VPN vs Proxy – Comparison of the Two Technologies

Hello, my name is Nicholas Cuts. I am an employee of SwitcherryVPN company. A new article on my blog compares VPNs and proxies. Both of these technologies provide users with anonymity when surfing the Internet, but each does it differently. The article provides a brief popular description and how VPN networks and proxy servers work. After reading the article, you will find out which is the best for your security and privacy – VPN or proxy servers, and which of the two technologies should be preferred.

The continued offensive by governments of various countries on the rights and freedoms of citizens threatens the fundamental right of all people to privacy and private life. Censorship of authoritarian states blacklists thousands of Internet resources every year, violating citizens’ rights to free access to information. As it follows from Snowden’s revelations, even in the leading democracies, where the constitution guarantees citizens privacy, Internet users are under the hood of total surveillance by intelligence agencies and other law enforcement agencies. The harsh reality of modern life makes many people think about ways to circumvent censorship and protect personal information. And there are many such methods.

What is a proxy server and how does it work

When a user goes online, he first connects to the server of his ISP. For all sites visited by the user, the IP address of this server is “visible”. By the IP address, you can easily determine the physical location of the user – his country, region, city. If the user configures his connection to the network so that traffic must be forced to pass through an additional intermediary server that would hide information about him, then the user’s own IP address for the sites visited will be hidden and replaced with the IP address of the intermediary server … This intermediate proxy server is called a proxy server.

Proxy server workflow
Proxy server workflow

To connect to a proxy server, you need to know its IP address and port number, as well as information for user authentication if the proxy server is not public. You can connect the whole computer to the proxy server by changing the Internet connection parameters of the operating system, or a separate program, for example, a browser (this option is not available for all browsers), a torrent client or any other that can work with a proxy. In the latter cases, only the traffic generated by this program will pass through the proxy server, other applications that access the Internet will not use the proxy server.

Types of proxy servers

Proxies can be classified according to several criteria.

By the type of data transfer protocol used:

  • HTTP proxy servers;
  • HTTPS proxy servers;
  • SOCKS proxy servers.

By the provided level of anonymization:

  • transparent proxy servers;
  • anonymous proxy servers;
  • highly anonymous (elite) proxy servers.

Upon availability of a usage fee:

  • paid proxy servers;
  • public (open, free) proxy servers.

A separate place is occupied by public web proxies (anonymizers).

HTTP proxy servers

These proxy servers use the insecure HTTP data transfer protocol, which means that the traffic between the proxy server and the user’s computer is not protected from interception and analysis in any way. Any hacker and, moreover, an Internet provider will immediately determine which Internet resources the user is visiting (or trying to visit).

HTTP proxies cannot be used to unblock sites that are blacklisted by government censorship.
The HTTP protocol is not secure
The HTTP protocol is not secure

HTTPS proxy servers

HTTPS proxy servers create a secure, secure connection, so the ISP will not be able to determine which sites the user is visiting, which will allow him to bypass any censorship restrictions and blockings.

SOCKS proxy servers

HTTP and HTTPS proxy servers can only be used to visit websites. Universal SOCKS proxy servers support many data transfer protocols, so such proxy servers can be used not only for surfing the network, but also, for example, for downloading files from ftp servers and torrents, transferring mail messages, etc.

Transparent proxy servers

All data about the user is transmitted to the visited site: his real IP address, the operating system of his device, the name and version of the browser used, etc.

Anonymous proxy servers

Anonymous proxy servers do not transmit any user data to the visited site, but they report that a proxy server is being used.

Highly anonymous (elite) proxy servers

Elite proxy servers not only do not transmit any data about the user to the visited Internet resource, but also completely hide the fact of using a proxy server. In other words, from the point of view of the target site, the IP address of the proxy server is the user’s own IP address.

Elite proxy server
Elite proxy server

Open (public) and paid (private) proxy servers

The vast majority of existing proxy servers are deployed for the needs of companies or leased to ordinary users for a small fee. To access a paid proxy server, in addition to its IP address and port, you need to know the authentication data – login and password. But there are also completely free proxy servers that anyone can use without authentication. These proxies are called open or public.

