Proxy and VPN are both terms thrown around on the Internet as if everyone knows what they mean. And while we agree that, eventually, everyone should, the reality is, not everyone is tech-savvy or cares to get into the nitty-gritty. Many users simply want things to “just work” with minimal hassle or a learning curve. This is precisely why VPN providers create dedicated VPN apps for the major operating systems, and proxy server providers make things beginner-friendly. We’ll try to appease both user groups as we pit proxy vs VPN to see where differences lie. Let’s start.
What is a VPN?
We covered this topic extensively, starting with what Virtual Private Network is, the reasons to use one, and typical applications. We also went into detail about how does a VPN work, how to use a VPN, and made a rundown of the easiest VPN services to use. That should provide an answer to all frequently asked questions.
What is a proxy?
A proxy server is a relay between your Internet connection and an app you’re using, commonly an Internet browser. Essentially, it’s a remote machine that acts as a middle-man, so that websites you visit or the apps you use see the IP address of the proxy server instead of yours. That way, your real IP address and thus location and identity remain hidden. Here 3 notable types of proxy servers you should know:
1. HTTP proxy
HTTP proxy is limited to use within an Internet browser and reroutes the traffic between the user and the web page they access. As such, it’s useful for retaining privacy while browsing the Internet, as well as bypassing geo-blocks websites impose. It will seldom work with streaming services since they deploy extra protection.
2. HTTPS/SSL proxy
HTTPS or SSL proxy works identically to an HTTP proxy, except that it encrypts the web traffic between the user and the website. These are used when, while browsing, you also want to safely enter personal information such as login credentials or payment information.
3. SOCKS Proxy
The SOCKS proxy isn’t limited to web traffic. Instead, it works within any application, from torrent clients to video streaming apps. It limits data transfer to Layer 5 of the OSI Model, thus preventing hackers from tunneling or running system scans. We described it in our article about VPN proxies.
Proxy vs VPN: The differences
Now that you understand the basics, let’s see who wins the proxy vs VPN competition:
1. Level of protection
The primary difference between a VPN and a proxy is that proxies operate on an application level, while VPNs work on the operating system level. The latter provides a more stress-free approach to privacy. No matter what you do on your computer or device, you remain protected.
Both VPNs can be free or paid but you get what you pay for. We demonstrated how to get a free VPN, and listed some free VPN services. The reason why you should use reputable paid VPN providers mainly lies in differences #4, #5, and #6.
What about proxies?
The proxy can also be free or paid, but the vast majority are free. Proxies fall into 3 categories:
- Public proxy server: A free and most widely used form of the proxy server. You need to use the provided IP address (and port, sometimes) to connect.
- Shared proxy server: Shared proxies are also publicly available for free, but multiple users must share an IP address.
- Private proxy server: A type of proxy server that provides exclusive access and a dedicated IP address to the paid users. They use IP authentication or username/password to prevent unauthorized access.
Most proxies don’t offer any encryption. Those that do, HTTPS proxy and SOCKS proxies (some, but not all), are private proxy servers. Even though they are often cheaper than a VPN, they only encrypt the web traffic between you and the application in use. VPNs use end-to-end encryption, which means they route all traffic coming from your computer to their VPN server before it reaches the Internet. That way, not even your ISP can monitor your online activities. The gold industry standard, AES-256, is nearly impossible to break without a decryption key.
4. Data collection
It’s hard to compare the speed of a VPN vs proxy directly. Here’s what to expect based on their type:
Shared proxy servers will drastically reduce the download and upload speed, and even cause delays. The more simultaneous users, the worse the situation. Public proxy servers are somewhat better, but not significantly. Private proxy servers provide the best speed, which can sometimes beat low-tier VPN providers thanks to web caching, but rarely a high-end VPN service.
Unless you opt for a free VPN service, you can expect the lowest reduction in Internet speed with a VPN. Some reduction is inevitable because traffic must be encrypted in real-time, but this is negligible on modern broadband connections. Using a VPN might even increase your speed if you’re the victim of inefficient routing, ISP throttling, and more.
The difference between the dependability of a VPN and a proxy isn’t in question. The VPN connection is unlikely to drop and expose your identity and location. Moreover, most VPNs deploy some sort of IP and DNS leak protection and have a kill switch. Proxies rarely have any sort of leak protection, no kill switch, and are seldom monitored for uptime, crowding, or latency, especially free ones.