You can protect your online data in a number of ways. If you want to be proactive, the two best solutions you can use are a proxy server or a virtual private network (VPN).
However, to choose between proxy and VPN, you need to understand how both options work. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes them different, the downsides of using a VPN or proxy, and how to choose between them. Then, we’ll walk you through a few options for setting each option.
Proxy vs VPN: What’s the Difference?
Proxy servers relay your browser or application’s requests to their destinations. While doing so, it clears any requests that identify a digital footprint, such as your IP address, your location, etc.
However, proxy servers work at the application level. This means that you can use a proxy server to route the activity of a specific browser, rather than the entire operating system (OS).
VPNs, on the other hand, route all your online traffic through a server. This includes activities such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) connections, operating system updates, third-party application downloads, and more. This provides the same advantages as “hiding” your identity and traffic source, but with a higher degree of privacy than a proxy.
In fact, you can configure a proxy server to route most of your system traffic. Unfortunately, some applications are not easy to use when using a proxy server.
Generally speaking, VPNs do a better job of protecting your personal information. However, that’s not the only reason why you might want to use a proxy server or VPN.
When to use a proxy vs a VPN
Proxy servers are ideal when you need to monitor internet activity and ensure that users cannot access a particular application or website. Two good examples of this situation include:
- learning institutions. Often, schools have a large number of devices on the same network. Without “rules”, users could abuse their connections.
- Office environment. Using a proxy server, you can restrict access to dangerous websites, configure firewalls, and even create cache rules to speed up browsing.
Aside from increased privacy, the main advantage of proxy servers is scalability. Proxy servers can be used throughout the office, and VPNs tend to have strict limits on the number of devices that can be connected.
Using a proxy server, you can configure the entire web experience for large networks. You can set up rules to protect users and reduce the risk of malware infection.
For non-work environments, you can use a proxy server to access geo-restricted content. One advantage proxies have over VPNs in this regard is that many open proxy providers give you access to a large number of servers:
Since you can choose which server you want to use, a proxy can give you access to a lot of content you wouldn’t otherwise have access to (however, Netflix masters many of these tricks).
Keep in mind that open agency providers work differently than what you see in a learning environment or office. In these setups you are probably dealing with a forward proxy server.
When to use a VPN vs a proxy
VPNs are all about privacy. They route and encrypt all your online activities on specific devices. This comes in handy in a variety of situations, including:
- If you frequently use the public network. In general, public networks are not secure. With a VPN, you don’t have to worry about your data being intercepted.
- for remote work. If you usually work on the go and need to connect to your company’s network, they will usually require you to use a VPN. This way, they can ensure that all the data you use is safe.
- Used to spoof your location. If you are connected to a VPN, all your traffic will be routed through the remote server. Depending on where this server is located, you may be able to bypass regional restrictions.
Outside the office, many people use VPNs to bypass torrenting and streaming restrictions. The “disadvantage” of using a VPN for location spoofing is that most providers restrict you to a specific location. If your main goal of using a VPN is to access geo-restricted content, make sure the provider you choose allows you to switch locations.
Likewise, many VPNs use shared IP addresses. This adds an extra layer of anonymity, as it makes it harder to link specific users to specific addresses.
When comparing proxies to VPNs, the latter may be slower. That’s because they need to route all your system’s traffic and encrypt it. On the other hand, a proxy server can actually improve load times.
How to choose a proxy server or VPN provider
Choosing a VPN and proxy provider is a very sensitive topic. For VPNs in particular, you need a provider that supports the highest security and privacy standards.
As you might imagine, these providers are all too rare. With this in mind, what we can do is provide you with the resources you need to make informed decisions in every situation:
- Choose the most secure VPN service. By far the most comprehensive resource for VPN providers is that privacy site. The site compares VPNs in terms of jurisdiction, logging, server configuration, security, and more.
- Choose a budget VPN provider. For something as sensitive as a VPN, picking the cheapest option without any research isn’t the smartest idea. In this roundup, you can find a list of our recommended VPNs, including pricing information.
Proxy servers are a tricky subject. Many free proxy servers on the web work perfectly if you only want to occasionally access restricted websites. In many cases, all you have to do is enter a URL, choose a location, and let the service do the work for you.
However, this type of agency won’t cut it in an office setting. To get all the benefits of a proxy server we’ve discussed, you’ll need to set up your own proxy server. For this, open source solutions like Squid are the best option:
Setting up and configuring a proxy server for an office is entirely the responsibility of a system administrator. For less restrictive environments, you can try configuring one yourself. However, for businesses, you may need to hire a professional.
Understanding the difference between a proxy and a VPN is key to protecting your data. If you tend to work remotely or deal with sensitive information, then a VPN is the right choice for you. Sometimes, they may not be the fastest option, but they are by far the safer option.
On the other hand, proxy servers are ideal for office environments where you need to monitor network activity. They’re also the best option for bypassing geo-restricted content, as providers often allow you to switch between multiple servers.