What is the difference between Proxies and VPNs?

Both VPNs and Proxies can disguise your IP address, helping you to keep your identity protected and enabling access to content that is subject to geo-restrictions. It is possible to find free proxy servers and some VPN providers include a proxy service as part of their plans. Many users are still unsure about the difference between a VPN and proxy and they often wonder what technology would be the right choice for their needs.

While they provide similar functionality, they work in a different way and provide different results. The confusion is understandable, given that there are different kinds of proxy services. We’ll go through the options available and will address the differences between a proxy and a VPN to help you to clarify things.

VPN

VPNs establish an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the host server. The online traffic goes in and out of the host server and the data is protected from prying eyes. While your ISP, government agencies and others may see that you are connected to a VPN server, they won’t be able to see the IP addresses visited, your browsing history or anything else. The data is protected with at least 128-bit encryption and the security can go as high as 2048-bit.

However, it is crucial to keep in mind that the VPN server does get to see what you are doing online. This is why you need to opt a VPN provider that is trustworthy and that doesn’t keep logs. Setting up a VPN normally requires downloading and installing VPN dedicated software or configuring the service on your mobile device or computer. The majority of providers have detailed guides on their websites and you don’t need technical skills to complete the process.

Once you are running a VPN, all your traffic will be securely routed through it. The main downside of a VPN when compared to Proxies is that it is more expensive and encryption affects the speed of the connection. The connection can also slow down during peak times but some providers have managed to ensure that their network offers efficient options for all customers.

Proxy Servers

A proxy or open proxy server is an intermediary between your computer and the internet. The traffic routed this way shows the IP address of the proxy server, instead of the IP of your computer. Proxies don’t use encryption and although this makes them less secure than VPNs, it also means that they can support several simultaneous connections.
HTTP and SOCKS are the protocols usually employed by Proxy servers to establish communication with the internet.

HTPP Proxy Servers

HTTP is specifically designed to handle traffic that starts with http:// or https:// which mainly refers to websites. This means that HTTP is only suitable for browsing but since it is focused on HTTP traffic, it can provide better speed than SOCK proxies or VPNs.

Apart from being faster, HTTP proxies are cheaper and usually free. They can safeguard your actual IP address from basic checks and would work well for accessing some websites that are subject to geo-blocks. However, there are some downsides, including the fact that it only works for websites. Plus, in many cases, Flash or JavaScript use will allow sites to find out your actual IP address.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that since there is no encryption applied, HTTP traffic is more vulnerable to surveillance from government agencies and your ISP will be able to monitor your online activities. When you are connected through HTTPS (SSL), traffic would be secured and it can’t be monitored. However, the IP address of the HTTPS website can be logged. HTTP is supported by all browsers, but it is important to consider that in order to use a proxy server, each web browser needs to be configured individually.

SOCKS Proxy Servers

SOCKS servers can offer more flexibility since they don’t interpret any network traffic. However, they are normally handling more traffic, which makes them slower in most cases. The main benefit of SOCKS is that it works with any type of internet traffic, including IRC char, POP3 and SMTP for emails, torrent files and FTP for uploading files. SOCK5 is the latest version of this protocol. While SOCKS supports all kinds of internet traffic, each software handled has to be configured manually. In addition, security is not one of the highlights of SOCKS and like HTTP, this protocol doesn’t provide a high level of protection against eavesdroppers and surveillance systems.

Public Proxy Servers

Since proxy servers can support several connections, there has been an increase in the number of public servers out there. Anyone can use these and they offer mostly HTTP, although SOCKS is also an option at hand. One of the most popular sites of this type is Free Proxy Lists, where the necessary IP address and Port number are available. The main issue with public proxy servers is that they are very unreliable and often go offline without warning. Their speed is also very variable and it is not possible to vouch for their security. You will have no choice but to trust the owners of these servers and it is not possible to get support.

Private Proxy Servers

There are providers that offers both HTTP and SOCKS% service for a subscription fee. The advantage of paid options is that they are considerably safer and they are supported by reliable companies. You can get assistance if needed and they usually offer customized software. Many are specifically designed with Torrent in mind.

Web Proxies

Recognized VPN providers like Hide My Ass and CyberGhost offer web proxy services for free. These allow you to connect to a public HTTP server to browse internet without compromising your identity. You won’t need to download and install additional software or modify your browser settings. They are a practical option if you need to access a different version of a website or to bypass geo-restrictions.

The downside of these services is that they generally feature ads and won’t work well in some cases, for instance when Flash content or Java scripts are involved. Furthermore, in many cases, the web proxy IP addresses are already identified and some websites have blocked them. Web Proxies can be a good alternative for casual users but they have limited functionality.

Conclusion

In terms of security and reliability, a VPN is considerably better than proxies. When you use a VPN, all your data is encrypted, keeping it safe from monitoring and even ISP throttling. A proxy service may be cheaper and in some cases faster, but its lack of security make it a weak choice. Besides, it is possible to find affordable VPNs that provide good speed, high quality software and protection for your privacy. Just keep in mind that you will also need to rely on your provider’s no logs policy.