When to use a proxy and when to use a VPN?

Both VPN (Virtual Private Networks) and proxy servers were designed to keep you anonymous on the internet and help you access websites and services that are not available to everyone because of censorship or various restrictions. Both proxies and VPNs have advantages and disadvantages and some are better than others in certain situations. Do you know what to choose when? Do you need to use a proxy server or you need a VPN connection? When is it best to use one versus the other? This guide will explain everything you need to know:

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server is an intermediary waypoint between your computer or device and the internet. The proxy makes requests to websites, servers and all kinds of internet services in your name.

For instance, if your web browser is configured to use a proxy server and you're trying to visit www.digitalcitizen.life , the request is not sent directly to our website. Instead, it goes to the proxy server. Once the proxy server receives your web browser's request, it forwards it to the server on which Digital Citizen is hosted. Then, our server responds and sends back the Digital Citizen homepage to the proxy server, which in its turn sends it to your web browser.

Because it's not your web browser that makes the direct request, but the proxy server, our website doesn't see your computer or device as a visitor. Instead, it sees the proxy server as a visitor.

If you want more details proxy servers and how they work, then you'll enjoy this article: Simple Questions: What is a Proxy Server & Why Would You Use One?.

Pros and cons of using proxy servers

Using a p roxy server has the following advantages:.

  • You are hiding your IP address from basic checks. If you want to see a sample of what information about you goes out to the world during such a basic check, visit this webpage: Lookup IP Address Location.
  • Using a proxy server means that you are also hiding your geographical location. The websites and services you access see the location of the proxy server that you are using.
  • Depending on how they are configured, proxy servers can improve your security by blocking malicious websites that distribute malware, because they can check for malicious content before it is sent to your computer.
  • Proxy servers can be used to access geographically restricted internet services.
  • There are lots of public free proxy servers available on the internet and some of them provide solid proxy services.

On the other hand, there are also some negative aspects that you should consider:

  • Proxy servers don't encrypt your internet traffic.
  • Neither your IP address, nor your real location is hidden from more advanced detection techniques. You can get an example of how your location can be detected with the help of your browser and its location services, here: W3C Browser Geolocation.
  • When using a proxy server, all your internet traffic goes through it. That means that a malicious proxy server can see and control everything you do on the internet, compromising your privacy and security.
  • Proxy servers usually monitor and log your activity when using them, which can be used for identifying you. This can be harmful in certain situations.
  • Although you're accessing a secured encrypted website or internet service, if the proxy server was not configured correctly, it can transfer to your computer unencrypted data. Unencrypted information can be sniffed by others.
  • There are lots of public free proxy servers available on the internet and many of them are unreliable. Some of them are downright malicious.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network or VPN is a secure network between your computer and a VPN server from the internet. All the network traffic that goes through this connection is encrypted so only your computer and the VPN server knows what website or internet service you access and use.

For instance, if you use a VPN and you're trying to visit www.digitalcitizen.life , the request is encrypted and sent to the VPN server. Once the VPN server receives your request, it decrypts it so that it knows what you want. In this case, it will send a load request to the server on which Digital Citizen is hosted. Our server responds and sends back the Digital Citizen homepage to the VPN server, which then encrypts it and sends it back to you.

Because every bit of data is encrypted, nobody can see what websites you visit and what internet services you use. That includes your government and your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

If you want more details about VPNs and how they work, read this article: What is VPN? What does it do?.

Pros and cons of VPNs

Using VPN brings many benefits:

  • All the network traffic between you and the VPN server is encrypted, so that makes it almost impossible for anyone to see what websites you visit or what services you use on the internet.
  • VPNs hide your real IP address. Websites and internet services will only see the VPN server's IP address.
  • VPNs hide your real geographical location. The internet thinks that your location is the location of the VPN server that you are using.
  • Using a VPN server can help you bypass geographical restrictions. You can access content available only for some countries or regions, if you connect to a VPN server from those regions.
  • Your network traffic can't be sniffed because it's all encrypted.
  • There are plenty of VPN providers that offer not only paid services, but also free VPN servers.

Although VPNs have lots of advantages, there are also some not so positive aspects that you should consider:

  • VPN servers must encrypt all the internet traffic that goes through them and that can take a toll on performance and speed.
  • When you connect to a VPN server, every bit of data between you and the server is encrypted. However, that data is decrypted on the VPN server, so it knows what you do on the internet. It's essential that VPN providers don't keep logs about your activity. Otherwise, the VPN provider will know how you are using its service. Also, their logs may be used by other organizations which get authorized or unauthorized access to it (NSA anyone?).
  • Solid VPN services tend to have higher costs than what you'd pay for a good proxy. All that encryption means that VPN server must have powerful hardware to keep up with the demand.

Comparing the advantages and disadvantages of proxies vs. VPNs

To make it easier for you to see all the advantages and disadvantages of using a proxy server versus using a VPN service, we created this comparison table:

When to use a proxy and when to use a VPN?

We consider VPNs better than proxies in almost all re spects . VPNs are better at providing you with anonymity and they are certainly better at providing you with security. Everything you do on the internet while using a VPN service is encrypted and nobody can monitor or track your activities. The only major downside of VPNs is that they tend to cost a lot more than proxies. If all you want is to hide your IP address or real location from a website or internet service that only does basic checks, than maybe a proxy server is good for you. If you want anonymity, security and confidentiality, then subscribing to a VPN service is what you need. However, double check that it doesn't store logs of your activity and, if they are stored, they are not shared with third parties.