VPN vs Proxy: Which is the Best for Secure Internet Connection?
March 29, 2021
Here’s a paradox for you: according to surveys, six in ten people are concerned about the data they give away online. At the same time, the actual understanding of cybersecurity-related matters is scarce. In this article, we’ll try to bridge this gap by taking a look at one of the commonly misunderstood topics – proxies and VPNs.
What is a Proxy?
A proxy server, or proxy, is a relay – essentially a middleman between you and the destination you are trying to reach. Here’s how it works:
Your browser sends a request to a proxy server
The proxy server forwards the traffic to the website you are trying to reach
The data from the website is received by a proxy
The proxy sends it back to you
As a result, the website that receives the request sees it as sent from a proxy server rather than from you. So, using a proxy achieves two goals. First, it can allow you to stay anonymous online. It’s the proxy’s IP, not yours, that will be seen on the receiving end. Second, it can help circumventing the geoblock. A type of censorship where the resource is only available to IP addresses from certain countries. For this reason, proxy services typically allow choosing from different locations around the globe.
Proxies vary in complexity but, as a rule, you are expected to do some tinkering to get it to work.
What is VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network, which is exactly what it sounds like – a technology that establishes a secure connection between two points on the Internet, hiding all your Internet activity from prying eyes. Most VPN services also relay the traffic through servers in remote locations but, unlike proxies, they encrypt your data so even if it gets intercepted, it’s virtually impossible to read. Because of the security component, VPNs also have a broader array of applications:
Protection of sensitive data
Remote access to corporate networks
Circumvention of censorship
Today, you can get a VPN either by subscribing to a web service or by buying a secure LTE modem that has this feature built in.
Proxy VS VPN: Strengths and Limitations
From the user’s perspective, the only similarity between these technologies is the ability to obscure your online identity. Aside from that, there’s little in common between the two. VPNs offer a decent level of security, which is why they are regularly mentioned in articles on how to prevent data breaches. Proxies, on the other hand, do nothing to protect your data, so if you’re after security, go with a VPN.
A VPN connection is also a more versatile solution as it applies to all connections from a given device. Proxies were initially designed to work exclusively with web-based traffic – essentially only activity in your browser. Later iterations have extended its functionality to other connection types, although that made them slower.
When it comes to speed, VPN can also give you an edge, but only in certain scenarios. Strictly speaking, both a proxy and a VPN introduces some slowdown into your connection. However, it ultimately depends on the quality of the provider. While the VPN service can mitigate the slowdown with tweaks under the hood, the proxy will most likely just slow things down.
Another important point is the cost. A modern VPN relies on an entire infrastructure and will require a fee whereas a proxy is free more often than not. This is a double-sided coin, though – in free services, you are the product, and there are plenty of cases where free proxies have been caught red-handed on some shady activities.
Can I Use VPN and Proxy Together?
Technically, you can, although you probably shouldn’t. A VPN does the same as a proxy and offers several security advantages on top of that so, with some rare exceptions, you will be better off with the former.
Do I Need Proxy If I Have VPN?
Probably not. While it is possible to use both simultaneously, these solutions can interfere with each other and bring your connection to a crawl. There may be a scenario where you would prefer one over the other but hardly a situation where you’ll benefit from both.
What are Alternatives to VPN/Proxy?
If neither a proxy nor a VPN service works for you, there are solutions that reroute your Internet activity like Tor and Psiphon, although those have a higher entry barrier and won’t work for everyone. Then there are gadgets called VPN modems, which have the feature built in. So, while they may be easier to configure, they are not an alternative to VPN in the true sense.
To sum up, proxies and VPNs have a similar origin, but they are quite different technologies, both technically and feature-wise. While the two hide your location and help bypass a geoblock, VPN will do so more securely and be more convenient for most consumer-grade applications. So, unless you really know what you are doing, you’ll probably fare better by opting for a VPN service.