VPN vs Proxy: Understanding Their Differences.

VPN vs Proxy. Which one is better?

If you are looking for a direct ansswer to which technology is better than the other, you won’t find it here.

A VPN and Proy are both different creatures— born and raised out of different necessities. VPNs were designed to “logically or virtually” link two geographically distant areas using risky networks such as the Internet. A byproduct from this design is their top security and privacy. 

On the other hand, proxies were designed to add structure to complex distributed networks by centralizing all their requests and responses. Your Internet gateway is an example of this. Additional benefits of proxies (as a byproduct of the original design) are privacy, security, and load balancing. 

In this article, we’ll focus on how each technology provides security and privacy over the Internet. Proxy vs VPNs: which one is better? in what context? What are their pros and cons? When to use each of them? 

Table of Contents. 

  1. VPNs and Proxies are Similar Thanks to the Internet.
  2. VPNs. Pros and Cons.
  3. Proxies. Pros and Cons.
  4. Final Words.

1. VPNs and Proxies are Similar, Thanks to the Internet.

Aside from its different purposes, VPNs and proxies provide a very similar benefit: Internet privacy.

A VPN typically (but not always) uses the Internet as a medium. VPNs are like secret underground tunnels, they’ll use the grid, but nobody will know who is traveling underground. 

To establish these hidden “encrypted” tunnels, VPNs use the client-server model with encryption-decryption keys.

VPNs take a client’s request > encrypt the IP packet > transmit it across the Internet towards a server > the server decrypts the packet > and forwards the original request using the server’s VPN IP to whatever destination. The advantage to this is that the VPN masks your virtual identity to the server’s. 

For the proxy, the Internet is the destination (or source in other cases). Proxies are like security lobbies. When you go inside a building, security lobbies might have some regulations to scan your documents, check your bags, monitor for fever, etc. There’s no way to enter or exit the building without going through the lobby.

A proxy is then, this kind of intermediary between you (client or network) and the outside world (the Internet or external servers). Any request for resources from clients will have to go through the proxy. A proxy will take your request > open it > close it with its information > save information on its cache > and forward it to the destination (the Internet).

NOTE: Initially, proxies were designed to be deployed at the internal network’s perimeter— facing the Internet. But really a proxy can be located anywhere in the world and still serve its purpose. 

2. VPNs: Pros and Cons. 

The real strength behind a VPN is in its end-to-end encryption. Without encryption, the packets would be going around the Internet, naked—showing their information in plain-text. With a VPN, a man-in-the-middle may still intercept your communication and capture your traffic, but it would look gibberish—something like the screenshot below. 

The level of privcay of this “gibberish” depends on the cryptographic prowess of the encryption mechansim. A Man-In-the-Middle (MIM) could be able to decipher the gibbersih of a poor encryption with his Supercomputer… BUT with powerful encyrption mechanisms there is no way to decode the “gibberish”. Unless the MIM gets the secret key, the gibberish stays as gibberish. 

There are various encryption algorithms, some weaker, easier to break, while others are stronger, unbreakable, and used by the Military and NSA. Encryption algorithms dictate how data is hidden in a message; examples are 3DES, AES, and RSA. These mechanisms use a set of keys and ciphers (128 or 256 bits) to hide information and are used by various security protocols. 

Examples of VPN encryption protocols are PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKEv2, OpenVPN, IPSec, WireGuard, and more. 

This variety in protocols makes VPNs widely supported by a large number of devices and third-party tools. That means many devices, from smart TVs, DVRs, mobiles, etc., are compatible with VPNs. The best VPNs are the ones with the strongest encryption, supportability, and other key features.

a. So, What are the Cons of VPNs? 

  • Speed and Performance. 
  • Cost. 
  • Risk of data leaks. 

Since all outgoing data (in plain text) needs to be encrypted, the speed and performance in most cases get compromised. Browsing the Internet might not be an issue with a VPN, but the traffic with the highest load like streaming video, P2P file transfers, or gaming takes a hit. 

Although you can find VPNs for a low price for a single user and even free (in some cases), the price for a business VPN tends to scale in the long-run. 

