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Proxy vs VPN: what's the main difference?

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Both proxies and VPNs work by connecting you to a remote computer in order to mask your IP address. But despite both providing the same functionality in this sense, VPNs and proxies are actually very different.

VPNs cost money but they encrypt your data, while proxy servers offer much less in the way of security, but don’t usually charge users.

But should you get a VPN or a proxy? In this article, we’ve collected lots of useful information to help you understand, which option is the right one for you. So read on for everything you need to know about VPNs and proxies.

VPN and proxy

VPNs and proxies mask your IP address to keep your identity protected while you’re online. So, whether you’re surfing the internet, checking your emails, going on social media, streaming videos, playing games online, or downloading files and photos, you can use a VPN or a proxy server to keep your activity private.

But both of these tools work in very different ways. You see, a VPN also offers sophisticated encryption to give you complete anonymity while you’re online. In addition, it works on a system level, which means that once the VPN is activated, your whole traffic becomes encrypted and gets a different IP address, from your browser to all of your applications.

Meanwhile, a proxy only affords you a basic level of privacy. It only changes your real IP address without encrypting the traffic. A proxy also works on an app-level only.

Main differences between a proxy and a VPN

Because proxies and VPNs mask your IP address by connecting you to a remote computer, a lot of people believe that VPNs and proxies are the same thing.

Here are the main differences between VPNs and proxy servers:

VPNsProxies
Encrypt your trafficYesNo
Works on the operating system levelYesNo
Free to useNo (usually)Yes (usually)
Reliable connectionYesNot always
Good speedsYes (often)Yes (usually)
Extra featuresYesNo

VPN and proxy: pros and cons

When it comes to VPNs vs proxies and which to choose, there are pros and cons for each option. Proxy servers are usually the cheaper and quicker choice and are really handy if all you want to do is hide your IP address. But VPNs offer much greater security by encrypting all your online traffic.

This means that only a VPN can help you protect your online activity from hackers, government agencies, and businesses that might be looking to learn more about you and how you spend your time while surfing the internet.

But there are still loads of benefits of each option. We’ve pulled together a list of pros and cons to help you decide if you want a proxy or a VPN.

VPN pros and cons

how a vpn works

A VPN (also known as a virtual private network) works by creating an encrypted tunnel between you and a remote server operated by a VPN service. When you use a VPN, all your internet traffic is then routed through this tunnel. This keeps your online activity safe from hackers, third-party companies, and even government agencies.

Proxy server pros and cons

A proxy server masks your IP identity by routing traffic through a remote machine that connects you to the host server. It acts as a firewall and web filter, provides shared network connections, and it’ll cache your data to speed up common requests.

how a proxy server works

Essentially, a proxy is ideal for basic functions like anonymous web browsing and managing and circumventing content restrictions. Proxies allow users to bypass content restrictions and monitoring and can (but usually won't) enable you to access geographically restricted content, like Hulu or foreign versions of Netflix.

Proxy vs VPN: which is more secure?

A VPN is a lot more secure than a proxy. While both mask your IP address, a VPN will actually encrypt all the data you send and receive. Therefore, VPNs are much better at providing online protection than proxies, which don’t offer any encryption.

All a proxy does is pass your traffic through a mediating server. So this doesn’t necessarily provide you with any additional protection. And you’ll have no way of knowing what a proxy will do with any data it’s collected on your online activity. But it’s possible this information could be sold to third-party companies.

It’s also worth noting that VPNs, unlike proxies, work on the operating system level to secure all your traffic, which makes them a lot safer than using a proxy.

Can I use a proxy and a VPN together?

There’s no need to use a proxy if you’ve also got a VPN. Both proxies and VPNs mask your IP identity, so there’s no reason to use them together. In fact, if you’re already using a VPN, then connecting to a website or app through a proxy server just adds an unnecessary extra step that could even slow things down without adding any additional security.

With that said, you could use both if you feel the extra step to secure your anonymity is necessary.

VPNs vs proxies: the bottom line

If you’re looking at a proxy vs VPN for security reasons, the VPN is the clear winner. Its layers of encryption as well as its no-log policy means that it’ll keep your online activity safe from hackers and third parties.

However, if all you want is to keep your IP address hidden, then a proxy will work just as well as a VPN. In fact, if you just want to mask your identity from a single site or app, a proxy server might be the better choice, particularly if you’re concerned about bandwidth and browsing speeds.

And if you’re concerned about cost or you just don’t want to commit to yet another monthly subscription, there are loads of decent free proxy servers out there. So you can get a basic level of online privacy and the ability to bypass content restrictions without paying a penny.

While VPNs usually charge a monthly subscription fee, they’re not likely to break the bank. You can sign up for a VPN for just a few dollars a month. And let’s be honest, this subscription fee does seem like a pretty small price to pay to keep your sensitive personal and financial information protected from hackers and other third parties.Thinking of trying out a VPN service? Read one of our VPNguides or reviews


Thinking of trying out a VPN service? Read one of our VPN guides or reviews


FAQ

Comments

Jay
Jay
prefix 10 months ago
Dear Ms.Hiley,

Could you please let me know specifically about a new browser Epic Privacy Browser which os considered quite safe and second only to Tor.
There are other browsers as well with an embedded proxy vpn .
Is this a true VPN or still a proxy server without encryption?

Thanks,
CyberNews Team
CyberNews Team
prefix 10 months ago
Epic Privacy Browser is proprietary and uses Chromium-based code. The fact that it isn’t open source makes it very difficult to evaluate its trustworthiness.
Then, there’s no public update changelog, so it’s impossible to know what’s added to the browser.
Their proxy is free of charge and is based in the US, which should be a red flag.
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