VPNs and Proxy Servers: What’s the Difference?

Privacy on the internet has become a major concern among individuals and businesses around the globe. And justly so.

For a safe browsing and data transactional experience, you can choose between two alternatives that are available on today’s date. One is a VPN, the other a proxy server.

But before you can jump into subscribing to the services of one, let’s understand what those are and what’s the difference between them.

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What are VPNs

Virtual private networks, better known as VPNs, are services that provide you anonymity and privacy over internet traffic by creating a secure pipeline from you to the servers. VPNs mask your IP address from nefarious attackers and make you untraceable to organizations that track you.

What are Proxy Servers

Proxy servers are networks of physical or virtual routers that forward your request to the web servers to keep you safe. Your request to a website bounces through routers before it can reach the target and you can surf the website. Apart from hiding your IP address, proxy servers can also be used for monitoring, managing web traffic, and accessing geo-blocked content.

Difference Between VPNs and Proxies

Although both of these services attempt to hide your IP and provide a secure browsing experience, certain differences are there between them. Such as:

Fundamental Difference

Fundamentally, proxies and VPNs are quite different from each other.

VPNs create a secure pipeline from your end to the servers and hide the content of your request and the IP address from getting accessed by external sources.

Best free proxies forward your request to a network of routers before sending it to the web servers changing IP every 5 minutes or less depending on the plan you are on.

Proxy servers are great for hiding your IP address but aren’t failproof to an attack on the network.

VPNs can be considered as cars and proxy servers as public transport. An outsider may notice your car at the theater, but they won’t be able to determine who’s inside or where you are coming from. And while commuting, you’d have utmost privacy.

In contrast, when you avail of public transport, an outsider will be able to deduce where the bus is coming from or going to, but they won’t comprehend your itinerary before or after that particular ride. But the privacy aspect can be deficient depending on the commute you choose.

Protection and Privacy

VPNs work on all your network traffic. Every request you send, every reply you get, goes through your VPN to ensure that the connection finds the secure pipeline to prevent ransomware attacks.

Proxy servers don’t offer such services. Although they both do a good job keeping your connections private, proxy servers work on an application level. The whole network traffic is never forwarded through the chain of servers. Rather, it goes through the ones that you want.

Depending on what your requirement is, this can both be a good and bad thing. As proxy servers don’t work on the whole network, it’s safe for browsing the internet, but not for operations that need extensive protection and privacy.

Proxy servers and VPNs both protect you from browser cookies.

Encryption

Typically, VPN servers are software that resides on a system or network. They aren’t a service like IP that you turn on when browsing the internet.

As the VPNs are installed on your system, they can encrypt and hide the information within the system itself. Your ISP, which can access your connections and information at any given time, can’t access the secure pipeline built by VPNs.

Proxy servers, on the other hand, don’t encrypt or modify the data that you forward.

Although some proxy servers do offer encryption at a premium, they can’t be compared to VPNs that come at the same price.

Protocols

Almost all proxy servers work in the same way. There aren’t many fundamental differences between the proxy server that hides your IP address and the one that lets you open three different Facebook accounts. The different types of proxies are the result of different requirements of clients.

For example, reverse proxies are used to balance the network load. Web proxy servers are used to forward HTTPS web requests. Transparent proxies are great for storing cache for faster access.

VPNs vary in ways that the experience and privacy of users depend on the protocols employed to design the software.

PPTP or point-to-point tunneling protocol is one of the most popular VPN protocols that many companies use. It creates a secure tunnel between users and servers for faster data access and safety.

OpenVPNs are open-source approaches that are vetted by hundreds of developers and are virtually unbreakable to hackers due to their 256-bit encryption.

IKEv2 or internet key exchange version 2 is a protocol that opens key transfer sessions between source and target to safely hand over the data between systems.

Geo-Blocked Content

Ironically, VPNs aren’t the best solution to access geo-blocked content. But proxies are.

The extensive encryption that VPNs provide is taken as a cue by the platforms to block access. While using a VPN, platforms like Netflix and Hulu can block your access. But not every algorithm is as advanced as the other, and some geo-blocked content can be accessed through a VPN.

Proxies are quite effective in accessing geo-blocked content. As proxies don’t offer such encryption and are forwarded through different location-based servers, the targets can’t necessarily interpret the diversion.

Speed

VPNs are generally faster than proxies as there are fewer network elements involved. VPNs work on the network level and encrypt the information in the system itself. Thus it’s comparatively faster than proxy servers which forward your connections several times before reaching the target.

Proxy is a double-edged sword. Don’t start to imagine that the returning information from the web servers is handed to you directly. They also travel similar numbers of routers to reach you. Sacrificing agility.

Both VPN and proxy servers would slow your connections down in most cases. But, with gigabytes of bandwidth to spare, it’s not considered a problem anymore.

Reliability

VPNs, with the IKEv2 protocol, are great for keeping your connections stable. Which can’t be deemed true for proxies. But, most proxies aren’t supposed to operate 24/7 and you likely won’t ever need them to.

VPNs are more reliable than proxies when it comes to stable network connections.

Pricing

Proxy servers, if paid, are cheaper than VPNs. As most proxy servers are freemium products, your general internet browsing and privacy interests are safe with them. Consider premium proxy servers if your need is industrial. They still cost less than VPNs.

The Bottom Line

The difference between VPNs and proxy servers should be conclusive from this article. The major distinction between those two is fundamental. By which encryption and speed are dictated. The pricing, protocols, and speed are also major contributing factors when choosing between the two.

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