VPN vs Proxy: What’s the difference?

VPN vs Proxy

Both can help you change and hide your IP address. You can use both services to unlock restricted content, for example. However, the proxy doesn’t offer any kind of extra security. Also, proxies are much less secure than VPN connections.

If you want to browse the internet really anonymous and safe, then you’d better opt for VPN. VPNs send all your online activity through an encrypted tunnel, making it much more difficult for others to see your online behavior. The proxy doesn’t give you that level of security.

Would you like to try out a reliable and affordable VPN? We recommend NordVPN.

When you want to browse anonymously, you can use a VPN or a proxy.

VPN and proxy on scales

Both VPNs and proxies change the geographic location displayed, allowing you to bypass geo-restrictions on websites and increase your privacy. 

Think of the many streaming services that won’t show their content when you’re not in the right country. Or think about being able to watch the US version of Netflix outside the US. 

While VPNs and proxies can do this, the two operate very differently. Even the word “proxy” itself is a very broad term, with different meanings. There are, for example, public and private proxies, and each has different functions.

So what is the main difference between VPN and proxy? Which of the two is better? Although they have similar functions, the way they configure your internet connection is very different. We’ll explain what those differences are, how proxy servers work, and the pros and cons of both VPNs and proxies.

Proxy servers

A proxy server is a server located between your computer and the internet. When you browse online with a proxy, all your internet traffic is first sent through the proxy server. For this reason, it appears that your data is coming directly from the proxy server and not from your computer or your IP address. 

While VPN servers automatically encrypt all your data, proxy does not. Therefore, the proxy is capable of handling a large number of simultaneous connections from different users (usually tens of thousands). Many VPN providers also offer separate proxy services for their customers to use.

Different IP Proxy Portuguese

Proxy servers can communicate with the internet in different ways. They use two protocols for this: HTTP or SOCKS.

HTTP proxy servers

The HTTP protocol was developed to interpret any traffic at the HTTP level. Proxies using this protocol can only operate with these web pages. Any address starting with http:// or the more secure https:// will be covered by this protocol. Consequently, proxies using this protocol will only be effective when you are using your browser. 

Since this proxy only accepts HTTP requests, it is somewhat faster than a VPN or SOCKS proxy, as both need to process more data. Also, an HTTP proxy can help you bypass  some online geo-restrictions. Lastly, HTTP proxies are usually free or very affordable.

The main disadvantage of a proxy that uses the HTTP protocol is that its data can be easily traced. By using Flash or JavaScript, which the HTTP protocol cannot handle, many websites will be able to detect your real IP address, regardless of the proxy. Furthermore, proxies do not encrypt your data, allowing  hackers, authorities, security systems and your ISP to follow your every step

If you are on an HTTPS site, your data traffic will not be tracked by others. However, your IP address will still be visible. A final disadvantage of HTTP proxies is that you will need to configure the proxy separately in each browser you use. This will cost you extra time and dedication.

To summarize all the pros and cons of HTTP proxies, we created the following table:

PROS:CONS:
Affordable (usually free)Only useful for accessing websites
Hide your IP addressYour IP address can be easily discovered
FastHTTP data is not encrypted and will be susceptible to hacking
Provides access to some restricted websitesNeed individual configuration for each browser

SOCKS proxy servers

In addition to HTTPS, proxy servers can use another protocol: SOCKS SOCKS proxy servers can do more than just interpret web pages. They also consider all internet traffic, e.g. email apps, IRC chats and torrent programs for their downloads. This way, you will also be more anonymous outside your browser.

As SOCKS proxies process more data than HTTP proxies, they turn out to be slower. They also deal with the same security issues: you are still susceptible to hackers and your IP address can be discovered, even if the process is not as easy as with HTTP proxy. Finally, you will need to configure this proxy separately on each bit of software, like BitTorrent for example.

A SOCKS proxy has advantages and disadvantages when compared to an HTTP proxy. Still, it can be very useful in specific circumstances. For example, if you just want to hide your identity to download torrents on BitTorrent, the SOCKS proxy using a secure SSL connection (a connection with certified levels of encryption) is sufficient. 

However, if you intend to download illegal documents or files from the internet, please observe the local legislation regarding this type of download.

PROS:CONS:
Hide your IP addressSlower than an HTTP proxy
Provides access to some restricted websitesDoes not encrypt your data traffic, making it susceptible to hacking
Process all types of internet traffic (including torrents)Needs individual configuration on each piece of software
Protects enough for anonymous use of BitTorrent.

Proxy servers: public vs private

Proxy servers can perform many tasks. To differentiate the proxies and the functions they perform, we can classify them according to the way they operate. First, there is a difference between public and private proxies.

public proxy servers

Free Proxy List

Public, or open, proxy servers are proxies that anyone can freely use. This is possible because proxies are capable of handling hundreds of connections at the same time. There are many public servers online, all of which are free to use. 

