Proxy servers and VPNs are convenient tools that users can use to access content securely without revealing their identities. These services route internet traffic using a third-party server while masking the location and IP address of the user. Additionally, both services can bypass region locks and firewalls.
Because these services get the job done efficiently, people think that they are the same. Proxy servers and VPNs indeed connect to websites using special servers instead of connecting to them directly. But the two of them are quite different. Before knowing the differences, let’s understand what they are and how they work.
What are proxy servers?
A proxy server will hide your location and IP address when you use the internet. Whenever a computer and other devices connect to a website, tons of information runs back and forth between them. All information will include the sender’s IP address. Because everything that is connected to the internet has its IP addresses, websites can track all the activities.
Proxy servers act as a mediator between the website and your device. Wherever you go online using a proxy server, it will replace your IP address with its address before the exchange of information takes place. As such, the website will know that you are using a proxy server. They won’t have your original IP address.
But there’s a catch when using a proxy server. The servers will work app by app. It means you have to configure every application individually before connecting to a proxy server. That way, you can expect the protection you need from the servers. Furthermore, there are different kinds of proxy servers that you should know.
Understanding proxy server types
Different kinds of proxy servers tend to address cases differently. Some of the proxy servers such as a high anonymity proxy, forward proxy, a data center or DC proxy, etc. have specialized purposes. However, the most relevant ones that you should know are discussed below.
1. HTTP Proxies
Typically, an HTTP proxy works with standard web pages. They handle information by using the HTTP protocol. If you want to use an HTTP proxy and configure your browser accordingly, the information on your browser will have your IP addresses hidden whenever you visit web pages.
The trackers on the web pages that you visit including their owner won’t be able to see your IP address. The best part is that you can access blocked websites using HTTP proxies. For example, you are in Germany and would like to access content only accessible to the people in the US.
Trying to connect to the site will expose your IP address, proving that you are not in the US physically. Hence, the website will block you. If you configure the browser to use the HTTP proxy located in the US, it will show that you are connecting from a US IP address. As a result, you can log in and view the content.
However, there is a problem when using an HTTP proxy. Almost every browser supports HTTPS. But several HTTP proxies don’t support web browsers. If you use a non-HTTPS proxy, it would prevent the website from accessing your real IP address. But you will lose encrypted traffic.
2. SOCKS Proxies
The SOCKS proxies will hide your IP address like an HTTP proxy. SOCKS proxies offer more flexibility than HTTP proxies. SOCKS5, which is the latest version, offers more intuitive features than its predecessors. With different levels of authentication, you can use them to control access to the proxy servers.
Although SOCKS proxies deal with different types of internet traffic than HTTP proxies, the flexibility will cost you more. Besides, the SOCKS proxy needs more processing and they are slower than the HTTP proxies. They are popular because of their flexibility.
What is a VPN?
A VPN or a virtual proxy network gives you the advantage of proxy servers and many more features. VPNs protect your privacy by preventing websites from viewing your IP addresses. VPNs configure your computer in a way so that it talks to a device that connects the website to your device.
While VPNs work at the OS level, proxy servers need the application level to work effectively. Therefore, installing and configuring a VPN will protect every kind of internet traffic. Now, this is an amazing functionality. But there is much more to it, explained in the section below.
Proxy Servers vs VPNs in terms of encryption
Proxy servers don’t encrypt traffic or even DNS requests. But VPNs offer the right encryption that you need. A VPN encrypts internet traffic that passes between the VPN server and your device. Hence, an imposter won’t be able to read the information that flows through a VPN. Whereas, a proxy server communicates with your devices without any kind of encryption.
And, the traffic is left unprotected. Moreover, the best VPNs provide robust security and privacy. The devices will use the DNS to find the websites you like to visit. Most ISPs can handle DNS lookups on your behalf. The top VPN services handle DNS lookups efficiently. They will encrypt DNS requests while sending them to a secure and private DNS server that the VPN controls. As such, the ISPs won’t see where you are going.
Proxy Servers vs VPNs in terms of speed
In general, proxy servers are fast because the traffic isn’t getting encrypted. VPN speeds aren’t that faster than the proxy servers. That’s because VPNs need to encrypt and decrypt traffic, slowing the whole process.
Still, some of the best VPNs are designed carefully keeping in mind certain algorithms that minimize the risk of speed loss. Even if there is speed loss, the internet connection is impacted by a few percent.
Proxy Servers vs VPNs: Deciding what to choose
Both proxy servers and VPNs provide you with an extra layer of security that you need when browsing the internet. However, deciding on what to choose will depend on certain factors such as budget, needs, and so on. Suppose, if you want your internet traffic to be encrypted, use a VPN. If you want to bypass the content restriction, use a proxy server instead.