Online security and privacy are as important as ever. There are numerous threats out there trying to take advantage of your unprotected connection, and anyone who uses the internet should be concerned about it. But choosing the right tool for yourself or your company isn’t easy. One of the first challenges is choosing whether to use a proxy or a VPN.
Defining proxies and VPNs
A proxy server (or simply a proxy) acts as an intermediary, forwarding your requests and changing your IP address along the way, so instead of appearing from your UK server, you can appear from anywhere in the world. As such, proxies provide a valuable layer of security as you don’t connect to the internet directly and ensure privacy because it is harder for websites to identify you.
You can purchase a single proxy IP address or a whole pool of IPs rotating on your command. The setup can seem challenging as you only receive the port number, IP, and password. You need to do the rest manually.
However, this makes proxies flexible in their application. You can integrate them with most software for data gathering (web scraping), online automation, SEO, and other tasks. At the same time, proxies can also be used to establish a secure connection for ordinary anonymous browsing.
A virtual private network (VPN) uses similar technology to proxies – by employing one or more intermediary servers, VPNs hide your IP address and allow showing a different geo-location. But instead of only routing your requests, it creates a secure and encrypted connection between your internal network and an external server.
Encryption benefits both privacy and security as it is harder for third parties to intercept the data and identify a user. VPN providers also frequently pledge to a “no-logs” policy, meaning they do not keep information about their customers. Choosing a reliable provider who keeps these promises is crucial.
VPNs are exceptionally user-friendly and come with additional software you can install in a few clicks. However, using VPNs outside of the designated software is hardly possible. Still, establishing a secure connection for surfing the web, watching movies, or remote work from home is easy for even the least tech-savvy.
How do proxies work?
Proxy servers act as middlemen for your requests to the internet. You first connect to the proxy server, and then it visits the web on your behalf. After the proxy receives the needed data, it forwards it to you.
Proxies usually work on an application level. Simply put, you can set up a proxy to work only for a single app, for example, a web browser or a web scraper. You can also use them while routing the whole connection, but it’s not always preferable.
Proxy servers can be created and function in different ways. The choice of proxy type highly depends on why you need one, as use cases can differ. Here are a few main types.
- Transparent proxies don’t hide the IP address of the user and are more frequently used to secure networks or block access to certain websites.
- Anonymous proxies are the opposite of transparent ones. They aim to be as private as possible, hiding the user’s IP address and opening access to geo-restricted content.
- SSL (or HTTPS) proxies, much like VPNs, can encrypt the data using SSL encryption.
- Residential proxies provide IPs created with physical devices in ordinary home connections.
- Datacenter proxies deliver IPs from third-party data centers created virtually in bulk.
How do VPNs work?
Instead of connecting to the web directly through your internet service provider (ISP), VPN routes your traffic through a secure “tunnel”, which encrypts all the data and only then passes it to websites. The websites cannot access your IP address, and the ISP is not able to see what you browse.
VPNs can only function on the operating system level, meaning that once you turn on the VPN software, all of your device’s traffic is routed and encrypted. It is a simple solution to increase anonymity for individual users and helps remote working employees to secure important data from theft.
While there aren’t many types of VPNs compared to proxies, they can differ in additional features. For example, many antivirus software developers provide VPNs with their products. Ad-blocks, remote access, and server solutions are also commonly combined with VPNs.
Proxy vs. VPN: privacy and security
At first glance, the comparison of proxy vs. VPN in terms of privacy and security doesn’t seem to have a clear winner. Both tools hide your IP address, allow bypassing geo-restrictions, and can use encryption. So, the features for consideration aren’t so obvious and lie in secondary qualities.
Pricing is more straightforward with VPNs. You pay a monthly subscription, and that is it. Some data limitations might apply, but it is usually resolved with a more expensive plan. Proxy pricing varies from type to type, but if you need access to private IPs, they will be cheaper than VPNs.
Speed is more or less the same with both proxies and VPNs for everyday tasks, such as streaming video content. However, for especially traffic-intensive tasks (for example, web scraping), datacenter proxies are unbeatable.
Legitimacy depends on the server used to run a VPN or a proxy. VPNs use servers in data centers that are quite easily recognized by websites. Proxies, on the other hand, can also be hosted on regular household PC or even mobile devices.
User-friendliness is a clear plus for VPNs, as proxy servers are a product for users with more technical knowledge. Still, most proxy providers have detailed explanations on how to use their services (read more on integration).
The number of use cases is higher with proxies as VPNs do not have such wide integration capabilities. Many VPN providers specify in their terms and conditions that some tasks, such as web scraping, are prohibited.
After reading this article, you should have a better idea of how to answer the proxy vs. VPN question. Proxies are a more flexible solution but setting them up only for the most mundane tasks can seem a bit overwhelming. Indeed, they are a better choice if you have time to invest, especially for business needs.