These servers rely on SOCKS and HTTP proxies, although most are HTTP. If you know where to look, you’ll find an endless list of public proxies. HideMyAss, for example, offers a free, public proxy on its website.

Unfortunately, public proxy servers are very unstable. This is because servers used by many people at the same time can end up overloaded and stop working. When a public server can be easily found on the internet, many people will use it, which can cause all sorts of problems. Your connection may drop unexpected, and often the proxy speed is extremely slow. 

Furthermore, you will always have to send all sorts of confidential information to the owners of these anonymous servers. After all, all your data traffic is sent through your servers. Finally, public proxies generally do not offer any additional support. However, it is a fact that these public proxies are free and straightforward to use.

Private proxy servers

Private proxy servers are not available to everyone: you will need to purchase one for a small fee. Generally, these servers are much faster than the public ones. You will need a username and password to access them. 

Private proxy servers tend to be much more reliable than public ones as they are usually controlled by reputable companies. In addition, they often offer additional software and support, configured for your personal use. 

BTGuard and TorGuard, for example, both have pre-configured servers, perfect for downloading torrents. These services offer specialized SOCKS torrenting capabilities, while other VPNs offer both HTTP and SOCKS.

The different types of proxies

A proxy can be public or private. In addition, there is another way to subdivide proxies according to their functions. There are web proxies, transparent proxies, anonymous proxies, reverse proxies and more. We will briefly explain each of these categories. For more information on the different types of proxies, check out our article “What is a proxy server”.

Web proxy

A web proxy service, like the one offered by CyberGhost, establishes a connection to a public HTTP server. When you send a web request online, the proxy catches it. It changes the request and later sends it to its initial destination. With the web proxy, you will be able to  browse much more anonymously in your browser without having to install any other software. You won’t even need to configure your browser. Also, these web proxies are usually free.

Unfortunately, web proxies also have their downsides: they tend to insert countless ads, which you are likely to see on your screen. They are also usually slower and only support Flash Player and JavaScript. In addition, many websites block IP addresses from these proxies, preventing you from accessing information on these pages while using the proxy. 

All the security issues that come with using HTTP servers also apply to web proxies: they are not very secure, and they also do not guarantee complete anonymity when browsing.

Web proxies are easy to use. Even so, problems with speed, security and access blocks significantly limit its usefulness. For greater security and faster connection, it is better to opt for another type of proxy.

Transparent proxy

A proxy becomes transparent when it cannot be seen by its users. You can say he is “invisible”. As with the web proxy, you will not need to configure this proxy in your browser. Using a transparent proxy is often “mandatory”, even if the user is unaware. The transparent proxy is located between the user and the service. While the user cannot see that their data is first sent through a server, the service provider can.

The main advantage of transparent proxies is that they speed up your internet because they use caching. For example, when you access a free Wi-Fi network at Starbucks as a new user, you will need to accept the conditions first. 

This screen with user terms and conditions is a cached page provided by the proxy. When you click accept, you will be taken directly to the service. In other words, you will first be sent to a saved copy of the site. Due to this process, using a large network will be easier and faster with a proxy.

If you are looking for a proxy that hides your IP address, then transparent proxy is not for you. This type of proxy sends your IP address directly to the service. Therefore, it does not offer anonymity, only greater speed and ease of use.

Anonymous proxy

Unlike transparent proxy, anonymous proxy hides your IP address. The services you use, while you are connected to this proxy, will be able to see that someone has visited your site using a proxy. However, they won’t be able to see who it was as they can’t see your real IP address, only the IP of the proxy server. 

Generally, this type of proxy works very well to increase anonymity online. However, it is not a guaranteed solution. In addition to the common anonymous proxies, there are “extremely” anonymous (or highly anonymous) proxies. These servers do not reveal to the site that they are proxies, whereas normal anonymous proxies are discoverable.

Reverse proxy

The reverse proxy does the opposite of a normal proxy. Instead of protecting the data of the user who is browsing the internet, this proxy protects the web server where it operates. Reverse proxy can be used to secure online data of a page by implementing a firewall. Access to these specific pages can be granted or denied by the proxy. 

This way, users of certain banks will not be able to accidentally browse someone else’s banking environment. Also, reverse proxies are generally used to store static pages, ensuring that the server will not be overloaded easily.

VPN

Instead of the proxy, we can also use a VPN. The Virtual Private Network (VPN)  creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the server. The only thing your ISP, hackers and possibly authorities will be able to see is that your connection comes from an IP of your VPN server. All your online activities, your real IP address, location and downloads will remain hidden by VPN encryption. 

Also, the VPN gives you access to servers from many locations, which means you can access all sorts of geo-restricted pages and services that would not normally be available to you. VPNs work as follows:

How does a VPN work English

Not all VPNs are the same. While they all basically serve the same function, there are many other factors to consider. We will talk about three aspects that you should consider. For more information on how VPN providers handle this and other matters, check out  our in-depth VPN review.

Do you want to start using a good VPN right now? Check out NordVPN.