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Proxy vs VPN: What Are The Differences?

Daren Low
April 23, 2024


However great, the web has its dangers – including nosy hackers and ransomware attacks. Whether you’re using a PC or smartphone – if you’re connected to the internet, someone ambitious enough can gain access to your personal data.


Using a Proxy or a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the best ways to stay anonymous on the internet. Both will hide your IP address and replace it with their own so that you can’t be tracked.



The differences? Proxies only mask your IP address, while a VPN will also use a secure data tunnel, so that no one can access your data. It’s one of the many reasons why we prefer a VPN over a Proxy – which we’ll discuss more below!


What Is A Proxy? A Beginner’s Guide



In the simplest of terms, a Proxy Server acts as a trusted liaison between your computer and the web server you are trying to connect to. Your request goes to the Proxy Server, which then forwards it to the web server using its own IP.


The web server then sends the response data to the IP address of the Proxy Server, and the Proxy Server forwards it to your browser/application. The website you were accessing has no idea who was the real user behind that request. It can only track that request up to the Proxy Server.


This way, a Proxy Server hides your IP to ensure anonymity. A Proxy can only be set up with one browser or application meaning you can only use it with application/browsers that you integrated with a Proxy Server.


Because of its ability to hide your identity, a Proxy is an ideal choice for anonymous web browsing. Another benefit of using Proxies is that some Proxy services use cache memory to save sites their users often visit. This leads to faster loading time when using Proxy Servers.


The ideal scenario to use a Proxy is when you wish to access content that is not available in your area of residence. Due to copyright laws, there are some websites that restrict access to certain areas only.


You can use a Proxy to mask your location and then access the geo-restricted content. A common example of this is using a Proxy to unblock Netflix content from other countries.


Looking to unblock geo-restricted content?

Check out our ultimate guide to geoblocking and how to get around it.


Types of proxy servers


There are three types of proxy servers.


  1. HTTP
    HTTP proxy servers are only for web browsing, meaning you can only set up the HTTP proxy for anonymous web browsing. Set up your web browser with an HTTP proxy server and you can access geo-restricted content from anywhere.
  2. SOCKS
    The SOCKS proxy is an improved version of HTTP. It supports anonymous internet browsing, video sharing, online gaming, and streaming. Because of this most proxy users prefer SOCKS proxy which usually causes a high load on the proxy server. As a result, the SOCKS proxy is slow compared to HTTP.
  3. Transparent
    Just like a proxy server can be used to access restricted websites, it can also be used to restrict access to certain websites. Transparent proxies are used to block websites.


Most of the time schools and offices use transparent proxies to monitor users’ internet activity while also blocking certain websites. Transparent proxies are especially useful if you are a parent who worries that your kid might stumble upon a hostile website.


People surfing the internet will not be notified when the Transparent proxy blocks a website, hence the name Transparent.



How Does A Proxy Work?


How a Proxy Server hides your IP illustration

How a Proxy Server hides your IP.


Typically, a user connects to a website by directly sending a request to their web server. The web server then responds by sending the website data to the user’s IP address. If you try to access geo-restricted content, the web server of that website will recognize that your IP location is prohibited from accessing this site and therefore your request will be denied.


But if someone using a proxy enters a web address in their browser and hits “Enter” things go a different way. The users’ request will first go to the Proxy Server. The Proxy Server will then forward the request to the web server using a different IP than the user. Then the web server sends the website data to the Proxy Server and the Proxy Server sends it to the user.


This way you can hide your identity while browsing the internet. All of your web requests will be tracked back to the Proxy Server, not you.



What Is A Virtual Private Network (VPN)?


VPN, or Virtual Private Network is an advanced version of the Proxy Server. Some of its features are the same as a Proxy i.e. it also directs all your web traffic through a server that hides your real IP and location from the websites you access.


But VPN also offers some additional features.


Proxy Servers only work for one browser or app that you set up with it. A VPN on the other hand will redirect all your application and browser traffic through its server. Meaning you can use it to mask your identity from any application or browser you wish.


A popular hacking attack is the Man In The Middle (MITM) attack. This is when a hacker will secretly establish a connection between you and the web server you are trying to access. All of your requests and the web server’s responses will be redirected through the hackers’ machine. And after collecting enough information the hacker impersonates one of the two parties and can use this to steal money or an identity.


phases of MITM attacks

How a VPN encryption protects you from MITM attacks.


