VPN vs. proxy: To-the-point comparison (and which one to use)
The battle of VPN vs. proxy is a long-standing one; both mask your IP address, so what makes one superior over the other? Why can’t we declare both the same?
And which one is better than the other? In this article, we will answer all these questions and adding a little more to your pre-existing knowledge of VPN and Proxy.
What is a VPN?
VPN is an abbreviation for the term Virtual Private Network. The purpose of a VPN is to provide you complete security and anonymity when browsing cyberspace.
When you use a VPN, all your data is encrypted, and your IP (internet protocol) address is masked by means of channeling all your information via a tunnel within a remote server. You could be surfing in Canada with your IP address showing the USA; hence at any given time, your geo-location is hidden.
VPN is for anyone who wishes to redirect their internet traffic history and make it untraceable.
Through means of encryption, you not only secure your data from being accessed by cybercriminals but also remain undercover from the eyes of the government. If anyone ever tries to snoop on you, your data will appear as nothing but a bunch of random characters that are incoherent.
How does a VPN Work?
A VPN is capable of hiding your location (IP address), your web browsing history, and your device.
How VPN do this is relatively simple, VPNs channel your network traffic through a tunnel while subsequently encrypting the data as it passes through. And the end of the tunnel is the exit “gate” opening to a new location.
In other words, all your internet activity passes through a secret channel rather than passing through your ISP.
Meaning when you browse, your data seems to come from an unknown source (VPN) rather than your device.
Why use a VPN?
There are many reasons why one might use a VPN some of the common reasons why VPNs use is so popular include;
Protecting vulnerable data
Your personal information, such as your bank details, passwords, and private messages are always at risk of being accessed and taken advantage of by cybercriminals.
All it takes for these criminals to view your data is a link, email, or an unsolicited cookie. VPNs employ the use of the AES encryption algorithm to encrypt all information that passes through your network.
Accessing geo-restricted content
It is no surprise that much of the viewable content to others may be restricted for viewing to you. Many popular streaming websites like Netflix, Dinsey+, and Hulu place limitations on who can view their content based on where they are.
You would have also come across the same problem when viewing specific Youtube videos where a message that reads, “This video is not available in your country” often for reasons of complying with local law or the creator’s choice of not making their content available.
Overcoming geo-restriction is easy; you simply have to use a VPN to mask your IP address and connect to a server where the content is available for viewership.
Increasing network speed
Using a VPN generally reduces your network’s connectivity speed due to the extra work of encrypting and decrypting the data.
But did you know using a VPN under certain circumstances can actually improve your speed? If you have ever heard of ISP throttling, you will understand how VPNs can increase speed.
ISP (Internet service provider) throttling, otherwise also known as bandwidth throttling, is an act of intentionally slow down your network speed at the end of your service provider.
Why, you may ask? It is only because your service provider has a limit on how much high-speed data is available to you. Once you hit the data cap, you will begin to notice the slow speed.
What is a proxy?
A proxy server is an independent and secure server through which all your data passes. Essentially a proxy acts like a gate that opens and closes to let information pass through.
The level of privacy and security provided by a proxy will depend on your needs. First, a proxy server will accept your request to access a webpage and then allow entry to it and vice versa.
Proxy servers add an additional security system to your internet usage, practically working as a firewall, a medium for share connection, and a webpage filter.
How does a proxy server work?
As mentioned previously, every network has a unique IP address. The proxy server masks this IP address and act as a medium to channel requests on your behalf.
In doing so, all your data gets encrypted and gives the impression of appearing from a different location altogether.
It is important to note that unlike VPNs that are activated in the background, you can only use a proxy site through a proxy server. However, a proxy only provides superficial anonymity. To take complete charge of masking your location and identity, VPNs make a better choice.
Difference between proxies and VPNs
Although both are used to access geo-restricted content and mask user identity, the difference between a proxy and a VPN is substantial. To know which one to use would require you to weigh out each advantage and disadvantages:
VPNs are known famously for their ability to mask IP address and encrypt all data that passes through your network. However, proxies do not encrypt any data leaving your information vulnerable to cybercriminals and allowing the government to track your internet activity.
It is essential to know of the “No-log policy,” this policy is implemented by some; not all VPN providers.
The no-log policy guarantees that VPN providers will keep no track of any information accessed through the use of a VPN. When (for example) the government requires a VPN provider to hand-over user activity logs, the data cannot be shared. A proxy server provides no such guarantee.
Free VPNs vs. proxies
There are several free VPNs and proxies in the market, but there is a catch, these free services do not provide the same protection and features as their premium counterpart.
Free proxy sites are not only less secure but also incredibly slow; the ability to make configuration within free proxy servers is also substantially limited.
