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VPN Versus Proxy: What's The Difference and Which One to Choose

Companies and individuals continually strive towards maximum Internet security. Guarding against online threats is a daunting prospect, fraught with challenges. Every time we perfect one security protocol, bad actors find a way to bypass these measures and intercept our personal communications. Antivirus software does a fine job of keeping our online traffic free from adware, malware, Trojans, viruses, and worms. However, once we connect to the Internet we leave a digital footprint that anyone with a little wherewithal can track, intercept and abuse.

vpn vs proxy
Image Credit: SaferVPN
This necessitates masking solutions to prevent our online activity from being monitored, recorded, and reported. Several effective tools and resources are available to help guard against data interception. One of these is a proxy, and the other is a VPN. On the face of it, both options appear to be identical. They both connect you to a remote computer so that your online browsing activity appears to be going through another server. The truth is, proxies and VPNs are significantly different as you’re about to find out!

Why Would you Need to Hide your Internet browsing Activity?

There are still many folks who believe that they don’t have anything that a hacker would want anyway – so why bother with a VPN or a proxy for data protection. The sad reality is that every one of us has something that a hacker wants. We all use credit cards, we all have IDs, and we all shop online. For a hacker, these are gold nuggets waiting to be stolen. That’s why it’s important to safeguard your online browsing activity.

There is way too much leaked data, government interception of our browsing activity, and many other privacy issues to be concerned about. For this reason, VPNs (virtual private networks) and proxies are among the most powerful tools you can use to maintain your anonymity and online safety. Let’s say you’re at the local Starbucks using Wi-Fi. We all know that public Wi-Fi is an accident waiting for a place to happen. There’s no two ways about it. When you use free Internet, anyone within range can intercept your communications and wreak havoc.

We already established that VPNs and proxies connect you through another location. But it’s the way they connect you and the degree of privacy, functionality and encryption that differs. With a proxy server, you have access to a buffer between you and your Internet browsing activity. Think of it as a middleman. All the sites you are visiting are effectively visited by the middleman. You are cloaked from the bad actors on the Internet. There are many reasons why you may wish to use a proxy server, notably websites that are geographically locked to users from other countries. This is often the case in Asia, and in Europe.

For example, UK sports streaming news networks may not offer their services to people outside of the UK. To obviate this issue, you can login through a proxy server in the UK and watch the content accordingly. Your traffic looks like it came from the remote computer which is in the UK, and not in your home country. You may wish to consider a proxy for a low-level activity such as streaming video content, accessing restricted sites, or simply overcoming IP-specific content.

What a proxy server doesn’t do is also the reason it is not ideal for all forms of online browsing activity. For example, proxies do not encrypt Internet traffic between your PC and the proxy. They also don’t remove identifying data for your online transmissions. Another point worth remembering is that there is no security element built into a proxy server.

Why are a Proxy’s Shortcomings Important?

A nosy neighbour with Internet smarts, hackers, ISP providers, law enforcement, or government can easily intercept traffic that is not encrypted, or secure. Since your identity is not concealed with a proxy server when there are JavaScript or malware elements in your web browser, a proxy server is not ideal.

With a proxy, your entire PC/system is not protected – it’s an application by application basis that we’re talking about. It’ll work for one process, but not all. There are several common protocols for proxy servers including SOCKS and HTTP. The latter is the most common extension and it is used for web traffic. The former simply moves traffic along regardless of where it comes from. Free proxy servers are ill-advised, since they are riddled with problems.

Why are VPNs The Preferred Option?

A VPN is a virtual private network. Your entire computer is protected with powerful encryption through the VPN server. Between the VPN server and the greater Internet, there is no encryption. That’s how a VPN server is set up. It masks as a proxy, since your traffic appears to be coming from a remote server address. However, that is the only similarity between a VPN and a proxy. Take a look at this VPN Guide to understand exactly what benefits you get to enjoy when you choose a professional VPN pay-to-use service as opposed to a proxy server.

A VPN is the most secure way for you to browse the Internet. Be advised that VPNs use plenty of bandwidth and processing power since there is significant encryption taking place. The better the VPN service, the more bandwidth it uses and the more you’re going to pay for it. But choosing an unlimited bandwidth VPN plan will save your time and money.

If you’re just looking to conduct silly activities on the Internet like online voting for a game show, or streaming from out of country, use a proxy. If you want to safeguard all online browsing activity with your entire computer and prevent government and the authorities from accessing your content, you will want a no logs policy VPN provider.

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