffic through a proxy. Proxy server settings can be manually input directly into the main web-browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Edge/IE, Safari on almost all major operating systems. However, some older or more obscure browsers may not have proxy support

One thing to consider, though, is that many top proxy providers offer apps to automatically configure the main web-browsers to use a proxy for all the major operating systems like Windows, Mac, Linux, and even mobile operating systems like iOS and Android. Plus, there are some nice software options available to buy that allow a user to send internet traffic from any and all programs through a proxy or multiple proxies simultaneously – some even use proxy lists that are much easier to handle.

Proxy PROs

  • Proxies are Cheap and easily found for free.
  • Proxies will hide your IP from simple tests/logging and are good for using some geo restricted websites and services
  • SOCKS proxies can handle any kind of internet traffic (including torrents).
  • HTTPS (SSL) proxies are roughly equal to 128-bit encryption.

Proxy CONs

  • HTTP/HTTPS Proxies are generally only useful for accessing websites.
  • Sneaky use of JS, Flash, and other scripts allow websites to detect true IP even with some proxies.
  • HTTP/SOCKS proxy traffic is not encrypted -ISP and government can monitor what users do. HTTPS (SSL) proxies cannot be monitors but IP addresses can be logged.
  • SOCKS proxies are slower than HTTP proxies.
  • Each web browser/software must be configured individually to use the proxy servers.

VPN versus Proxy Conclusions

There are dozens upon dozens of Proxy and VPN services to make a selection from.

Proxies provide a good amount of privacy and security if running the HTTPS protocol, but their main strength is being able to use multiple for different programs or browsers that all need to have different geo locations or IP addresses at the same time. The majority of people using proxies are web-scraping webpages, botting games, or bypassing geo-location restrictions.

VPNs are by far the best option compared to proxies when anonymity and security are the goal. A VPN will do the best job hiding a user’s internet activity by providing far greater encryption. To stay secure and anonymous while browsing the internet, shopping, or using other web services – choose a VPN.

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