On the other hand, free VPNs provide you not only a limited list of servers to mask your IP address but also do not fully encrypt data as it passes through their channel mostly. Someday, your free VPN provider might also sell your information.
Secure team collaborations
Suppose you are looking for an option to work collaboratively while also remotely and safely, then a proxy server is the right choice for you.
A proxy acts as a gate where you can place restrictions on what content the team is viewing and what is to remain out of reach. VPNs do not provide this gated restriction; anyone with access to VPN is provided security, but it does not take away any freedom to browse.
Ease of use
Acquiring knowledge on the importance and use of proxy and VPN is not going to be of any benefit if you do not understand how to use the tools.
Anyone with basic knowledge of how to use a PC will find accessing and using VPN a piece of cake. The same, however, cannot be said for proxies. The initial stages of using a proxy are the most technically challenging ones. Once you get used to it, changing locations and configurations become a fairly easy task.
The speed of your network will drop slightly by using both proxy and VPN. You can reduce this drop in speed by connecting to a server that’s close to your actual location and has fewer people connected to it. Most of the premium VPNs available today tell the work-load of a particular server at a time.
Do note, though, that the speed drop when using a proxy is less when compared to the speed drop when using a VPN. However, as mentioned previously, VPNs can also increase speed upon use as it overcomes bandwidth throttling.
It is no surprise that VPNs cost more than an average proxy server; this is applied to both the running and maintenance costs. It is for the reasons for added security, speed, and ability to encrypt data between channels that a VPN under any condition will cost more than a proxy.
VPN vs. proxy for torrenting
There are two powerful tools to mask your torrenting activity; one is a VPN, and the other is a proxy (SOCKS5). While using a VPN, you can reroute your entire network traffic along with masking your torrenting activity.
However, not all VPNs allow torrenting as it is banned across the board. Also, even if you are using the best torrent sites that are considered safe to us, it is crucial to settle for a VPN that has a zero log policy.
You might also want to subscribe to a provider that does not cap your bandwidth, and provides DNS as well as IP leak protection.
On the other hand, the proxy SOCKS5 is an excellent torrent proxy (actually the only available p2p proxy server).
As discussed a bit earlier, unlike VPNs that provide encryption, proxies do not. And when using a proxy for torrenting, you have to go through the hassle of configuring your proxy settings to match the torrent client. Some popular torrent clients include;
Do note there are torrent clients out there that do not support proxy servers, these include;
Once you have SOCKS5 proxy server login credentials, torrenting is relatively simple thereon; you will be provided with the address of the servers along with the port number and a username and password.
After you are done adding your login credentials, move onto the configuration/settings tab and change the settings to match the compatible torrenting client’s (most torrent clients have a detailed how-to guide on their torrent website; access that in case of any confusion).
A SOCKS5 proxy server is not the same as a logging proxy; under no circumstance settle for a logging proxy as they often use free HTTP proxy that does not mask your IP address placing your security at risk.
VPN vs. proxy for Netflix
If you have been accessing Netflix via a VPN or a proxy server, you would have come across the error code m7111-5059 at least once. This error code reads,
“Whoops, something went wrong—streaming error. You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.”
That error message appears when Netflix detects the use of a VPN or proxy to view geo-restricted content.
Why does Netflix restrict its content? You may ask here.
It is simply related to the fact the Netflix has not acquired all the necessary rights needed to stream its service to every region around the world. The strictness on banning VPNs and proxies increased in 2016 in an attempt by Netflix to enforce its copyright obligations.
NordVPN vs. proxy
Proxy servers can indeed mask your IP address. Still, the need to continually configure your setting to change locations once the proxy error appears is a hassle, which is why we recommend using NordVPN.
NordVPN provides access to six countries’ Netflix catalogs and, at the same time, allows you to access this content through any server. NordVPN currently has more than 5200 servers in over 60 countries. Anytime the proxy error appears, you can switch to another server.
The VPN is tested to redirect you to Netflix USA (has the widest variety of content). Additionally, NordVPN has a zero log policy and allows simultaneous connections on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and Amazon Fire TV (at one time, the maximum is six).
Should you use a VPN or proxy?
Here comes the question which most might have by now, “should I use a VPN and a proxy?” the short answer it depends. If you plan to use either of them to remove geo-restrictions and mask IP addresses, any of them will do.
But if you wish to introduce collaborative effort in carrying out tasks while policing content access, then settle for a proxy.
If you want more security, you should stick only with a VPN. If you ask us, we recommend using a VPN over proxy due to the protection a premium VPN like NordVPN provides and the reliability it guarantees. With a good VPN, you stay protected from spies, hackers, and malicious attacks online.
About the author
Sam Walker is a tech-focused writer who has traveled the world but currently lives in Australia. He has a keen interest in digital privacy and security. Sam loves testing new technology and researching the latest security trends to keep others informed (and ultimately safe) online.