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VPN VS Proxy (What’s the Key Difference?)

written by

Jack Foster

last updated

June 16, 2021

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There are many different ways that you can hide your IP address, yet not all of them come recommended. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that using a VPN like NordVPN is my preferred choice. But, why? That’s something I will touch upon in this post by comparing the use of a VPN with another popular method of hiding your IP address: a proxy. I’ll give you a full insight into using both proxies and VPNs, so you can understand the differences between the two and come to your own decision on the best approach for you.

What is a VPN?

Let’s start with a VPN, which is a Virtual Private Network. You can read my Beginner’s Guide To VPNs for an in-depth take. A VPN will essentially generate a data tunnel that runs between your local network and an exit node in a different location, which could be on the other side of the world. This makes it appear like you are in a different location. This provides you with the security and freedom to browse online. 

I’ll take you through the basics of how this would work. With a VPN, your data is scrambled using encryption whenever it is sent over a WiFi network. As a consequence, the data cannot be read. Moreover, your search history is hidden, as is your location. All of this happens because your encrypted Internet traffic is rerouted through a remote server, meaning your IP address is hidden so that websites are unable to see your original location or IP. 

Your VPN is also going to encrypt the traffic between your device and the Internet. This means that the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that monitors your Internet activity and collects data regarding you is not able to see what you are doing online anymore. The encryption also ensures you are protected from hackers, snoopers, website tracking, and government surveillance.

Malware Protection

What is a proxy server?

Now that you know what a VPN is and how it works, let’s take a look at proxy servers in more detail. A proxy server will act as a relay between your device and the site you are visiting. Your traffic will go through a middleman, which is a remote machine that is used for connecting you to the host server. Your original IP address is hidden by the proxy server, meaning the site will see the IP of the proxy instead. 

One thing to note, though, is that your traffic is not going to be encrypted. This is one of the big differences between VPNs and proxy servers. Furthermore, proxies will only work on an application level, which means it will only re-route traffic that comes from a single app that the proxy is set up with. 

There are different types of proxies, so I will talk you through three of the main ones below:

  • Transparent proxies – What makes these proxies different is that users tend to be unaware that they exist. Parents or employers often use these proxies when they want to block access to certain sites or monitor the online activity of the user. Cafes and hotels will use them for the purpose of authenticating users on public WiFi. Moreover, home or business users may use transparent proxies to save bandwidth.
  • SOCKS proxies – These proxies only work on the application level, but they are not limited to web traffic. For instance, you can use these proxy servers on P2P platforms, video streaming, or on games. Despite the fact that they handle all types of traffic, they tend to be slower when compared to HTTP proxy servers, as they have a higher load due to their popularity. 
  • HTTP proxies – Finally, we have HTTP proxies, which only cater to web pages. Should you set up your browser using an HTTP proxy, all of the traffic on your browser will be re-routed through it. They are helpful when it comes to accessing websites that are geo-restricted and web browsing.

 

Understanding the main differences between VPNs and Proxies: VPN vs Proxy

VPN
Proxy Server
All of your Internet traffic will be protected
Only certain apps or your browser are protected
Good for preventing ISP tracking, protecting yourself from hackers, viewing geo-blocked content, and anonymous web browsing
Good for viewing geo-blocked content and anonymous web browsing
Encryption
No encryption

What are the advantages of choosing a VPN instead of a Proxy?

There are many reasons why it makes sense to choose a VPN, so let’s take a look…

Your data will be encrypted 

One of the main differences that you need to be concerned about here is encryption! I mentioned it earlier, but it’s imperative to understand that there is no encryption when using a proxy server, and this is the main reason why I will always recommend a VPN instead. A VPN service will ensure you are protected from hackers, government surveillance, and ISP tracking, as your data is going to be scrambled. You do not get this benefit with a proxy server, which means you should never use this approach when dealing with sensitive data. 

VPN connections are more reliable

When compared with proxy servers, VPNs are certainly more reliable. Proxy servers have a tendency to drop out more frequently. 

All of your traffic will be re-routed

Another important benefit when it comes to VPNs is that all of your traffic will be re-routed, as a VPN will work on the operating system level. However, with proxies, they only work on the application level, which means that only the traffic for a certain browser or app is going to be re-routed. 

What are some of the benefits of selecting a Proxy instead of a VPN?

While I most certainly recommend using a VPN, it is important to give a well-rounded view, and there are definitely some advantages that proxy servers have over VPNs, so let’s take a look at these…

Proxy servers are free

You’re probably thinking that you have seen some VPNs advertised for free. This is true. However, the free VPNs on the market today are very limited, so you likely won’t get the benefits that have been mentioned above. This is why I always recommend paid VPNs, as the free versions tend to have weaker security and there are limits as well. With proxy servers, the majority are free. 

Proxies can be quicker

As VPNs need to encrypt your data, this can mean that they are slower than proxy servers. However, if you go for one of the best-performing VPNs, like NordVPN, this is not something that you should have to worry about. 

So, is a VPN better than a Proxy?

Yes, 100%! The security vulnerabilities that are associated with proxies mean that I simply cannot recommend this as a choice. With no encryption in place, you are always going to be at risk if you decide to use a proxy over a VPN. 

Final words: VPN VS Proxy (What’s the Key Difference?)

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the use of VPNs and proxies, and the key differences between the two. VPNs are certainly the more secure of the two, and so it is not hard to see why this is the choice that I recommend. If you are looking for a good VPN that can offer you a huge feature set, a wide range of servers, and top-class security, NordVPN is my preferred selection. You can read my review on NordVPN to find out everything you need to know about it.

FAQ about VPN vs Proxy

Should I use a free VPN or a free proxy?

Personally, I don’t recommend either. Why? Well, when something is free, there is usually a reason for it. That is definitely the case here. You’re going to be opening yourself to security vulnerabilities, and this can end up costing you a lot more money in the long run. With a premium VPN, you will benefit from the best level of encryption and security, as well as a huge server choice and exceptional customer support. 

Can I use a proxy and VPN together?

Yes, you can use them both together, but you will need to do a bit of configuration to get them to work in tandem. In all honesty, though, there is really no need to use both together. The proxy would simply be another middleman, and so the only result would be that your connection would get slower without you getting any benefits in return.

Do you need to use a proxy if you have a VPN?

No; you don’t need a proxy if you use a VPN. VPNs offer a more significant range of services and protection, so you would have no need for a proxy server. 

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