But this can be avoided by using a VPN. As a VPN is encrypting all your traffic to and from the web server. No one has the ability to eavesdrop and access the information. This is why it is ideal to use a VPN, especially when exchanging sensitive information over the internet.


Like MITM attacks, there are numerous other malicious agents lurking on the internet. And the most ideal method to avoid becoming a target to these attacks is by using a VPN service that will not only hide your IP address but will also safeguard your internet activity so that no one can access it.



How Does A VPN Work?


how VPN works illustration

VPN encryption hides your web activity from intruders.


A VPN encrypts all of your web traffic. It establishes a secure tunnel between your system and the VPN server. And from the VPN server to the internet. All your requests are forwarded to the VPN server using that encryption tunnel. Then the VPN server forwards your request to the associated web server using an encryption tunnel.


So a VPN ensures that all the information you send and receive over the internet is encrypted and not accessible by anyone. This way your web activity isn’t visible to anyone, including your ISP. All they can see is that you are connected to a VPN but nothing more. It’s a great tool to avoid web surveillance – such as from the Five Eyes Alliance.


If you are new to VPNs and confused about how to set up things, this VPN beginner’s guide is tailored for users like yourself. Check it out to get the best out of your VPN.



Proxy VS VPN: The Key Differences


Let’s take a look at the key differences between Proxy and VPN so that we can better understand which one is better.


1. VPNs safeguard your web traffic


A major difference between a VPN and a Proxy is traffic encryption. A VPN will encrypt all of your web activity, meaning it hides your web activity across all your applications and browsers. But a Proxy on the other hand only changes your IP address. It will not hide your internet activity.


2. VPN hides all your web activity


In the case of Proxy, all your traffic is passed through an intermediary Proxy Server where your IP address is masked. But you can only use the Proxy Server to route traffic from one browser or application, it will not re-route all of your web activity through its server.


A VPN on the other hand will route all of your web activity through a secure VPN server, be it from a game, browser, or application. This way no one over the internet will be able to track your IP or steal sensitive information.


In the case of Proxy, you will need two or more proxies if you intend to stay anonymous over multiple applications or browsers.


3. VPNs offer better internet speed


Both Proxy and VPN will slow down your internet speed as your web requests go through a server. But since most Proxies use a public server, it can significantly slow down your internet speed due to excessive load on the Proxy Server.


VPNs have better and dedicated servers that will not take much time to forward your traffic. A VPN encrypting all of your web traffic will result in some latency but it will be so minor that you can ignore it.


4. Free VS paid


Most of the Proxy Servers are free. And the paid ones don’t significantly improve your web browsing experience. VPNs on the other hand are available for free as well as paid. But because of the significant improvement in internet speed, the number of servers available, data limits, etc it is a wise choice to go for a paid VPN. They don’t cost the earth – just take a look at this roundup of the best cheap VPNs.



Are VPNs Better Than A Proxy?


is vpn better than proxy


Overall, VPN tends to be much more practical and secure when compared to a Proxy, because one of the main purposes of using either of them is to protect your data. But unbeknownst to most users, most Proxies sell their data to third-party advertisers. You can read about more issues with Proxy Servers here.


But most VPNs are paid for, with an obligation to not log or share any of their users’ data. Hence, VPNs tend to be better at protecting your privacy.


However, it’s important to remember that not all VPNs are automatically great. Whilst there are some free VPN options out there, many of them are pretty sketchy and should not be relied on to keep you safe.


When going for a VPN make sure that you decide to go for a reputable and trustworthy company as they will handle all your web traffic including sensitive data. Our team has rounded up the best VPN that we’ve tried and tested and believe are worth the hype.


For example – a decent service like ExpressVPN offers high speeds, encryption of all your web traffic and can conceal your activity as well as unlock geo-blocked content on platforms like Netflix, Roku and Firestick.


It has VPN servers in all major regions, meaning users can enjoy fast internet connections while staying secure.



Stay Secure Online With A Reputable VPN


The whole purpose of using a VPN or a Proxy is to hide your identity and make your web experience secure. But Proxy fails in this regard as it sells your data to advertisers, is susceptible to MITM attacks, and slows down your internet connection.


As we’ve said, a reputable VPN is the best tool to stay secure from dangers lurking over the internet. It not only hides your IP address but encrypts your web traffic, adding another layer of security. Stay safe!




VPN Guides and Best VPN Services

What is VPN and how does it protect you from online threats? Check out all curated resources below.