Public web proxies (anonymizing sites)

Anonymizer (public web proxy) are proxy servers with a user interface. To connect to the anonymizer, the user does not need to know his IP address and port number, and there is no need to make any changes to the settings of his Internet connection. For visitors, the anonymizer looks like a regular website. Anonymizers are used to unblock and anonymously visit sites. Using the anonymizer is very simple – just enter the name of the blocked site in the input field and press Enter. Some public web proxies allow you to configure the connection: enable or disable the use of JavaScript, transfer cookies, select a proxy server with a specific geolocation and IP address, etc. Unfortunately, many public web proxies do not use the secure HTTPS protocol.

Proxy advantages and disadvantages

Since there are many types of proxy servers, it is impossible to talk about their advantages and disadvantages without mentioning which specific type we are talking about.

Security

Only paid proxy servers that support the secure HTTPS data transfer protocol can be considered safe. Free proxy servers should always be treated with great distrust. There is no guarantee that using free proxies will not leak critical data. Moreover, some public web proxies have been spotted stealing passwords and intercepting cookies.

In no case use free proxy servers and public web proxies to transfer critical information, that is, do not go through them to social networks, mail, online banks and wallets, do not make purchases on the Internet using plastic cards, etc.
 When using public proxies, personal data may be at risk

When using public proxies, personal data may be at risk

Anonymity and confidentiality

Only highly anonymous (elite) HTTPS proxies provide a level of anonymity and privacy comparable to the level of anonymity provided by a quality VPN service.

Baud rate

Paid proxy servers have almost no effect on the data transfer speed, that is, the Internet speed will not decrease or decrease slightly, the latency (Ping) will also hardly change or increase slightly. Public (free) proxies and anonymizers significantly reduce data transfer rates and increase latency.

Supported Operating Systems and Devices

To work with a proxy server, you can configure any operating system installed on any device.

Installation and configuration

Setting up an operating system (or a specific program) to work with a proxy server is quite simple – in the Internet properties of the operating system (or in the properties of a browser, or another program adapted to work with a proxy), you must specify the IP address and port of the selected proxy server. To start working with a web proxy (anonymizer), as mentioned above, you do not need to make any changes in the settings of the operating system and programs at all.

Change of geolocation

After the user configures the computer to use a specific anonymous or highly anonymous proxy server, his “visible” IP address and geolocation will match the IP address and location of that proxy. That is, you can change the “visible” IP-address and geolocation only by choosing a different proxy server and changing the computer settings.

What is VPN and how does it provide anonymity, privacy and security

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is probably the best way to protect the privacy of ordinary Internet users right now. A VPN network consists of nodes connected by what are known as “tunnels”. VPN nodes can be both servers and end-user devices. VPN tunnels protect data transmitted between nodes from interception and hacking. In reality, VPN tunnels are secure connections created using cryptographic protocols and using special software – “VPN client” (installed on the user’s device) and “VPN server” (installed on the server). A VPN connection not only protects user data, but also ensures complete anonymity by replacing the user’s own IP address with the IP address of the VPN server.

How does the VPN work
How does the VPN work

VPN advantages and disadvantages

Now in the world there are many companies and organizations that provide VPN services both on a paid and free basis. Free VPNs usually fail to provide users with the same level of service as paid ones.

Security

Security depends on the type of encryption protocol used. Weak, legacy cryptographic protocols (such as PPTP) do not provide a secure connection. A VPN tunnel created using a weak encryption protocol can be easily compromised by a hacker. Strong cryptographic protocols will reliably protect the VPN connection from any hacking attempts.

Anonymity and confidentiality

The VPN connection itself provides complete anonymity and confidentiality, since neither hackers nor even the ISP are able to determine what data passes through the VPN tunnel, and for external Internet resources, the user’s own IP address is replaced by the VPN IP address -server. In reality, anonymity is completely dependent on the privacy policy of the VPN provider. 100% anonymity is only guaranteed if the VPN provider does not track user activity, maintain logs, and provide third-party customer data.

Remember that many companies that provide free VPN services have been repeatedly spotted selling their users’ personal data. It is also important to pay attention to the place of registration of the VPN provider company. In many countries, including in the USA and Great Britain, all companies providing communication services are required to record the actions of their users in logs, which must be stored for at least 6 months, and provide this data to intelligence officers upon request. Therefore, if you value your anonymity before choosing a VPN provider, please read their privacy policy and never trust companies that provide VPN services for free! By the way, you can check your VPN for security yourself.

