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VPN vs Proxy? Which One is Better?

by KEN

If you are looking for Internet privacy, both VPNs and Proxies are fantastic solutions. No one is better than the other. “Better” really depends on how you suit each according to your requirements and resources.

VPNs are great for end-to-end privacy but are usually slower. On the other hand, proxies do not provide encryption, so their privacy level is lower, but they can provide incredible speeds at the application-level.

1. VPN vs Proxy: Their Definition.

Although Proxy and VPN operate completely differently, they provide the same advantage, security and privacy.

A. A VPN — in Plain English.

How would a company with branch offices distributed across the country or the globe take its internal network (along with servers, printers, files, etc.) and make it available in their remote offices? A Wide Area Network “WAN” is a good solution, but it requires many infrastructures and expertise to operate; Unimaginable for the end-consumers.

Virtual Private Networks “VPNs” on the other hand, use someone else’s infrastructure (ISP’s, network operators, or the Internet) to connect those remote and internal networks together— a much easier, cost-efficient, faster solution.

But how would companies make traffic secure over those public networks? With encryption.

Encryption is why VPNs are often associated with “Internet privacy.” To ensure two networks (client/server) are private (unreadable by anyone), VPNs need to create tunnels with encryption mechanisms. 

B. Proxy – in Simple Terms.

According to the dictionary, Proxy is: “the agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another.”

The dictionary’s concept is not so distant from our technical “Proxy.” That is precisely what a Proxy does— it acts as a “representative” for all the communications to and from the Internet (or other external “risky” networks).

Proxies were initially designed to protect incoming and outgoing traffic to/from the Internet— to serve as a buffer to all communications. With proxies, IT managers can have better control over how their internal users use the Internet. But they could also protect their internal assets from the outside world.

2. VPNs and Proxies— their Similarities and Differences.

The main difference between proxy and VPN is that VPNs create an encrypted tunnel from client to server, while proxies are entirely ignorant of encryption. Still, users connected to the Internet behind a proxy will automatically protect their privacy.

  • A VPN uses encryption. A proxy does not encrypt. So it is fair to say VPNs provide a higher degree of privacy.
  • VPNs work under the hood (layer 3). A proxy works for the application (layer 7). VPNs work at the client’s networking layer (IP). On the other hand, proxies only change the traffic of specific applications, i.e., web browsers, torrent clients, streaming clients, etc.
  • Proxies are much faster. VPN encryption pays a higher toll. Instead, not having to encrypt every single packet, a proxy can be much quicker.

The Internet is the technology that makes VPNs and Proxies similar.

Although a Proxy and VPN are completely different technical worlds, they provide a similar benefit: Internet Privacy.

The VPN and Proxy servers can be used as “Internet gateways,” while the source’s identity is masked. Additionally, wherever a (VPN or Proxy) server is located, access to the Internet from that server will be based on that country.

For a VPN, the Internet is the media. For a Proxy, the Internet is its destination.

 Technically, if you think about it, you could use both technologies without really depending on the Internet.

  1. VPNs could use other mediums.
  2. Proxies could have different destinations
  3. The proxy/VPN server do not really need to have access to the Internet.

For example an internal University’s network with VPN connecting small offices across campuses (using other media than the Internet). Or a proxy, to protect a small office from the larger university’s network (and not the Internet).

However, the Internet is what makes these technologies come to life.

So, When to Use a VPN or Proxy?

Now that we know a couple of simple facts about VPNs and proxy, let’s figure out when to use each one.

1. If you are looking to improve security and Internet privacy for a company…

    1. Since the purpose of a VPN is to extend local networks to any geographical area— VPNs are fantastic tools to give access to the company’s network to remote workers. They can enable employees (or users) to work remotely while being connected to the company’s resources.
    2. A proxy can be used as an Internet gateway within the company’s local network. It can help monitor Internet usage, block certain websites from being accessed internally, etc. But it can also be used as a reverse proxy to grant access to remote workers to internal networks.

2. If you are looking to improve your online personal privacy…

  1. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between the client (you) and the server. So that means the chances of getting your IP exposed through the tunnel are almost impossible. VPNs are better for browsing the Internet in public places, like a WiFi’s coffee shop.
  2. A proxy, on the other hand, is a straightforward mechanism for masking your IP. So, it allows anonymous browsing, circumventing geo-restricted content, or bypassing censorship. Rapidseedbox‘s IPv6 proxies are a great example of these types of proxies. These provide efficient routing, packet processing, new services, and security.

3. If you are looking to “privatize” only certain applications.

  1. A VPN will encrypt the entire traffic, making it slower to process. VPNs are better for hiding. So if you are looking to avoid bandwidth throttling, traffic shaping, censorship, and circumventing geo-restricted content, a VPN is a better option.
  2. But if you are looking for application-level privacy, a proxy will allow you to do things on a per-application basis. For example, you want to hide an IP while torrenting on public trackers but leave the web browsing with your original IP; the proxy server is enough.
  3. VPNs work under the hood (layer 3). A proxy works for the application (layer 7). VPNs work at the client’s networking layer (IP). On the other hand, proxies only change the traffic of specific applications, i.e., web browsers, torrent clients, streaming clients, etc.
  4. Proxies are much faster. VPN encryption pays a higher toll. Instead, not having to encrypt every single packet, a proxy can be much quicker.

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