Another overlooked disadvantage is that VPNs (mainly free) are often used to collect data from users, killing the whole purpose of “Internet privacy.” For example, free VPNs make money, not from end-users but from selling data (traffic logs) to marketing and advertising agencies. Even commercial VPNs with headquarters in countries with strict data regulations may leak data. They are required to keep logs. So anytime the government or other agencies come with a warrant, they may request data logs from a VPN provider.  

Additionally, because VPNs are popular, there is more anti-VPN software, such as Netflix’s blacklists or the Great Firewall of China (GFC). 

b. When Should you use a VPN? 

Popular use cases are (but not limited to): Extend private networks, circumvent geo-restrictions, bypass censorship, protect true identity, improve branch-headquarters security, add security in public networks (public WiFi), and more. 

  • End-users “consumers” should use a VPN to: Protect privacy and anonymity while doing non-resource intensive activities like web browsing. 
  • Companies should use VPNs to: Extend networks geographically or connect to distant networks over the Internet (diagram below). VPNs can allow mobile and remote users secure access to the business’s internal network. VPNs are also great tools for testing geo-tailored apps and content from different countries. 

3. Proxies: Pros and Cons. 

Since proxies were created for a whole different purpose “to centralize and simplify distributed network’s requests,” their security mechanisms are entirely different from those of VPNs. Proxies don’t encrypt traffic, so they are usually faster than VPNs. A VPN vs Proxy? Well… a Proxy gets ahead in speed and performance, but not in privacy level.

The most popular advantage of proxies is its speed. They can even use caching systems for faster retrievals. 

The fastest kind of proxy is a simple tunneling proxy or, in other words, your everyday “Internet Gateway.” This kind of proxy doesn’t modify requests and responses (it just centralizes and forwards them). Other types of proxies, such as Forward proxies and Reverse proxies, DO modify requests and responses. These proxies mask (hide) the original request of the source to the destination resource. 

Proxies can be much cheaper. Especially IPv6 proxies, as you can obtain hundreds or thousands of proxies (IPs) at a fair price. Another benefit of using proxies is that they give you more agility.  Proxies work at the application layer, not at the networking layer, as VPNs do. The result is that only a portion of the traffic can be hidden; the rest can be sent with its original IP information. 

a. What are the Cons or Proxies? 

  • Lower privacy. 
  • Single point of failure. 

One of the turnoffs of using a proxy is their lower level of privacy. Proxies mask traffic (use their IP instead of yours) but don’t encrypt it. They just change the IP for certain applications (or ports), but all information is still easily accessible in plain text if the communication gets intercepted.

Another drawback (depending on the use case) is that proxies can be single-points-of-failure. If the proxy server gets compromised by a hacker, all of its cache memory, including sensitive data, can be stolen.

b. When should you use a Proxy? 

  • End-users or “consumers” should use a proxy if they are looking for the right balance between anonymity and speed. Bypassing geo-restricted content and censorship is a popular use case of proxies. Additionally, a proxy server like SOCKS5 can provide faster and better performance for services like streaming, video gaming, and P2P. 
  • Companies should use a proxy to monitor and filter incoming traffic, data scraping, ad verification, SEO, website testing, geo-tailoring, threat hunt, and more. Nowadays, a widespread use case is using a globally distributed network of proxy servers deployed across multiple geographical areas, also known as CDN (Content Distribution Network).

Final Words. 

VPN vs Proxy? Which one is better? 

There is a big difference between a VPN and proxy— they provide Internet privacy at different speeds and privacy levels.

A VPN is a tough contender in the area of privacy, but lacks some speed and performance for certain applications. When it comes to use cases, VPNs are great for web browsing but are known to degrade speed in intensive applications like P2P and streaming media. 

A Proxy is an amazing contender for high speed and performance. It was born to centralize and forward requests to other resources. It lacks encryption, so is not as strong as VPNs for privacy. Proxies are great options for data scraping, circumventing censorship, geo-restrictions, etc. 

To know more about Proxies… start today by testing a high-performance IPv6 proxy for a 14-day free trial.

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