Baud rate

The data transfer speed depends on the modern equipment of the VPN provider and the total number of available servers. The more powerful high-speed servers a VPN provider has, the faster Internet speeds it can provide to its customers. Companies that provide VPN services for free usually have a very small number of servers, many of which are usually outdated and underpowered, so they cannot provide good data transfer rates.

Supported operating systems and devices

Most operating systems have built-in VPN support. The best VPN providers build and distribute VPN clients for all popular operating systems and devices.

Installation and configuration

The VPN client is as easy to install and configure as any other application. You can also set up a VPN directly in the operating system or on a router. To do this, you need to obtain authorization data from the VPN provider – the IP address of the VPN server, the type of encryption protocol, username and password. You can read more about how to install VPN directly in the operating system and on the router in my articles “How to set up VPN for home“, “Install and configure VPN on iPhone and iPad“, “How to install and configure VPN on the router“.

Change of geolocation

If you use a VPN client program to connect to the VPN server, you can change the geolocation with one click in the corresponding section of the VPN client. Otherwise, you will have to contact the VPN provider again to obtain data from another VPN server located in the required geographic area and change the VPN connection settings.

VPN vs Proxy – head-to-head comparison

VPN Proxy server
Resistance to blocking by government agencies The best VPN providers are constantly updating their VPN server fleet with new IP addresses, making it difficult to completely block VPN access. It is very easy to block the IP address of a single proxy server. Most public anonymizing sites (web proxies) have long been blocked in countries where governments restrict the rights and freedoms of their citizens.
Geolocation selection In the VPN client, you can change geolocation and get a new IP address with one click. Good VPN providers have thousands of VPN servers in dozens of countries around the world. By renting a proxy server, you will be tied to a specific region and will have a single IP address at your disposal. Some free web proxies allow you to select the country and IP address of the proxy server, but their choice is very limited.
Protection The VPN client perfectly protects the computer and other device of the user. Proxy servers do not protect the user’s device in any way.
Security If the VPN network uses a secure cryptographic protocol, then the connection is as secure as possible. The proxy server only routes user traffic, no additional encryption is applied, so the security level of the connection is not changed.
Anonymity VPNs provide 100 percent anonymity if the VPN provider’s privacy policy does not include logging and collecting customer data. Only highly anonymous (elite) HTTPS proxies provide an adequate level of anonymity.
Baud rate If the VPN provider has powerful, high-speed servers, the Internet speed will hardly slow down. Free VPN services tend to have slower data rates. Paid proxy servers have almost no impact on the data transfer speed. Free public proxies slow down your Internet speed a lot.
Service cost Quality VPN services are available for a small fee. But there are also completely free VPN services. The cost of renting an elite proxy server is comparable to a paid VPN subscription. Public web proxies are completely free.

Conclusions

A high-quality VPN service provides better security and privacy than a proxy server in all respects, and the level of anonymity of a VPN connection is comparable to that provided by highly anonymous (elite) HTTPS proxy servers.

A VPN user can easily change geolocation (if he has a VPN client installed), while when using a proxy server, geolocation can only be changed by replacing the proxy server. It is more difficult for governments of authoritarian states to block a VPN service with multiple VPN servers than a single proxy server.

FAQ

1. What proxy servers are suitable for downloading files from torrents?

1. What proxy servers are suitable for downloading files from torrents?

SOCKS / SOCKS5 proxy only. All other proxies do not support BitTorrent protocol.

2. But in the settings of my torrent client, it is possible to establish a connection through a proxy server of any type, including HTTP / HTTPS. So I can still download files from torrents through an HTTP / HTTPS proxy server?

2. But in the settings of my torrent client, it is possible to establish a connection through a proxy server of any type, including HTTP / HTTPS. So I can still download files from torrents through an HTTP / HTTPS proxy server?

No, you can’t. The torrent client will use HTTP / HTTPS proxy servers only to bypass censorship (unblock torrent trackers), and all P2P traffic will go past the proxy server. Therefore, your real IP address will still be visible to all participants in the distribution. Only SOCKS / SOCKS5 proxy servers are able to handle P2P traffic and hide your IP address when downloading files from torrents.

Author: Nicolas Cuts

Product Managers at SwitcherryVPN. Have 5 years background in management and marketing. I never stop learning!

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