VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and proxy servers are used to increase privacy and anonymity online. The services are also used to circumvent geographic restrictions and censorship. When comparing VPNs and proxies, there are several key differences. What both have in common is that they establish connections with target websites through anonymized IP addresses. The IP and the identity of the operator service are used instead of the user’s own.
Unlike a proxy server, a VPN encrypts the whole data connection. The proxy hides users behind a proxy IP, but the data is not fully encrypted or secured. There are also distinct differences between proxy servers and VPNs in terms of performance and speed.
VPN and Proxy Servers at a glance: what are they used for?
As a server, a proxy represents a kind of bridge between a program and the Internet. To the eyes of outside parties, the information transmitted in the process has the proxy server’s IP address. As a rule, it can also be used to access blocked websites, for example due to a country’s censorship laws. However, a proxy server does not encrypt any data during transmission, therefor in reality, anyone can view the transmitted data. A proxy can be used for simple identify obfuscation, for example, to circumvent geo-blocks. It’s not suitable for comprehensive anonymization.
VPNs are much more powerful tools. Unlike proxy servers, VPNs also take care of privacy and anonymity. They establish encrypted tunnels using specific VPN protocols (for example, IKEv2 IPsec, OpenVPN, SSTP or Wireguard). All data is then encrypted between the computer and the VPN server. VPNs can cover most of the application areas of a proxy server and also offer the advantage of encryption.
What advantages do VPNs have over proxy servers?
A VPN client has numerous advantages over a proxy server. These include advantages in the realm of speed, data protection, security, and performance when streaming and downloading.
Speed is a crucial factor in the modern Internet world. High-resolution video content and streams are just some of the examples where the speed aspect matters. Both VPN and proxy or Tor networks are basically intermediate steps between the computer and the Internet. Therefore, the possible transmission speed can be affected. However, this interference shows up in different degrees.
Proxies are fast enough for occasional Internet browsing or sending email. When it comes to tasks such as streaming videos, they tend to be too slow and unreliable. Furthermore, caution is advised when transferring data via proxy because of the lack of encryption.
Most VPNs offer sufficient speed for demanding data transfers, however the speed varies according to different factors. One important aspect is location. When it comes to speed, users should choose a VPN server that is close by. Connections to VPN servers in a more distant location can affect transmission speed. Some virtual private networks automatically connect users to servers with low data load. This has a beneficial effect on speed, even if the nearest server isn’t used.
Increased Data Protection with VPN
A proxy basically identifies itself to the target server as a proxy. Some are anonymous and hide the IP address, but there are also transparent proxies that don’t. Some variations also encrypt the accessed URLs locally on the PC.
VPNs ensure a higher level of data protection. Once a VPN is used, tracking services of visiting websites can only see the IP Address assigned by the VPN server. Although some services can identify VPN traffic, this traffic’s transmitted data remains encrypted. Theoretically, the VPN provider is the only entity able to view the user’s identity when using a VPN. So, in practice, it’s better to choose a provider like Shellfire that does not collect log files.
Security of Internet connection is the decisive criterion for many users when it comes to choosing a VPN. The average proxy can hardly guarantee the integrity of the connection. The two most used proxy protocols are HTTPS and SOCKS. These do not contribute to encryption of data traffic.
HTTPS-based proxies can ensure the same level of encryption as an HTTPS website already has. Those who want to rely on a free proxy be aware of its capability and limit browsing HTTPS websites with this proxy.
With VPNs, the Internet connection’s security is a lot higher. First the VPN encrypts all data traffic from the device used to the appropriate VPN server, and then forwards it to the target site or service. Should cyberattacks or spying occur, for example with a sniffer, the hacker only receives the encrypted data. This cannot be sorted out. VPN services thus help ensure that users can establish secure connections even when using foreign networks. This is a security advantage, especially with unprotected WLAN networks.
Downloading & Streaming Performance
Both proxy servers and VPN support basic streaming services. Streaming various contents is possible if users rely on stable and fast servers. It is also possible to stream from abroad, but the stability and speed can differ between the two services.
A VPN typically achieves the highest transmission speeds, and profits from stable outputs. The concrete performance depends on the server location and the corresponding data load in each individual case. Compared to the proxy, the VPN represents a better choice for streaming. However, it should be taken into account that some of the content providers block connections established via the average VPN. This is a countermeasure against users who want to access content that should only be accessible regionally.
Do proxy servers have any advantages over VPNs?
As a simple solution, a proxy server is known for its high level of user-friendliness. It is the go-to choice when a user only requires an anonymous IP address and isn’t focused on data encryption. One area of application is simple access to geo-locked content. The use of a proxy is not recommended for online activities involving transmission of sensitive data. In practice, using a VPN is not any more complicated than using a proxy. Once the VPN is installed, it’s use is a click away.
Basically, both proxies and VPNs have their optimal areas of use. Considering the increasing relevance of data protection and data security, a VPN is preferable for most connections due to its encryption capabilities. When it comes to transferring sensitive personal data, users should always opt for a VPN instead of a proxy.