When it comes to safeguarding your online privacy and security, you’ve probably heard about proxies and VPNs countless times. Both services allow you to change your computer’s IP address and make it seem like you’re in a different country. However, only one of them actually improves your online security and anonymity. So let’s take a closer look at what sets these two technologies apart and which one you should choose.
What is a Proxy?
A proxy server is an intermediary or relay that sits between your computer and the Internet. When you’re connected to a proxy server, all of your traffic is routed through it before reaching the final destination. This makes it seem as if the requests originate from the proxy server instead of your computer. Many websites look at your IP address to determine your location. So if you pick a proxy server that’s located in a different country, for example, you can bypass regional restrictions.
However, proxies also serve many other purposes beyond hiding your IP address. Because a proxy sits between your computer and the Internet, it can also act as a gateway — allowing or rejecting packets based on a set of rules. This makes proxies valuable in say, a school network, where the network administrator might want to log internet activity or block access to specific websites.
A proxy server acts as an intermediary between a user and the internet. It receives user requests, forwards them to web servers, and sends the responses back to the user.
Types of Proxy Servers
- Forward Proxy: Commonly used by organizations to provide internet access to employees who are behind a firewall or have network restrictions.
- Reverse Proxy: Acts as intermediaries that are present in front of web servers and distribute incoming requests from clients to those servers.
- Open or Forward Proxy Server: Acts as a gateway between the client and the network.
- Datacenter proxies: Hosted in data centers and cloud hosting services rather than affiliated with an internet service provider.
- Residential proxies: IP addresses provided by internet service providers to homeowners.
How Proxy Servers Work
When a user enters a website’s URL in their browser, the request goes to the proxy server first. The proxy server then makes the web request on behalf of the user, collects the response from the web server, and forwards the web page data back to the user.
Advantages of Using a Proxy Server
- Anonymity: They hide the user’s IP address, ensuring anonymity.
- Access Control: They allow access to desired websites while blocking unwanted or illegal ones.
- Content Filtering: They filter out harmful or unwanted content.
- Bandwidth Optimization: They cache frequently accessed pages, reducing bandwidth usage and improving loading speed.
- Bypass Geolocation Restrictions: They enable access to restricted websites by using a proxy server with a different location.
Disadvantages of Using a Proxy Server
- Slower Connection: All proxy servers will slow down your internet speed to some degree.
- Subscription Costs: Premium proxies cost money.
- Incompatible with Certain Devices: Some devices do not support proxy servers.
Use Cases of Proxy Servers
- Web Proxy and Internet Filtering: A web proxy acts as an intermediate gateway between a client and the internet, filtering out unwanted content.
- Application Proxy and Gateway.
- Overcome Websites Restrictions.
- Prevent Ad Fraud.
- Load Balancing: They distribute web traffic among multiple servers to balance the workload and improve performance.
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network), like an Android VPN, establishes an encrypted tunnel between you and another network to ensure that nobody can eavesdrop on your communication. This means that it reroutes all your traffic, whether it is coming from your browser or a background app. By using this service, an extra level of protection shields your online privacy too. All the data shared between the Web and your device are indeed secured in encrypted tunnels.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows a user to connect to a private network over the Internet securely and privately. VPN creates an encrypted connection that is called VPN tunnel, and all Internet traffic and communication is passed through this secure tunnel.
Types of VPNs
- Remote Access VPN: Allows a user to connect to a private network and access all its services remotely.
- Site-to-Site VPN: Used in large companies where companies or organizations with branch offices in different locations use Site-to-site VPN to connect one office location’s network to another office location’s network.
- Cloud VPN: Allows users to securely connect to a cloud-based infrastructure or service.
- Mobile VPN: Allows mobile users to securely connect to a private network, typically through a cellular network.
How VPNs Work
A VPN hides your IP address by letting the network redirect it through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN host. This means that if you surf online with a VPN, the VPN server becomes the source of your data.
Advantages of Using a VPN
- Privacy: A VPN encrypts your internet connection and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choice which improves your privacy.
- Security: A VPN’s encryption protects your connection from attack.
- Bypass Censorship: A VPN can bypass censorship by routing your web traffic through the VPN server.
- Stream Region-Locked Content While Traveling.
Disadvantages of Using a VPN
- Slower Connection Speeds: All VPNs will slow down your internet speed to some degree due to encryption overhead.
- Subscription Costs: Premium VPNs cost money.
- VPNs Can Be Blocked.
- Your VPN Provider Can See Your Data.
Use Cases of VPNs
- Bypass Geographic Restrictions
- Avoid Censorship
- Access More Open Internet
- Torrent Safely And Securely Without Fear Of Being Found Out By Your ISP.
Proxy vs VPN: Which service is best for you?
The main difference between them is that proxies will only reroute application traffic, while VPNs can do this for the whole operating system. From a security perspective, proxy servers are generally less safe than VPNs. While they’re great for anonymous web browsing and bypassing geo-restrictions, they won’t encrypt your data as it’s sent to another server and can be vulnerable to cyber attacks.
On the other hand, VPNs not only protect your identity by masking your IP and location but also encrypt all your data to prevent hackers and snoopers from accessing them. Therefore, if you’re looking for a more secure option, consider using a free VPN service.
Both proxies and VPNs have their uses. If you’re just looking to bypass regional restrictions or censorship, a proxy might be sufficient. But if you’re concerned about privacy and security, especially on public Wi-Fi networks, then a VPN would be the better choice.