Proxy Server vs VPN – What’s the Difference (Pros and Cons)

Proxy Server vs VPN – What’s the Difference.  In computer networking, a proxy server is a server application that acts as an intermediary between a client requesting a resource and the server providing that resource. Instead of connecting directly to a server that can fulfill a requested resource, such as a file or web page, the client directs the request to the proxy server, evaluating the request and performing the required network transactions.

A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network. It enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. It provides access to resources inaccessible on the public network and is typically used for telecommuting workers.

In this article we will discuss the difference and the pros and cons of Proxy Servers vs VPNs.

Proxy Server vs VPN - What's the Difference (Pros and Cons)

Both VPNs and proxies enable a higher degree of privacy than you might otherwise have. For example, allowing you to access the internet anonymously by hiding your IP in various ways, but how they do that is quite different.

A proxy acts as a gateway. It is ideal for essential functions like anonymous web browsing and managing or circumventing content restrictions or firewalls such as the great firewall of china. Now proxy servers excel at IP masking and misdirection, making them suitable for viewing geographically restricted content. In addition, they allow users to bypass content restrictions and monitor or enforce website content restrictions so that you cannot log into certain web pages on company time.

A VPN client, on the other hand, on your computer, establishes a secure tunnel with the VPN server replacing your local ISP routing. VPN connections encrypt and secure all your network traffic, not just the HTTP or SOCKS calls from your browsing like a proxy server. VPNs are great when you need to use the Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop. For example, using a VPN instead of the potentially completely unencrypted local Wi-Fi adds another layer of privacy.

System-Level vs Individual App Level

The first significant difference is that a VPN is configured at the system level so that all traffic goes through the VPN encrypted connection. Therefore, VPN can be used with any traffic or any app. For instance, you can use a VPN while playing a game, streaming music, or doing file sharing. Although most VPN softwares do allow you to exclude certain apps, for the most part, you are going to be using a VPN for all of your traffic at once.

On the other hand, a proxy server is usually configured at the individual app level. So you would have to go into individual settings for some software and put in the proxy connection settings. Then it would only connect through that software well, whereas everything else will be unaffected.

Encryption

Is your online traffic encrypted? Well, it depends on the traffic. For example, the HTTPS connection encrypts your browsing data but does not hide your destination on the web. If a website supports this protocol, your internet service provider (or anyone spying on your connection) knows that you are on that website but cannot see what you are doing there. The “S” in the HTTPS stands for Secure. So if you are shopping online without a secure connection, your name, contacts, and credit card information can get compromised.

In another case, end-to-end encryption secures data with a unique lock, and only the person you are sending it has a corresponding key. But not all chat apps employ end-to-end encryption. As a result, messenger services without this security measure may store unencrypted messages in their servers, making them vulnerable to breaches and leaks.

Finally, a VPN service will secure all your traffic by creating a tunnel between your device and a VPN server. Your online activity is not always encrypted – a VPN is a great tool to fix that. Think of it as a blanket of security that covers everything not covered by other means. However, a VPN won’t secure your communications if you use a messenger without end-to-end encryption because your messages will pass their servers once they’re out of the VPN Tunnel.

Speed

Connection speed comes down to three things. Your distance from a Proxy or VPN server. The further you are from the server, the more distance the data you send and receive has to cover, bogging down your connection. Also, the server load affects your connection speed; the more crowded a server is, the more likely you are to experience connection problems. The level of encryption can also affect your speed. Encrypting and decrypting data takes a bit of time, so the more powerful your encryption is, the more it affects your connection.

Using either proxy or VPN would slow down your speed, but usually, VPNs are slower as they need to encrypt the data before sending and decrypt it after receiving.

Cost

VPNs cost money, and proxies usually are free. Usually, proxy servers are free, and in very few cases, there are paid proxy services. On the other hand, it is not easy to find free VPN services. Also, the cheaper VPNs are less secure.

Reliability

In terms of reliability, VPNs are stronger than proxy servers. Usually, proxy servers disconnect automatically, and you need to connect them again. For example, if you are working on an application, you need to reconnect the proxy server and restore your work. VPNs don’t drop-it-like-it’s-hot as much as proxies do.

Security

Everything that you do online leaves a digital footprint. And the information about your behavior is precious — to advertisers, governments, or criminals. But when you connect to a secure VPN server, your IP address changes, and your physical location stays hidden. Besides, since your connection is cloaked with encryption, no one can eavesdrop on your online activities.

With dozens of cyberthreats across the internet, staying away from danger might get tricky. So it blocks malicious ads and websites known for hosting malware before you get a chance to click on them.

Proxy Server vs VPN – What’s the Difference Final Thoughts

VPNs do have a lot more advantages than a proxy. The main advantage of a proxy is that it will typically have less overhead because there is no security with it. So it might be faster if you really need a fast connection, but again why would you use a proxy in the first place if you did not want privacy.

Going back to VPNs, a significant advantage is that you can use them with the whole system; the application does not have to support proxies; it does not even know that it is using a VPN. It is just all sent through there like it is your regular connection, except it is encrypted.

The only situation where one could consider using a proxy is when you are in a public place, and you obviously cannot change the software settings on those computers. Then maybe you could go to like one of those web based proxies, and you do not care about being snooped on. So you can use something like that, but again, because it will not be encrypted. Most likely, one should not ever type any personal info through a free proxy or especially not login because again, if it is not encrypted or weak encryption.

Avatar for Emad Bin Abid
Emad Bin Abid

I'm a software engineer who has a bright vision and a strong interest in designing and engineering software solutions. I readily understand that in today's agile world the development process has to be rapid, reusable, and scalable; hence it is extremely important to develop solutions that are well-designed and embody a well-thought-of architecture as the baseline. Apart from designing and developing business solutions, I'm a content writer who loves to document technical learnings and experiences so that peers in the same industry can also benefit from them.

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