September 30, 2018

Proxy vs VPN – Which To Use?

Each and every day, hundreds of millions of people jump online.

Many visit their favorite websites, social media accounts, do a little online shopping, pay bills – all without ever wondering whether or not they are getting tracked every step of the way.

You see, most of us are under the impression that our personal and private data is exactly that, personal and private. But most of the time (yes, MOST of the time) nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, almost every single activity you do online – every single website visited, every post created, every comment shared, every order placed, down to every keystroke logged – is being tracked by (at times) dozens and dozens of outsiders.

Some of this tracking is “anonymous” and built right into the internet itself. “Cookies”, for example, are used by just about every website on the planet to help improve and speed up the way you use your most frequently visited websites.

Other forms of tracking (including tracking every credit card you enter into your browser, every website you visit, every file you download) is an obvious invasion of your privacy. There are cyber criminals and less than legitimate operations looking to steal ANY digital data they can – and if they can find your details, they are going to steal and use (or sell) them before you even know what hit you.

The government – our US government  and more around the world – and big media corporations (including organizations like Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook) have all been caught spying on people like you and I. Data breaches are commonplace these days, exposing regular folks that browse the web in the privacy of their own homes to having their entire internet history exposed to the masses.

This is unacceptable under any standards, but it happens more than most would ever be comfortable with.

Thankfully though, a couple of amazing technologies help protect you from these online snoops.

Both proxy servers (sometimes just called “proxies) and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) give you the kind of privacy and anonymity that you deserve in our online world today.

Proxies and VPNs use different technology to hide your activity and protect you, and one is usually better suited to some situations than the other (and vice versa), but both can give you an extra layer of REAL security you wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

Below we highlight the key underlying tech behind these amazing tools, the benefits and drawbacks of both, and how you know which tool is perfectly suited to keep your online activities and sensitive information safe and protected.

Check out our breakdown between proxy vs VPNs below to find out more!

What is a proxy server?

At its very core, a proxy server is nothing more than any device – computer or otherwise – that allows other devices to connect to the internet through it.

Basically working as an intermediary between your computer or device and the end server you want to “talk” to, proxies are frequently used to download files, access specific computers/servers/terminals, or to access websites that would have been otherwise “blocked” or censored directly.

A lot of people in China, specifically, take advantage of proxies to get around what’s called The Great Firewall. China has a history of heavily censoring the websites they let their citizens access, and by connecting to a proxy – and then connecting to the site they want to use – Chinese citizens are able to sneak under the wall and see the content they are looking for.

Another cool thing about proxies is that you’ll be able to change or scramble your IP address to get around geo-locked content.

Services like Netflix have different versions of their site for people around the world, offering folks in the UK different movies or shows than those in the US for example. With a proxy, you’re able to piggyback off the IP address of the proxy server you’re connected to. This lets you trick content providers into thinking you are a legitimate user and you get access you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a bit different than a proxy – though it offers many of the same benefits.

A VPN basically produces a simulation of a private network connection spread out over a public connection. After setting up a VPN (which you’ll want to do directly on your router, running ALL of your internet traffic through the VPN) you’re able to enjoy complete and total encryption of EVERYTING you do online – anonymizing your traffic and your internet activity completely.

Unlike the passthrough tech of a proxy, the traffic that you generate on your computer or mobile device through the VPN will be untraceable by anyone. Even the VPN service itself will be unable to track you thanks to the underlying tech behind these tools.

You’ll get similar benefits of the proxy (the ability to change your IP and spoof your location) with the added security benefits proxies by their nature cannot afford.

Highlight the benefits (and drawbacks) of both Proxies and VPNs

When you get down to VPN vs proxy services, or finding the right one for your needs, it’s all about what you’re looking to do going forward.

A situation where a proxy comes out on top (when comparing proxy server vs VPN technology) would have to be in the ease of use department.

If all you want to do is skirt the geo-locked content in Netflix, for example – and you want to watch on your computer – all you’d have to do is fire up one of the free proxies out there and then load Netflix through that browser window. It doesn’t get a lot safer than that.

At the same time, it might not be the best idea in the world to trust free and public proxies with sensitive info like your Netflix user name and password. Where as a VPN really shines in the security department, proxies – especially free and public proxies aren’t going to give you any expectation of privacy.

Sure, they’ll help you skirt censoring and get you into content you might not have been able to access before. But your activity can be tracked through the proxy (and then linked back to you) because the data is never run through full end-to-end encryption.

Where a VPN shines in the VPN vs proxy argument is any online situation that demands full security and true anonymity. Maybe you don’t want ANYONE to know the files you’re downloading, or maybe you don’t want to have to worry about your internet browser history being shared with anyone else – for any reason.

Because of the full security tunnel created by a VPN that’s not going to be a problem.

Of course, on the flip side of things, when it comes to proxy vs VPN setup procedures you just can’t beat the speed and ease of use that a proxy offers. Not only are these tools easy enough to setup that anyone able to send an email could use them, they are also flexible enough to be used only when you want that extra anonymity or freedom.

You won’t have to worry about installing anything to your computer. You don’t have to worry about configuring your router. You don’t have to worry about running a proxy 100% of the time. You can use a proxy for certain apps, most but not all apps, or all of your apps – and even none of your apps – as you see fit.

Breaking down a VPN vs proxy this way, your VPN is a bit tougher to configure.

There are some browser based options on the market today, but they don’t offer near as much security or as reliable a performance as those that are software based or configured on your router.

Router configuration is the best way to go if you’ll be using a VPN permanently, on all of your internet activity. Which isn’t a bad idea, considering how important our online data is today. You’ll need to carefully set these tools up to work the way you expect them to – and any hiccup along the way could stop you from being able to access the web at all until you get the setup right.

So which one?

At the end of the day, it’s all going to come down to what you’re looking to do online, what you’re looking to protect, and how comfortable you feel with certain technologies moving forward.

Proxies are usually a bit less expensive (and some public proxies are free to use, though oftentimes painfully slow), but do not offer the speed and security afforded by a VPN. On the other hand, a VPN is usually more expensive and more challenging to setup initially – and as soon as you leave your home network, your VPN connection will no longer work.

Think about how you hope to use this tech in the future.

If you just need a secret tunnel into content every now and again, or will want to protect your activity from multiple devices on multiple networks, a proxy server might be best.

If the ultimate in security and privacy is important, and you’ll mostly be browsing from a handful of devices on your home or business network, a VPN is probably the way to go.

All things considered, it’s a lot less about proxy server vs VPN and a lot more about choosing the right tool for the right job at the right time. Hopefully this quick guide has been able to help you make the right call on protecting and anonymizing your online activity from here on out!